Pianist Emanuel Ax returns to Yale

While many singers and musicians from around the world are dreaming of winning their first Grammy Award this Sunday, such an achievement is but a memory for Emanuel Ax.

Ax, an internationally renowned pianist who has won seven Grammy Awards, will perform a recital tonight in Sprague Hall as part of the School of Music’s Horowitz Piano Series. Following performances in previous seasons of the series, Ax will return to play works by Beethoven, Chopin and Schoenberg.

Ax said he usually prepares for all his performances in the same way: by remaining true to the composers’ intentions.

“What all performers try to do is get the composer’s message across to the audience in a way that is exciting and illuminating,” he said.

Boris Berman, the piano series’ artistic director, said Ax’s musical style is unique because of his incredible dedication to pieces’ true meanings.

“There are so many able performers who dazzle with their technique, but there is not much beyond the technique,” Berman said. “For Emanuel Ax, the music and the pursuit of its innermost essence is what comes first.”

Ax will devote the entire second half of his recital to two pieces by Frédéric Chopin, “Nocturne No. 1 in F minor” and “Sonata No. 3 in B minor.” Berman and School of Music professor Wei-Yi Yang GRD ’04 both called Chopin’s “Sonata No. 3” one of his greatest, most significant works. Berman said the piece is extremely rich in its technical aspects, and Yang explained how the sonata explores the evolution of musical themes and motifs throughout a piece. Yang added that Chopin is also well-known for his nocturnes.

“In terms of the atmosphere and the fantasy involved in writing a nocturne, Chopin is unparalleled,” Yang said.

Ax’s repertoire will also include Beethoven’s “Pathétique” sonata, which School of Music Dean Robert Blocker called an interesting program choice. The piece is accessible to younger students in terms of technique, but holds much deeper meaning for the mature artist, he explained in an email. Yang said the piece is generally considered one of Beethoven’s more well-known works due to its broad appeal.

“It is something that a lot of people can relate to — it can be interpreted many ways depending on what people associate with it,” Yang said.

Although the three composers featured in the recital are representative of three successive musical periods, Yang said Ax’s performance is not merely a history lesson but rather a display of opposite extremes in musical form, comparing the lengthy Beethoven and Chopin sonatas to the compressed Schoenberg piece. But Yang also noted the similarities that exist between these vastly different works. Each movement of a sonata needs the context of the entire piece to be fully understood, he explained, as do Schoenberg’s “Six Little Piano Pieces,” which Ax will also play tonight.

“There is continuity in the sense that I think all of the great composers are forward-looking and revolutionary, and that’s certainly true for Beethoven, Chopin and Schoenberg,” Ax said.

Ax was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Yale in 2007.

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