Thursday, March 17, 2011

Meet Emanuel Ax

"Manny" Ax is possibly the most self-effacing, unassuming, clear-headed, down-to-earth bloke who ever set finger to Steinway. I more or less had to be his wake-up call for his plane that morning, but he talked at crack-of-dawn anyway. Now he's in town for a concert with the LPO playing Haydn and Stravinsky tomorrow night at the RFH, and a Wigmore Hall Coffee Concert on Sunday morning. (It's time the hall was honest, though, and started calling them Sherry Concerts instead.)

Here he is playing Brahms:

"On the professional side of music, I've never seen anything like the level of accomplishment the young players have now," he says. "It's mind-boggling. There was never a time before when almost every professional pianist was capable of playing the complete Chopin etudes. The profession is in great shape.
"But on the listening side, we have more problems because fewer people play instruments for fun - that's very sad. There's a separation between the professional and the amateur and I think that's not so healthy. The issue is that it's not easy to play an instrument: it takes a certain amount of effort, application and daily practice. And there are so many choices for kids now, especially with good music being readily available without having to learn to play it. I hope the musical community will be interested in pushing the idea of playing instruments. That, I think, is the secret to everything. It's like sports: if you don't kick a ball around, you probably won't go to football matches. A lot of people do care about this situation and are working to change it. Yo-Yo is incredibly involved. Simon Rattle is another great advocate. I'm sure they will have an effect. They are leading the way towards a whole new vision of what a musician should be."

Read the full interview in this week's Jewish Chronicle, just out now.