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In the Artist’s Own Words

By Emanuel Ax

Beethoven chose chamber music as his calling card to the great world. His Op. 1 was a collection of three trios for piano, violin, and cello, and most of his last works were string quartets. In 1970, for his 200th birthday, New York City was a special place to be for music lovers. Violinist Isaac Stern, pianist Eugene Istomin, and cellist Leonard Rose were going to play all of the sonatas and trios.

I was then a music student at The Juilliard School, and one of my jobs was to work as studio pianist for Mr. Rose. He promised me a backstage visit to meet the other members of the illustrious group. I had been a longtime fan of Istomin, having heard him only on recordings, and of course the prospect of meeting him and hearing him in the flesh was incredibly exciting for a young, budding pianist. And Isaac Stern was a larger-than-life figure to everyone in New York—he was the moving force behind Carnegie Hall’s continued presence on 57th Street and the continuation of its glorious traditions. I knew that tickets would be very hard to come by, but fortunately, some of us knew that in those days there was a fire door always slightly ajar at the Dress Circle level, so I would even have money enough to buy a hotdog at Chock full o’Nuts across the street.

These performances were truly unforgettable—great music performed by great artists who were committed to making music together. We are so fortunate to have their art preserved on record and available to future generations. As a musician who was deeply inspired by these concerts and was then privileged to know and learn from Isaac Stern, on the occasion of his 100th anniversary I have the honor of saying once more to him, “I am a fan!”