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Emanuel Ax in 1980 (Nick Sangiamo photo)

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the remarkable American pianist Emanuel Ax! A longtime Chicago favorite—in recital, as a chamber musician, and as soloist with orchestra—he has appeared in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival on near-countless occasions.

Following first place triumphs at the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists and the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, Ax made his local debut at Ravinia on July 23, 1975, substituting for an indisposed Alexis Weissenberg. Performing an all-Chopin program, “the young Polish-American master took the evening by storm,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Still in his middle twenties . . . there is nothing of the poseur in him, no excess mannerism, no youthful sentimentality, no histrionic display. He walks onstage, settles solidly onto the bench, shakes a hand to limber up, and begins to play. At that moment, or within a few seconds, a transformation of near miraculous proportions takes place. . . . This is quite possibly the outstanding poet-performer of his generation.”

Ax made two debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following year in 1976, on May 20 and 21 in Orchestra Hall, performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Henry Mazer, and on July 29 at the Ravinia Festival, as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 with Andrew Davis on the podium. According to Alan Artner in the Chicago Tribune, media reports following Ax’s competition wins had compared the young pianist to Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. “But to have actually heard him in Liszt’s Second Concerto was to discover that Ax in n a class virtually by himself. . . . His performance was intelligent, wholly refreshing . . .”

Emanuel Ax in 2016 (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

Since then, Ax has been one of the most frequent guest artists in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as with visiting orchestras, and as a chamber musician and recitalist with an astounding array of collaborators. He has worked with conductors David Afkham, Daniel Barenboim, James Conlon, James DePreist, Sir Mark Elder, Christoph Eschenbach, Lawrence Foster, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, Bernhard Klee, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, David Robertson, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Christoph von Dohnányi. Ax also has collaborated with Yefim Bronfman, Robert Chen, Evelyn Glennie,
Benjamin Hochman, Aleksey Igudesman, Richard Hyung-ki Joo, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, Orli Shaham, Raimi Solomonow, Isaac Stern, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Orion Weiss. With visiting orchestras, he also has performed in Orchestra Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Juilliard Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Ax returns to the Ravinia Festival this summer, as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on August 2, 2019, in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Rafael Payare on the podium. He will be back in Orchestra Hall next season on March 2, 2020, for an all-Beethoven chamber music concert, collaborating with violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Happy, happy birthday!

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to Itzhak Perlman!

Itzhak Perlman

A frequent and favorite guest artist in Chicago, Perlman has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as both violin soloist and conductor on numerous occasions. He first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1966 (a few weeks shy of his twenty-first birthday), in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Thomas Schippers conducting, and he first appeared at Orchestra Hall on May 11 and 12, 1967, in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with Jean Martinon conducting.

Most recently, Perlman was soloist with the Orchestra downtown on March 7, 2011, in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Clark McAlister’s arrangement of Kreisler‘s Liebesfreud with James DePreist conducting, and at Ravinia on August 7, 2013, in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Carlos Miguel Prieto conducting.

Itzhak Perlman (photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco)

Itzhak Perlman (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

As a conductor, Perlman first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 25, 1999, in Bach’s Second Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s First Romance for Violin (also performing as soloist), along with Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde and Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. He has led the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on one occasion, on November 17, 2008, in Bach’s First Violin Concerto (also performing as soloist), Mozart’s Symphony no. 35, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Most recently, he conducted the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 8, 2013, leading Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, Haydn’s Second Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Perlman also has recorded several times with the Orchestra, as follows:

BRAHMS Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 77
Recorded in Medinah Temple, November and December 1976
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
1978 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album

Perlman Brahms

BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, September 1996
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

ELGAR Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, March 1981
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon
1982 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with orchestra)

MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, May 1993
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

recording session

Barenboim and Perlman recording in Orchestra Hall in May 1993 (Jim Steere photo)

PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, May 1993
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto in D Major
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, September 1994
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Happy, happy birthday!

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


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