In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts hosted a Listening Party with Emanuel Ax. In conversation with Library Artistic Producer Evan Leslie, Mr. Ax discussed his life and career and shared recordings that have inspired and influenced him, which can all be found in the collections of The New York Public Library.
MOST INFLUENTIAL MOZART RECORDINGS
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto No. 3 in G major for violin and orchestra, K.216; Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major for violin, viola, and orchestra, K.364
Isaac Stern, violin; Walter Trampler, viola; Cleveland Orchestra: George Szell, conductor (in K.216); London Symphony Orchestra: Isaac Stern, conductor (in K.364)
Isaac Stern had two qualities that were especially wonderful. One was that he understood, somewhere inside, how things related. You could find any four bars in the performance and say, you know, I may like it this way better or that way better, but when you hear all of it, you feel that’s really the way it goes. He also has a kind of directness. He would play and you always got the message.
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
René Jacobs, Angelika Kirchschlager, Patrizia Ciofi, Véronique Gens, and Concerto Köln
Harmonia Mundi 2013
Opera is the music that my wife and I like the most. If we had a choice of what to do on an evening, we’d always choose opera, especially Italian operas, and that includes Mozart. Whenever you play a Mozart piano concerto, you’re really thinking in terms of opera, because the piano is very much an actor. Whenever the piano enters in a Mozart piano concerto it’s always something different. Sometimes the piano sneaks in, like an assassin. Sometimes the piano bursts in like Tamino in The Magic Flute. The relationship between piano and orchestra is always all about drama. I think Mozart was definitely a man of the theater.
MONUMENTAL PERFORMANCES FROM MY FORMATIVE YEARS
Frédéric Chopin: Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60
Arthur Rubinstein, piano
Recorded in Small Queen's Hall, Studio C, London, March 9, 1928
Rubinstein was the pianist that I heard earliest and most often. He played so many concerts in New York. He was so overwhelming in every way. Not only was he an incredible pianist, but he was a personality absolutely larger than life. He was somebody that when he walked out onstage, before he even played a note, you knew it was going to be a great evening. As for his performance of the F-sharp major Barcarolle, if that doesn’t want to make you go to Venice, nothing will.
Frédéric Chopin: Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op. 44
Vladimir Horowitz, piano
The legendary 1968 television concert
Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, NYC, January 2–3 and February 1, 1968
I was in the hall for that concert, in the balcony of Carnegie Hall, listening to him live. I was eighteen and I was completely, completely, over the moon. And the wonderful thing is that when I hear it now, it’s just as great. I’m just as bowled over as I was then. If you characterize his playing, it sounds like three different people. With the piano, you put the finger down and the note just plays. His magic is in understanding how the next note relates, how much pedal to use where, and how to balance everything. It’s astounding. He sounded like an orchestra. He was a miraculous pianist.
THE MOST FUN MUSIC TO PLAY
Gabriel Fauré: Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15; Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45
Emanuel Ax, piano; Isaac Stern, violin; Jaime Laredo, viola; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Recorded at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY, December 10–13, 1990
Fauré piano quartets are just incredibly beautiful music. After you’ve practiced them for a really long time they kind of feel…good! They’re still hard, but they feel better than a Brahms quartet, which you can practice for ever and ever and still mess up very easily in the concert. I think you have less chance of messing up the Fauré.
BEST RECORDINGS FOR ARMCHAIR CONDUCTING
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky: Symphonie No. 6 h-moll, Op. 74, "Pathétique"
Berliner Philharmoniker: Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor
Recorded live for Radio Kairo, April 1951, Cairo, Egypt
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Giorgio Tozzi, Robert Merrill, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma: Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded 1962, Rome Opera House
MOST ROMANTIC RECORDING FOR A DINNER DATE
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Pavane pour une infante défunte, La Valse
Choeur de l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal: Charles Dutoit, conductor
Recorded at St. Eustache, Montréal, August 1980 (Daphnis et Chloé), July 1981 (La Valse), May 1983 (Pavane)
BEST RECORDINGS FOR A SUMMER ROAD TRIP
Bill Charlap Live at the Village Vanguard
Bill Charlap Trio
New York: Blue Note Records
Ella Fitzgerald, Live at Mister Kelly's
Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Lou Levy, piano; Max Bennett, bass; Gus Johnson, drums
Recorded live August 10, 1968, at Mister Kelly's, Chicago, IL, in two performances
Oscar Peterson: Night Train
Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums
Recorded December 16, 1962, Radio Recorders, Hollywood
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Milan: Victor De Sabata, conductor
Recorded August 10–21, 1953, at La Scala, Milan, Italy
Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
Mirella Freni, Elizabeth Harwood, Luciano Pavarotti, Roland Panerai, Gianni Maffeo, Berliner Philharmoniker: Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Recorded October 1972, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin