Play us a song, piano man

Renowned Pianist Emanuel Ax performs in Concert Hall

It starts with a wish list. It leads to diversity.

“The feature of the series is diversity,” piano professor Andreas Werz said. “Internationally of the artists, and with the type of music.”

This can be seen with classical pianist Emanuel Ax’s January visit to the Fresno State music building’s Concert Hall. The internationally renowned musician has been on Werz’s wish list for the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts for years.

“His talent and reputation is worldwide,” Werz said of Ax. “I go to Europe all the time and you see his name there because he’s just present internationally.”

Werz was lucky enough to have a musician like Ax, who plays with major symphony orchestras worldwide and has won Grammys for recordings with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to come to Fresno State for the 37th season of the local concert series.

“People like Ax are rare – rare that he includes a smaller venue like this in his tour,” Werz said. “It shows, in a sense, that they respect the series because they play for a fraction of what they would normally get.”

Lorenz brought culture to Fresno

However, Ax’s rare performance at Fresno State is a reprisal of his very first visit to Fresno in 1977, as an up-and-coming artist who, at the age of 25, had just captured public attention when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv.

Ax was then on the wish list of Fresno State piano professor Philip Lorenz, who was the founder and is now the namesake of the concert series.

“He was a cosmopolitan man to begin with,” Werz said of Lorenz. “When he came to Fresno he thought this place needed some culture.”

The series began in 1972 and was, for 20 years, hosted off campus. Lorenz is credited for not only attracting talented artists, but also working to make the concert series known worldwide.

After Lorenz’s death in 1992, there were discussions to end the series. Yet Werz, who came from Germany in 1985 to study with Lorenz in Fresno, was appointed as the artistic director to carry on the series in Lorenz’s name.

Discussion with Ax a unique experience

Seventeen years later Werz is attracting artists like Ax, whom season ticket holders, local residents and students are able to see perform on campus.

“It’s hard not to be impressed by someone like him,” Eunice Lawrence of Fresno said following the Ax concert. “It was fascinating how many standing ovations he had.”

Ax, who played selections from Franz Schubert and Franz Liszt during the two-hour concert, enjoyed his short stay in Fresno.

“It was a great audience and a beautiful piano,” Ax said. “I had a very nice time here.”

His visit also included a question and answer session with piano students before the concert, as well as a reception following the concert, where Ax met local fans.

“It’s great for the campus and great for the students,” Werz said. “Where can you hear Manny Ax for five bucks and then talk to him after? You’re not going to get that in L.A. or San Francisco.”

Ax’s concert helped to solidify the goal of the concert series, which is to enhance the quality of life in the community by creating the opportunity to hear such highly acclaimed artists of experience and reputation.

Werz will continue to bring such artists to Fresno for the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts as the 37th season continues with Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky in February.

“I had him on my wish list for some time and then I heard him live,” Werz said of Lugansky. “That cemented that I wanted him to come here.”

Concert Info

For more information on the upcoming performaces of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts, click here.

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