If you’re a long-time member of WBJC, you may remember that, back in the dark ages before we went electronic, I wrote an article once for the old WBJC program guide in which I admitted that I was an Emanuel Ax groupie. Well, we may be up to minute with blogs and Twitter and a website and all the rest of it now, but my groupie status has remained the same, and I never pass up an opportunity to go and hear Emanuel Ax whenever I can (I even went to the Kennedy Center once to hear him play with The King’s Singers). On Tuesday night, he gave a recital in the Leffler Chapel and Performance Center at Elizabethtown College in central PA, as part of the Gretna Music Steinway series.
The thing that always strikes me about him is how unassuming he is. He trots on stage with his unique, skipping gait, embraces the audience with his endearing gap-toothed smile, undoes his coat button, and then simply sits downs and plays like an angel. Something I noticed this time, which I haven’t before (the Leffler venue is intimate so perhaps I was closer than I had been for other concerts) is how he often seems to mark time with his hand poised above the keyboard before he sounds the note. It has the curious effect of drawing you into the rhythmic shapes and patterns he is creating with his music making.
He gave us two Beethoven Sonatas (Nos. 2 and 8 – the Pathetique), with six little Schönberg pieces sandwiched in between, and then a Nocturne and the 3rd Sonata by Chopin after the intermission. As always, I found his playing so thoughtful and lyrical, while still managing to be powerful and exquisitely shaped.
Like a true groupie, when I was given the opportunity to speak with him afterwards, I seized the chance. I had actually met him before – I interviewed him just after 9/11 when he opened the BSO season – but I didn’t expect him to remember, and he didn’t. But I did remember that he is every bit as unassuming in person as he is on the stage, and he was weighing up whether to drive back home to New York or stay over in an hotel. Once again (there seems to be a pattern emerging in these blog posts), I loved the glimpse into the humanity of this truly great pianist. There were no airs and graces, just a supremely talented musician going about his business and doing his job – and leaving an indelible impression on us all.
Beethoven, Chopin, Emanuel Ax, Pianist