At Keyboard Concerts, Emanuel Ax is a name that Fresno — and the world — won’t soon forget

The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Carnegie Hall in New York. Louise M. Davies Concert Hall in San Francisco. The spectacular new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.

And the Concert Hall at Fresno State.

Piano virtuoso Emanuel Ax’s latest tour takes him to some of the leading venues in the concert world. Which makes it even more special that he’s making a stop in Fresno as part of the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts series. Ax performs 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6.

“He’s a fantastic artist, a fantastic musician, says Andreas Werz, artistic director of the series. “The fact that he’s playing in all these major venues – it kind of attests to the fact that he’s really highly recognized worldwide.”

Ax’s visit to Fresno is no fluke. The acclaimed pianist – who in 1974 won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv – has long had a soft spot for the Keyboard series. He first played for it when the series was under the direction of Lorenz himself. Werz, who took over for Lorenz 32 years ago, can count four times that Ax has played here during that time.

Ax’s loyalty to the series is remarkable, Werz says.


“He’s just a very generous man. He’s realized over the years this is a series of high artistic quality, and that we don’t have the financial resources that the bigger series has.”

Ax’s big news for the 2023-24 season is the world premiere of Anders Hillborg’s piano concerto, commissioned for him by the San Francisco Symphony and Esa-Pekka Salonen with subsequent performances in Stockholm and New York.

In Fresno, he will perform an intriguing program. Ax pairs three well-known Beethoven sonatas (Sonata in C minor, Sonata in A major, and Sonata in F minor) with several compositions by Schoenberg, known for his groundbreaking atonal approach.

That Ax can handle the strenuous demands of a tour with this kind of program – plus a world premiere – is a testament to his work ethic. And some great genetics.

“I don’t know how he does this,” Werz says, “at age 74.”

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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