Wunderkind to Father Figure | Playbill

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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