Sunday, March 18, 2012

Meeting "Manny"

With Emanuel Ax backstage at the San Francisco Symphony!
Last Thursday we were in for a real treat.  We had tickets for a San Francisco Symphony's Mavericks performance and even got a backstage tour, courtesy of the wonderful John Kieser, the Symphony's General Manager.  And guess who we had the honor to meet while backstage?  Besides meeting Susan Key, musicologist and Special Projects Director, we bumped into none other than the venerable Emanuel Ax, a world-renowned pianist with multiple Grammy awards - or as John greeted him, "Manny"!

Emanuel was in town to play Morton Feldman's Piano and Orchestra, a very minimalist piece marked to be played "as quietly as possible".  I'm not sure I should be repeating the following, but it's too good not to: When asked how his practicing was going, Emanuel responded with a laugh, "There isn't much to practice!" and proceeded to mimic playing one chord, waiting, plinking another note, waiting, and "tock!" another note, with a vaguely far-off expression on his face.

"Even with [John] Cage I've got something to practice, but this?" he shrugged and chuckled good-naturedly.  "You're really selling this, aren't you?" John joked, to which Emanuel replied without missing a beat: "Just ask the musicians ... sentiments range from 'extreme loathing' to 'intense dislike'," and I couldn't help but burst out laughing.  What candor!

Emanuel is a very affable gentleman, unpretentious and down-to-earth.  He seemed as much in awe of us as Silicon Valley professionals as we were of him as a world-famous pianist!  We were peppered with questions about iTunes, the iPhone 4S and of course Siri.  So of course we let him ask Siri a question or two.  Whether it was the noise backstage or the artificial intelligence's twisted sense of humor, Siri responded with a very off-color remark!  (I thought there was a filter for the word Siri used!)  How embarrassing.  Fortunately, Emanuel didn't appear to be offended, but he certainly was a little taken aback.

He called up his wife, also a pianist, and told her excitedly, "I'm here with a gentleman from Apple, and a lady from Google!" and after he hung up, exclaimed, "I can't believe I'm standing here with two computer geniuses!"  and our reaction was "We're not that special, really ... We can't believe we're standing here with you!" to which his response was a smile and shrug.  What a hoot!

John wanted to make sure we didn't miss Susan Key's pre-performance talk, so before we knew it we had to go.  Before we left backstage, John took a photo of us with Emanuel and I told him what an honor it was to meet him.  He'd asked for our business cards and joked that he'd bug us every day, and honestly I wouldn't mind if he reached out!

I also had a wonderful conversation with John about Google Maps.  I noticed how, despite his importance in the Symphony and in the music community in San Francisco, he is a most gracious gentleman.  He must interact with many prominent folks who give good money to the Symphony, but he made little old me feel like an honored guest.  When speaking with him I felt as if I were the most important person to him at that moment.

The evening of music was an eye (and ear!) opener.  I'll share more about that soon, but I am still in awe that I've met the General Manager of the SF Symphony, one of its musicologists, and one of the best pianists in the world!  And as John wrote in response to my note thanking him for the wonderful evening, "... hopefully next time he [Emanuel Ax] comes, you will hear him play something more energetic!"

Amen.  Thank you, John and the SF Symphony!