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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!

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Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the extraordinary violinist Gidon Kremer!

Gidon Kremer (Michael Benabib photo)

Gidon Kremer (Michael Benabib photo)

A frequent and favorite soloist in Chicago, the Ravinia Festival, and on tour, Kremer has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, as follows:

November 26, 28, and 29, 1980, in Orchestra Hall
BERG Violin Concerto
Varujan Kojian, conductor

March 26, 27, and 28, 1992, in Orchestra Hall
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 2 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 129
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

January 13, 14, and 15, 1994, in Orchestra Hall
BERG Violin Concerto
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

August 12, 1994, at the Ravinia Festival
GLASS Violin Concerto
Riccardo Chailly, conductor

May 15, 16, 17, and 20, 1997, in Orchestra Hall
June 4 and 5, 1997, at the Philharmonie in Cologne, Germany
REIMANN Violin Concerto (world premiere)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Gidon Kremer (Alberts Linarts photo)

Gidon Kremer (Alberts Linarts photo)

October 21, 22, 23, adn 24, 1998, in Orchestra Hall
KANCHELI Lament (Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono)
Katharina Kammerloher, mezzo-soprano
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

May 5, 6, and 7, 2005, in Orchestra Hall
SCHNITTKE Concerto grosso No. 6
SCHNITTKE Concerto grosso No. 5
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Kremer also has performed in Orchestra Hall on several other occasions, as a soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic under Mariss Jansons, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and the Staatskapelle Berlin with Daniel Barenboim. As a chamber musician, he has appeared many times with his ensemble Kremerata Baltica, most recently on February 1, 2017.

Happy, happy birthday!

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Sir Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first trip to the Soviet Union and Hungary in November 1990, also including a single stop in Vienna.

Program page for the November 24 concert in Moscow

November 21, 1990 – Bolshoi Hall of the Philharmonie, Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Soviet Union
Saturday, November 24, 1990 – Great Hall of the Conservatory, Moscow, Soviet Union
Friday, November 30, 1990 – Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, Austria
BARTÓK Dance Suite
MAHLER Symphony No. 5

November 22, 1990 – Bolshoi Hall of the Philharmonie, Leningrad, Soviet Union
Monday, November 26, 1990 – Great Hall of the Conservatory, Moscow, Soviet Union
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 8

Wednesday, November 28, 1990 – Congress Centre, Budapest, Hungary
BARTÓK Dance Suite
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 3
András Schiff, piano
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra

Solti, along with members of the Orchestra and staff, poses in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square

Two recordings were made during the tour, both for London Records. The performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was recorded live in Leningrad on November 22 (London’s first recording venture in the Soviet Union); Michael Haas was the producer, James Lock and Colin Moorfoot were the engineers, and Sally Drew was the tape editor. Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was recorded live in Vienna on November 30, Michael Haas was the producer, Stan Goodall was the engineer, and Matthew Hutchinson was the tape editor.

The concerts in Leningrad and Moscow were part of a cultural exchange that brought the Leningrad Philharmonic to Chicago for two weeks of subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, with Music Director Yuri Temirkanov and Associate Conductor Mariss Jansons sharing the podium:

November 13, 15, and 18, 1990
Yuri Temirkanov, conductor
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Viktor Tretyakov, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

November 16 and 17, 1990
Mariss Jansons, conductor
PROKOFIEV Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Dmitri Alexeev, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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