Ax and Bronfman concert

Last night Melody and I went to a two-piano concert by Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman at Benaroya Hall. The program was:

  • Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn for Two Pianos, Op. 56b
  • Bolcom: Recuerdos for Two Pianos
  • Mozart: Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K. 448
  • Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances

The performance was very enjoyable. It seems that both Ax and Bronfman have very strong styles, but they were able to merge them together very well. It's hard for two pianists to play exactly in sync, but once they got going they melded together and sounded as one performer with 20 fingers.

I've actually been following Emanuel Ax for about 30 years, ever since a Boys' Club of America representative presented me with one of his records. I was applying for the Epstein Scholarship and Ax was a former recipient (which helped fund his studies at Juilliard).

Melody and I saw Ax a few years ago, also at Benaroya. I like that he's not extremely showy (head-tossing and arm-flailing distract me much more than they do Melody). His playing feels very comfortable to me, but it's hard for me to put my finger on why. I feel the same way about Mischa Dichter; when I was young we used to try to catch him at the Hollywood Bowl (he and Mr. Voorhies were both students of Rosina Lhevinne). I don't know much about Bronfman, but his playing style did seem to meld well with Ax.

Going to a concert in Seattle is always interesting. You find people dressed all up and down the gamut (although I haven't seen shorts). Only once did the audience try to applaud between movements, and the performers were gracious about it. At the end of the Rachmaninov there was a standing ovation and a couple curtain calls, at which point many people dashed for the doors (presumably to beat the crowds). Of course, they missed the encore, after which some other people dashed right off before Ax and Bronfman even finished their bows. Yeah, I know it sounds like a rant, but the performers took the time to perform for us, so it seems only right to hang around to give them their due.

One thing I didn't expect to notice was that Ax's page turner was good. I mean really good. Melody and I have both done page turning, and it can be nerve-wracking; you have to make sure you turn only one page, turn when the artist wants it (do you wait for a nod or turn just before?), make sure the music stays flat, and don't interfere with artist. Actually, I make it sound as if I've done it a lot, but I've really only turned page for a performance once, when Mr. Voorhies asked me to be his turner for a monster concert he was in (a topic for another time).

Even odder was that for the Mozart, Ax and Bronfman seemed to be using different editions of the score. The page turners did their thing at wildly different times (sometimes only a measure apart, sometimes half a page apart). We supposed that perhaps they had to replace a particular edition; another possibility is they each had their own editions which they had marked up, and felt there wouldn't be a problem using different ones. It did make me nervous, however, in the third movement when it sounded as if there would be a cadenza (for a concerto, it's near the end of a movement and the orchestra pauses while the soloist plays alone). My first thought was "which one will do the cadenza?" The second was, knowing that different editions sometimes use different cadenzas (and you can use a cadenza from a completely different book or even improvise), "how will they reconcile the difference?" Alas, the moment passed cadenza-free. Catastrophe averted!