Performance Sunday, February 23, 2014 | 2 PM

Yo-Yo Ma
Emanuel Ax

The Annual Isaac Stern Memorial Concert

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Rarely do such musical powerhouses come together on one stage, but when they do, the result is pure magic for all who are lucky enough to be in attendance. Such an occurrence will take place when superstar musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax unite for the Annual Isaac Stern Memorial Concert. This recital is part of Ax’s inventive Brahms: Then and Now, spotlighting the enduring legacy of the composer.


  • Yo-Yo Ma, Cello
  • Emanuel Ax, Piano


  • BRAHMS Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38
  • BRAHMS Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78 (transcribed to D Major for cello by Paul Klengel)
  • BRAHMS Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99

  • Encore:
  • BRAHMS JOHANNES BRAHMS Adagio from Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108

Event Duration

The printed program will last approximately two hours, including one 20-minute intermission.


  • Yo-Yo Ma

    The many-faceted career of cellist Yo-Yo Ma is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Mr. Ma maintains a balance between his engagements as soloist with orchestras worldwide and his recital and chamber music activities. His discography comprises over 90 albums, including more than 17 Grammy-winning recordings.

    Mr. Ma serves as the artistic director of the Silk Road Project, a catalytic organization that takes inspiration from the historical trading routes and uses the Silk Road as a modern metaphor for sharing and learning across cultures, art forms, and disciplines. Since the project's inception in 1998, more than 70 works have been commissioned specifically for the Silk Road Ensemble, which tours annually. Mr. Ma also serves as the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Institute for Learning, Access, and Training. Mr. Ma and the Institute have created the Citizen Musician Initiative, which exists to sustain and expand the role of music in civic and cultural life by creating and enhancing communities through music. His work focuses on the transformative power music can have in individuals' lives, and on increasing the number and variety of opportunities audiences have to experience music.

    Mr. Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents who later moved the family to New York. He began studying cello at age four, attended The Juilliard School, and in 1976 graduated from Harvard University. He has received numerous awards, among them the National Medal of Arts (2001), Léonie Sonning Music Prize (2006), Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), Polar Music Prize (2012), and Vilcek Prize (2013). In 2011, Mr. Ma was recognized as a Kennedy Center Honoree. Mr. Ma serves as a United Nations Messenger of Peace and as a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. He has performed for eight American presidents, most recently at the 2008 Inaugural Ceremony for President Barack Obama.

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  • Emanuel Ax

    Born in Poland, Emanuel Ax moved to Canada with his family when he was a young boy. He studied at The Juilliard School and Columbia University, capturing public attention in 1974 when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. In 1975, he won the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists, followed four years later by the coveted Avery Fisher Prize.

    The 2013-2014 season begins with appearances at the Barbican Centre followed by Lincoln Center with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink, as well as collaborations with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Mariss Jansons in Amsterdam, Bucharest, China, and Japan during their worldwide centenary celebrations. The second half of the season sees the realization of a project inspired by Brahms, which includes new pieces linked to Brahms from composers Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, and Brett Dean, commissioned jointly between the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cal Performances Berkeley, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall, with the participation of collaborators Anne Sofie von Otter and Yo-Yo Ma. To conclude the season, Mr. Ax travels to Hong Kong and Australia for a complete cycle of Beethoven concertos with incoming Chief Conductor David Roberston in Sydney and with Sir Andrew Davis in Melbourne.

    In conjunction with his multiple weeks as artist in residence with the New York Philharmonic during the 2012-2013 season, Sony Classical released Mr. Ax's latest recital disc of works from Haydn to Schumann to Copland, reflecting their different uses of the "variation" concept. In the spring, he joined that orchestra on its European tour conducted by Alan Gilbert. He returned to the orchestras in Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, and Pittsburgh, where he is a beloved regular.

    Mr. Ax received Grammy Awards for the second and third volumes of his cycle of Haydn's piano sonatas. He has also made a series of Grammy-winning recordings with Yo-Yo Ma of the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas for cello and piano.

    Mr. Ax resides in New York City with his wife, pianist Yoko Nozaki. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary doctorates of music from Yale and Columbia universities. For more information, visit

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Brahms's Cello Sonata No. 1 (Allegro non troppo)
Yo-Yo Ma, Cello | Emanuel Ax, Piano

At a Glance

The "autumnal" quality often ascribed to Brahms's music owes much to his partiality, especially in his later years, for the alto voice and the burnished timbres of the viola and clarinet. Yet throughout his career, he was drawn to the distinctive sound of the cello as well. He demonstrated his affinity for the instrument in the two numbered cello sonatas on this afternoon's program. (The third work, Op. 78, is a transcription of Brahms's Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major.) The cello also plays a prominent role in his other chamber music, in particular the two string sextets, not to mention the brilliant Double Concerto for violin and cello and the soulful cello solo that opens the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major.

The same qualities that characterize Brahms's string sonatas—a blend of muscular majesty and tender lyricism—distinguished his performances as a pianist. No less a critic than Robert Schumann was mesmerized when he first heard the 20-year-old virtuoso in 1853. Brahms's playing, the older composer wrote, "was full of genius, and transformed the piano into an orchestra of wailing and jubilant voices. There were sonatas, rather veiled symphonies—songs, whose poetry one would understand without knowing the words … single pianoforte pieces, partly demoniacal, of the most graceful form—then sonatas for violin and piano—quartets for strings—and every one so different from the rest that each seemed to flow from a separate source."
Program Notes
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This performance is part of Great Artists I.