My introduction of Emanuel Ax in May in Boston, as he received an honorary doctorate from New England Conservatory.
“For a long time the listeners of the world have admired — for a long time, the listeners in the world have loved Emanuel Ax. Hearing him play Century Rolls, the piano concerto written in 1997 by John Adams for him, first played by Mr. Ax and the Cleveland Orchestra, I was thrilled. As I was thrilled hearing him play Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony and Bernard Haitink.
“When Manny was a Perspectives Artist at Carnegie Hall, he commissioned three pieces that completed the cycle of ‘diverse’ sonatas planned but not finished by Claude Debussy, new music by Steven Stucky, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Kaija Saariaho. Emanuel Ax shows us what a pianist can be. He is deeply involved with classical music, at the same time he plays, he commissions new music: new music by Bright Sheng, Thomas Adès, Melinda Wagner, HK Gruber and more, and more.
“His many collaborations with Cantabrigian Yo-Yo Ma, or his recording with Patrick Stewart, show the significance of a pianist’s involvement with chamber music, with ensemble, the significance of cooperation and engagement with others.
“Emanuel Ax has given several masterclasses at New England Conservatory, one right here in Jordan Hall. I admired and loved him on one occasion as we heard an excellent NEC student playing Robert Schumann’s Carnaval. After a particularly brilliant passage, Manny leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Wow, I wish I could play like that!’
“This charm and the deep humanity of Emanuel Ax gets at something more. He has adjusted the role of the classical concert pianist for a new century. The overpowering ego we sometimes encouraged in musicians endangered us. Emanuel Ax proves that something else is possible. In a virtuoso there can be virtue. In his music-making and in his personhood, Emanuel Ax is the evidence.
“President Kalyn, it is my great honor to present Emanuel Ax for the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Music.”