Emanuel Ax Brought Delight to Philadelphia Once Again

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Famed pianist Emanuel Ax appeared in recital at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater April 17, 2024, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS). He featured two Beethoven classics, plus another sonata on his program, and several works by what seems to be Mr. Ax’s new musical subject under his  examination, Arnold Schoenberg. 
The Program
Beethoven: Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13, Pathétique
Schoenberg: Three Pieces, Op. 11
Beethoven: Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2
Schoenberg: Three Pieces (1894)
Schoenberg: Six Little Pieces, Op. 19
Beethoven: Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57, Appassionata
Perhaps you can hear the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments? “No! Not Schoenberg! He couldn’t be so cruel.” many wail. Well, actually, it was quite refreshing and instructive to hear an easier, more sonically cuddly Schoenberg. The added icing on the cake to help the medicine go down were two giant works by Beethoven, the Pathetique and Appassionata Sonatas. The third Beethoven work was an early sonata from Op. 2. 
When entering the stage, Mr. Ax demonstrated an air of diffidence, almost apprehension. He seemed to have been thrown out onstage almost against his will, thinking “Okay, If I must, I will.” Such airs of shyness were quickly
dispatched by the magisterial command of his playing. Indeed, he is one of the great pianists of his generation, beloved by international audiences. As one audience neighbor stated, how exceptional it was that the pianist was born in Ukraine, and later spent his formative years in Winnipeg, Canada, where this gentleman believed was only accessible by dog sled and airplane. 
Mr. Ax spoke directly from the stage to soothe the audience before the first Schoenberg piece, and to share his affection for Schoenberg. Even the most intellectually resistant audience member appeared to be swayed by the persuasive playing and sensuous approach to what many feel is a hopelessly intractable composer. Many may have felt that the ethos of the beautiful Beethoven sonatas (indeed, all acknowledged masterworks) were somehow, magically, transformed by Mr. Schoenberg into a sublime yet witty shorthand where we as the audience could fill in the blanks. Many felt that Mr. Ax succeeded in his juxtapositioning of the two composers.
Amazingly, after such a monumental program ending with the Appassionata sonata, magnificently interpreted, did the wild audience acclaim persuade Mr. Ax to return for encores. Twice. What a splendid evening; what splendid pianism. 
We in Philadelphia are so lucky to have the PCMS. They deliver some of the greatest world talents consistently, and with astonishingly low ticket prices. We should all thank those benefactors and staff members who make such splendors available to us over an extremely long and varied season. 
The 2024-2025 season for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS) is available for subscription on their website, as well as the remaining concerts for this season. Many concerts this season were sold out weeks ahead of time, so subscribing is a wise idea. There are many options from which to choose.

Read Related Posts...