Taking an Ax to a Brahms piano concerto

Some musicians develop firm ideas about how to play a particular piece and stick to them no matter what. Others keep their options wide open.

Emanuel Ax is one of the latter, which helps explain why this Polish-born pianist has been a major force in the classical music world for 35 years.

Ax, who performs Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this weekend, is celebrated for the freshness of his music-making, as well as a brilliant technique.

"I learned this concerto when I was 21," said Ax, who turns 62 next week.

"But I don't think I have a preconceived notion of how this piece goes. There is room to do different things. It can be very slow and weighty and dramatic, or very virtuosic and in-your-face. Both approaches are very possible."

A concerto, of course, involves more than the soloist, and that affects Ax's interpretation of the Brahms warhorse.

"Like with any masterpiece, what's exciting is to play it with different people," the pianist said. "It changes with the orchestra and the conductor. It's an unspoken thing almost. You viscerally react to what's happening; it's very much in the moment."

Ax continues to add to his repertoire.

"I did a lot of Schubert, which was new to me," he said, adding with a laugh: "I felt I'd better practice and learn some before it's too late."

Emanuel Ax performs Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Baltimore Symphony, Marin Alsop conducting, at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Music Center at Strathmore; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday at Meyerhoff Hall. $28 to $88. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.

Tim Smith

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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