Listen to Minnesota Orchestra's season-opening concert with Emanuel Ax live on Classical MPR

Emanuel Ax and Osmo Vanska celebrate after a performance with the Minnesota Orchestra in 2013.Nate Ryan/MPR

September 20, 2018

The Minnesota Orchestra had quite the summer "vacation," playing for the first time in several years to sold-out crowds at the BBC Proms in London, and then making history with a five-city tour of South Africa in celebration of the centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth.

It would be fair to say that the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are at the top of their game. They are playing like rock stars.

Emanuel Ax
Pianist Emanuel Ax
Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Friday is opening night of its new season, and Classical MPR will have its microphones in place at Orchestra Hall to begin our broadcast season.

The orchestra's new season gets off to a bang with a piece that captures the mood of our times, Joan Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. She wrote the work as a playful riff on Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and dedicated it to noteworthy women who are "risk-takers and adventurers" — much like Tower, who successfully shattered the ceiling in a male-dominated field.

Copland also is represented on the program in his joyous celebration of American spirit, Appalachian Spring.

For me, the most exciting part of this concert will be the return of Emanuel Ax to the stage to play music he has a special affinity for: Brahms.

Back in the Nixon administration, as a 20-something up-and-coming pianist, Ax launched his career with the Minnesota Orchestra, a career that would bring him world fame and seven Grammys. He and the orchestra have nurtured this relationship for 44 years, but he still says that he has so much to learn as both a musician and a collaborator.

It always makes me smile when I hear Ax speak with almost painful honesty about the fact that he still gets nervous. This pianist who plays so spectacularly is human! He says that even with so many years of playing and thousands of performances, he still practices — and practices hard. His management company ensures he has time in his travels to be alone with the music.

What you hear when Ax plays Brahms is, of course, technical brilliance and powerful sound, but also a sort of fragility and vulnerable side that makes the music so warm, present and relatable.

I can't wait for Friday's concert! I hope you'll join me in our live broadcast beginning at 8 p.m.