Would you rather see and hear a world-class musician in a 2,000-seat concert hall or in an intimate 450-seat venue with a projection screen so you can watch his hands?
Normally, to attend a concert by renowned classical pianist Emanuel Ax, you’d have to go to some place like Carnegie Hall or even the Beijing Concert Hall.
Next Tuesday evening, however, InConcert Sierra will present a solo performance by the Grammy Award winner at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grass Valley.
“It’s really a better experience than you would have in one of the major cities,” affirmed Ken Hardin, artistic director of InConcert Sierra, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to presenting classical music to the community.
“Mr. Ax plays with all the major symphony orchestras in the world. He is one of the most sought-out performers on the concert stage today,” Hardin said. “To have somebody like Ax in Grass Valley is really amazing, and we’re really proud of the fact that we’re able to bring him here.”
Although Grass Valley is a detour from his usual big-city bookings, Ax plans to hold nothing back.
“It’s no different than what I do in New York or in Los Angeles,” Ax pledged in a phone interview Dec. 26 from his home in New York. Pleasing his audience is his primary objective wherever he plays, he stressed.
An award-winning career
Beginning with winning the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in 1974, the 64-year-old Ax has won many awards and accolades over his career. That includes seven Grammy Awards, many of which were won in conjunction with his longtime cohort, cellist Yo-Yo Ma. He also shares a Grammy with Ma, Jaime Laredo and Isaac Stern.
In addition to his awards, he is a graduate of both the Juilliard School and Columbia University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as now being a member of the faculty of the Juilliard School.
Asked which award meant the most to him, he replied thoughtfully: “I think it’s very nice to get them, but what means the most to me is doing a good performance and feeling that people have enjoyed it. That’s probably more important that any particular award.”
Projecting a sell-out
According to an InConcert Sierra press release, Ax’s program will focus on the works of Johannes Brahms. Planned pieces include “Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp Minor, Op.2”; “Klavierstücke, Op. 118 and Op. 119”; “Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2”; “Romance Op. 118, No. 5”; and “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24.”
Hardin is especially enthusiastic about the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s projection system because it affords everybody a good seat. Usually, he said, the audience tends to try to get seats in the left side of the auditorium so they can see the pianist’s hands.
“We’re able to set up a camera at the upper end of the keyboard, very unobtrusively, that captures a really good image of the entire keyboard and the pianist’s hands,” he explained. “We project that on the screen above the piano.”
Even at $40 a ticket, “the ticket sales don’t even remotely approach paying for the expenses of doing what we do,” Hardin said.
InConcert Sierra is crediting the contributions of Dr. Dennis McShane and the Hon. Richard Gordon; Julia Amaral and Mark Strate; and Dr. John and Lori Hagele for underwriting the cost of this performance.
Additionally, Grass Valley Courtyard Suites is the hospitality sponsor.
Hardin said he expects the concert to sell out, and he encourages people to get their tickets in advance.
“We also encourage people — if they haven’t gotten tickets — to go ahead and show up at the door,” he said. “We always have a certain percentage of no-shows even when we have sold out.”
On the road again
Ax’s last tour took him from Toronto to China, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria in “about five-and-half weeks.”
“It was a long trip,” he said. “I had a great time.”
Nevertheless, he said he was enjoying his rest at home in New York.
“I do about 90 concerts a year,” he added. “With travel, it’s probably half the year I’m gone.”
He is kicking off his next tour in Denver this Sunday before visiting Grass Valley Tuesday, “and then on to Portland …” and ending in Chicago late in January.
Even though, or perhaps because, Grass Valley is an unusually small venue for the world-traveling performer, Ax said, “I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun.”
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at email@example.com.