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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Emanuel Ax to perform at Mondavi Center

Grammy-winning classical pianist Emanuel Ax will be performing in Jackson Hall of the Mondavi Center on Saturday, December 5th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65.00 for general admission and $32.50 for students.

A skillful musician from a very young age, Ax was born in the Ukraine and started playing the piano when he was six years old. As his family constantly relocated, Ax carried his studies with him to each new temporary dwelling, ultimately settling down in New York City, where he studied at the Julliard School of Music. After winning various awards and competitions, such as the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition as well as the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists, he became a teacher at Julliard.

“Winning such a prestigious piano competition helped catapult him into a successful international career as a piano soloist,” said Henry Spiller, assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the UC Davis School of Music. “It is the kind of career only a handful of individuals are able to sustain.”

Ax has appeared as a guest artist in a documentary about the Toronto Film Festival, called Five Days in September; the Rebirth of an Orchestra. In addition to being a recipient of Yale University’s Sanford Medal, he also holds an honorary doctorate of music from Yale, awarded in May 2007.

This will be Ax’s second performance at the Mondavi Center. Faculty at the Mondavi Center booked his appearance about a year ago.

“His agent actually came to us,” said Don Roth, executive director of the Mondavi Center. “He was going to be on tour nearby and he wanted to see if we were interested.”

Roth said the agent knew Ax loved playing in the Mondavi Center because of its spectacular acoustics and large audience for classical music.

“We try to take very good care of the artists when they are here,” Roth said. “Making them feel comfortable and welcome is essential to us.”

Faculty of the UC Davis Music department had positive things to say about Ax. All of them acknowledged his achievements as a talented pianist.

“When I saw him perform, he brought a sense of authority to the stage which put the audience at ease and empowered them to engage closely with his playing and the music,” Spiller said. “It was a moving experience.”

UC Davis Symphony Orchestra conductor Christian Baldini agreed that Ax had a certain influence, saying that as an interpreter performing a wide range of composers and styles, Ax is not afraid of simplicity.

“In times when being a virtuoso who plays the most difficult works that require a machine-like technique seems to be quite the norm, Emanuel Ax is unafraid of performing works that are not technically impossible,” Baldini said in an e-mail interview.

“He impresses the listener with his refined touch, and his imaginative and poetic view of art. In this sense, his music making makes him excel among his colleagues.”

Baldini said that he expects Ax to put on a beautiful concert with romantic music by Chopin and Schumann. He added that it will be a program inspired by fantasy and dance, in the forms of mazurkas and polonaises.

Spiller had similar sentiments on Ax’s abilities to put on a superb musical performance.

“This 19th-century romantic piano pieces that Ax is performing at Mondavi are virtuosic, bombastic and emotionally wrought,” Spiller said. “They are usually a big hit with audiences who are unfamiliar with classical music because of this.”

After performing at the Mondavi Center, Ax will tour Asia with the New York Philharmonic on their first tour with incoming music director Alan Gilbert. Additionally, he will tour in Europe with both the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and James Conlon as well as the Pittsburgh Symphony with Manfred Honeck. During the spring, he will return to Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston.

Conductor emeritus and professor of l9th-century history and orchestral conducting Kern Holoman encourages students to attend the performance, noting that student tickets for quality music concerts are just one of the great privileges of a university education.

“We are all, after all, involved in the process of becoming enlightened citizens of a world defined in many ways by its artistic achievement,” Holoman said in an e-mail interview.

Roth stressed that Ax’s concert will be a great occasion for contemplation and slowing down.

“No bells and whistles, no flashing lights, no roadies moving equipment around – just one man and a piano, playing music that can help you get away from your daily worries and concerns,” Roth said.

Tickets can be purchased online at the Mondavi Center Website, mondaviarts.org. For more information on Emanuel Ax, visit emanuelax.com.

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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