From a string of early career successes in the 1970s, Emanuel Ax has emerged as one of the most versatile, brilliant, and universally respected pianists on the international concert scene.
Ax's father was a coach at the Lwow Opera House. Emanuel's talent and interest in music manifested itself early; his first instrument was actually the violin, though he eventually took up piano lessons with his father. After living for a time in Warsaw, then Winnipeg, Canada, the family moved to the United States in 1961, and Ax began studies with Mieczyslaw Munz at the Juilliard School. He made his first concert tour, to South Africa, in 1969; in the following year he became an American citizen.
Ax is the rare musician who was able to parlay exposure via the competition circuit into a lasting and truly successful international career. After disappointing finishes in high-profile events like the Chopin Competition and the Queen Elizabeth Competition, Ax withdrew from competing for a time to make his New York debut, at Alice Tully Hall, on March 12, 1973. In the following year, he at last took top prize in an event of some importance, the Rubinstein Piano Master Competition. It was with this success — which included an American concert tour — that Ax's star began to rise toward international superstardom. In 1979 he was awarded the coveted Avery Fisher Prize, which led to a recording contract with RCA Victor.
As a soloist Ax has demonstrated a particular affinity for the Romantics; nonetheless, his repertoire is among the most diverse of any pianist on the scene today and ranges from the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven to important twentieth century figures like Tippett, Henze, and Hindemith. He is also a particular champion of contemporary music, and has played and commissioned works from such composers as Joseph Schwantner, John Adams, and Christopher Rouse. He is considered by players and audiences alike to be a chamber musician par excellence; his frequent partners in this endeavor include Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, and Richard Stolzman. His regular collaborations with cellist Yo-Yo Ma have netted the pair three Grammy Awards. Ax has also demonstrated an interest in "authentic" performance; he recorded the Chopin concerti on an 1853 Erard piano very similar to Chopin's own instrument. Ax maintains a busy recording and recital schedule and frequently appears with the world's leading orchestras and at the major music festivals. He resides with his wife, pianist Yoko Nozaki, and their two children in New York City.