ALBANY -- Pianist Emanuel Ax, who will help open the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday night gala, has a hectic international schedule that would leave most people breathless with its scope of commitments. How does he manage?
“I do very few interviews,” he said laughing. “Really, it’s just normal for me.”
For several decades, Ax has been at the forefront as soloist, recitalist, and frequent collaborator with “very old, old friends” like violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Early in his career he won several competitions to which he added numerous awards over the years that included Grammy Awards, Echo Klassik Awards and an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical since 1987.
Albany Symphony Orchestra Gala
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton St., Albany
HOW MUCH: $175; $135 for 35 and under, including children; concert only $45-$85
MORE INFO: 694-3300; www.albanysymphony.com
Yet, with all this exposure, Ax has not played most of the great concertos.
“There are lots of things I’ve never done,” he said. “I’ve done some Brahms, Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann, and lots of Chopin, but I’ve done no Prokofiev, except his first. I’ve done Rachmaninoff No. 2 as a kid but none of the others. There’s just an enormous amount of repertoire I’ve not played.”
But he has done a lot of Mozart. On Saturday he will play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat Major.
“I’ve done this several times and all the concertos are kind of my favorites,” Ax said. “This is a shorter one. The last movement is unusual in that it’s a takeoff on Bach. The second is very romantic and the first is snappy and in three, which is unusual for Mozart. Mozart is always original. Everything he did came out perfect. He was a gifted guy. He would have been a nice dinner guest [if he’d met him].”
Ax is also playing Franck’s “Symphonic Variations” (1885), which has six variations and a finale.
“I did this a number of years ago. I’m practicing it now to have a new go at it,” Ax said. “It will be a nice pairing with the Mozart, and an unusual one.”
Although Ax knows music director David Alan Miller from other gigs, this will be the first time in 30 years he has performed with the ASO.
“It will be nice. I’m really looking forward to it,” Ax said.
Another newcomer to the orchestra is composer Jessie Montgomery whose “Source Code” will be performed. Montgomery is also this year’s composer/educator and will be working with the kids at Giffen Elementary School and New Scotland Elementary School.
“I was shocked, delighted and surprised when David called,” Montgomery said. “I’d only been getting going as a composer for about two years and getting my feet wet.”
Although she’d composed as a kid, Montgomery had devoted herself to violin, graduated from the Juilliard School, and began playing with various contemporary music string quartets. A few years ago she rediscovered her “passion” to compose, which prompted her to get a graduate degree in composition from New York University in 2009. The piece the ASO will perform is an expanded version of a string quartet she wrote for the Cassatt String Quartet.
“I’m of African-American descent, so this contains created spiritual melodies that are fleshed out in that idiom,” Montgomery said. “They’re very lyrical and stretched out over nine minutes.”
Also on the program are the ballet music from Verdi’s “Aida” and Weber’s “Der Freischuetz Overture.”
Miller will talk about the program at noon Friday at the Albany Public Library and at 6 p.m. on Saturday from the Palace Theatre stage.
Albany Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season:
Saturday: “An Evening with Emanuel Ax.” Emanuel Ax, piano; Mozart Piano Concerto No. 14 in E Flat Major; Verdi Ballet Music from “Aida”; Weber Der Freischutz Overture; Jessica Montgomery “Source Code”; Franck Symphonic Variations. Palace Theatre, 7 p.m.
Nov. 7: “Tchaikovsky’s Winter Dreams,” Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1, Benjamin Beilman, violin; Steven Stucky, “Radical Light”; Sibelius Violin Concerto. Palace Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 6: “The Magic of Christmas,” young singers and dancers of Capital Region. Palace Theatre, 3 p.m.
Dec. 19 and Dec. 20: “William Tell & More,” Rossini's “William Tell Overture,” Joyce Yang, piano; Michael Torke, Piano Concerto; Schubert Symphony No. 9, “The Great.” Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.
Jan. 9: “Falletta Conducts Bernstein & Brahms,” guest conductor Joann Falletta,
Roman Mekinulov, cello; “Bernstein On the Town,” “Three Dance Episodes,” Miguel Del Aguila, “Concierto en Tango for Cello” and orchestra, Brahms Symphony No. 2. Palace Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 and Feb. 21: “Beethoven Festival,” Piano students of Emanuel Ax:
George Li, Concerto No. 1; Louis Schwizgebel, Concerto No. 2; Dong Hyek Lim, Concerto No. 3; Orion Weiss, Concerto No. 4; Nicolas Namoradze, Concerto No. 5. “The Complete Piano Concertos of Beethoven,” Saturday concertos: 1, 2, 3; Sunday concertos: 4, 5. Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.
March 19: “To Walk With Giants,” collaboration with the six composers of “Sleeping Giant” includes Barber's Adagio for Strings, Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in A featuring Jill Levy, three movements of Mozart's Piano Concertos re-imagined by Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, and Jacob Cooper, plus Andrew Norman, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein, and Ingram Marshall. Palace Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
April 16 and April 17: Evelyn Glennie in “Dreammachine,” Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Ravel Le Tombeau de Couperin, Michael Daugherty, “Dreammachine”; Derek Bermel “Mar de Setembro,” Haydn Symphony No. 103, “Drumroll.” Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; 3 p.m. Sunday.
May 14: Mahler's “Resurrection,” Symphony No 2: Albany Pro Musica chorus. Palace Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, June 10: “American Music Festival,” rock band Dogs of Desire performs new works by America's best young composers. EMPAC, Troy, 7:30 p.m.
June 11: “American Music Festival,” festival concert: Steven Stucky, “Silent Spring”; Aaron Jay Kernis, “Simple Songs”; Jessica Montgomery, new work; Loren Loiacono, new work. Talise Trevigne, soprano. EMPAC, Troy, 7:30 p.m.