Renowned Emanuel Ax brings Beethoven to students


Ava Smith

World renowned pianist, Emanuel Ax, plays Beethoven in the Vincent Murray Auditorium at Grady High School. Through his music, Ax has learned the value of practice. “You have to be as prepared as possible,” said Ax. “You have to try. That may be the biggest virtue.”

Ava Smith

Beethoven filled Grady’s humble Vincent Murray auditorium Nov. 22. Its source was sitting at the piano: world-renowned pianist Emanuel Ax. 

About a week ago, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s education coordinator contacted orchestra teacher Krissi Davis with news that Ax wanted to do a school visit. 

“Of course, the answer was ‘yes’,” Davis said. “We are really, really fortunate to get this, seeing as we are right around the corner from the ASO.” 

Born in what is now Lviv, Ukraine in 1949, Ax started playing piano at a young age and never stopped. He has won seven  Grammys and currently teaches at The Juilliard School in New York City.

Davis is a fan of Ax, who has played with other famously celebrated musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Leonidas Kavakos, two of Davis’s favorite musicians.

Students in the music pathway were thrilled to hear Ax was coming to perform.

“I was absolutely shocked,” junior Benjamin Borthwick said. “We [students] knew who he was, and we never imagined that someone that famous would want to come to Grady.” 

At home, Borthwick’s family has a CD library that includes many of Ax’s albums which Borthwick listens to with friends. Borthwick was especially excited for  the chance to get Ax to sign a few of his items. 

Sophomore Max Branch didn’t know much about Ax before attending the performance but was, nonetheless, excited. He hoped to acquire some tips for his own piano playing. 

“I was excited that a high-caliber pianist was coming here because maybe I can take something away from that,” said Branch. “It’s important to me.” 

The auditorium filled with students from all across the student body: teachers, ASO members, and parents. Ax played four pieces from Beethoven’s Opus 2, and after every piece, clapping erupted through the auditorium. 

“It was really impressive to see that each note had a really rich tone and he was able to control it so well,” said freshman Andre Grossberg who had a front row seat at the performance. “It’s such a delicate process and he did it so graciously.” 

After he finished playing, Ax held a question and answer session session. Members of the audience asked questions ranging from how he found his passion to his favorite sports team. Answer: the New York Giants.

According to Ax, he grew up in a musical household. He originally tried to play the violin, but it was “uncomfortable.” Then he started playing piano, and he knew by age 15 that he wanted to play professionally. 

“This instrument is easy,” Ax said with a smile as he pointed to the piano on stage. “You play and then you find the notes.” 

Ax explained that people of his generation had music lessons, and he hopes that kids today can experience the same. He said the beauty of music is that one doesn’t have to know anything about it to enjoy it.  

“It’s like football,” Ax said. “The more you know, the more you enjoy it. But, you don’t have to start by knowing. First you enjoy it, then you learn.” 

Ax loves music is because it is completely up to interpretation. 

“Whatever you feel about music, it’s your own story,” Ax said.