Wunderkind to Father Figure

Classic Arts Features   Wunderkind to Father Figure
 
An interview with pianist Emanuel Ax, who joins the New York Philharmonic for Chopin's Second Piano Concerto this month.

Recently I moved in with my parents, at the age of 25 a victim of Manhattan's high rents and my meager salary. The bad news is that I feel as though I'm back in high school. The good news is that it was easy to sit down for a talk with my father, pianist Emanuel Ax, about his appearances this month with the Philharmonic and conductor David Robertson.

JA: You've often told me that you're still learning, even after three decades of playing professionally.

EA: The piece I'm playing with the Philharmonic, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, is a good example. I learned it when I was 18. Yet I'm still finding new ways to do things, and I'm always amazed that I couldn't see those things before. I don't actually know if it's an improvement, but certainly it'll be different.

JA: In this concerto, the orchestra plays a more diminished role than in other Romantic concertos. How does that affect the performance?

EA: The orchestra's sound needs to be beautifully shaped so that the piano can float above it and not be overpowered. Lucky for me I'm playing with the New York Phil . . . and David.

JA: Is playing a few blocks from our apartment a treat for you?

EA: What's special is that there are a lot of people in the Orchestra that I went to school with. It's wonderful to be onstage with old colleagues and friends, seeing us all getting gray together . . .

JA: . . . as Mom often points out.

EA (laughing): Yes, she does. When I first played with the Phil [in 1977], I was one of youngest people on stage. Slowly but surely, I've become one of the oldest.

JA: But you're only 55. You've still got plenty of playing to do.

EA: There's always more music to learn, more practicing to be done. And I think there are always ways to get better.

Do I get to ask a question? How does it feel interviewing your father?

JA: It's easy. Besides, this is probably the first time I've interviewed someone in his pajamas!

Joseph Ax writes for the Journal News in Westchester County.

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