San Diego Symphony 1/11/20: Manny! Manny! Manny!

This is my inaugural post with personal reactions to the San Diego Symphony. This one will be more psychology than musicology.

If you want a real musicologist, click here.

You can learn “Just the Facts” of the concert here.


The Symphony performed Leonore Overture No. 3, Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, all by Beethoven.


I enjoyed Leonore‘s off stage trumpet calls. It sounded to me like the performer changed sides from House Right on the first to House Left on the second. I was seated in Mezzanine, row F, House Right so I’m curious how the calls sounded to those seated elsewhere.

Being in Copley Symphony Hall, rather than listening to a recording, made the difference.


The highlight of the Piano Concerto was the second movement. It flowed relentlessly towards its conclusion. Like that moment when driving, where you look up and out at the horizon and identify your destination in the distance. And it feels on level as though you can “see” the journey.


Emanuel ‘Manny’ Ax smiled graciously for those who applauded at the movement’s conclusion. He didn’t seem the least bothered by it. His smile said, “Oh, how nice of you! Thank you.”

For those who didn’t know, when listening to classical music live the audience “should” wait until the end of the entire piece before applauding. It’s like going nuts at the end of Queen’s We Will Rock You rather than waiting until We Are the Champions is done. Just interrupts the flow.

As Ax smiled at the applause, I both felt a deep admiration for his humanity and was reminded how frequently I get petty, even if just in my own mind, about what people should and shouldn’t do here, there and everywhere.

Ax’s quiet smile reminded me that all those “shoulds” are just noise that obscure the most beautiful parts of silence. How’s that for a 3 dollar phrase?

A buddy of mine, double bassist with another ensemble, wrote the following: “Manny Ax is unbelievable… do you remember [‘Effortless Mastery’] by Kenny Werner? Manny lives in ‘the Space.’ He is a colossal musician but he doesn’t need to emote or be [unpleasant] — he’s just a master.”  

“Manny” received three standing ovations.

I was pleased that Principal Clarinetist Sheryl Renk was called to stand during the second ovation. Please see my impression of her work here.

Do even the most enthusiastic Classical music fans understand what it means, as a performer, to be acknowledged in Emmanuel Ax’s presence?

It looked like Renk knew.

She smiled and extended a look to Ax that, all at once, seemed to say, “You’re too cool to be threatened right now. That should make this easy, however you are also a ridiculously talented musician who just gave a great performance. I mean, seriously, that was incredible! Anyway, it’s an honor to perform with you.”

That’s what I got from the Mezzanine, so I probably missed some subtleties.

Ax came out for the 3rd encore, smiled in acknowledgement, marched to the piano and quickly but unhurriedly moved into position.

And began Für Elise

There was enough reflexive laughter from the audience to obscure most of the first 10 notes.

I involuntarily laughed, too, for a few reasons:

  • Oh, yeah. It’s Beethoven, what else would he play? 
  • Might be the most overplayed piano opening, so hearing Ax play Für Elise is like hearing Steve Morse play Metallica‘s Enter Sandman
  • Third, it’s a true story and too embarrassing to discuss again. Please click here.

The laughter in Copley stopped abruptly when everyone realized Ax wasn’t messing around.

Was he ever NOT messing around.

Sounded like how ‘Manny’ would play the piece for himself if he just wanted to hear the music of it.

Hypothetically, I’m guessing he’d normally enjoy the tune privately on the comfortably positioned piano he surely has in his living room. And he’d do it on a Tuesday.

Definitely a Tuesday.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” you’re thinking. “Why a Tuesday?”

Imagine someone who had multiple rehearsals in advance of Friday and Saturday nights’ performances, and then at least one show Sunday. Throw in travel or a wedding gig on Saturday afternoon and that performer’s weekend was busy.

So “Tuesday” = at least 2 nights of rest removed from that busy weekend’s last performance.

Tuesday practice sessions are, at best, productive, loose, focused. And feel strong when Monday was a rest day.

Now imagine how Ax played Für Elise.


“Manny” got 2 standing ovations. There would have been at least a third if he had let it happen.

On the second, he bowed and immediately extended a hand to Concertmaster Jeff Thayer who gladly reciprocated. Ax helped Thayer to his feet, kept his hands on him, leaned close to say something, and gleefully exited House Left while using Thayer as a sort of human shield. Thayer played along and a sizeable portion of the house laughed.

My guess is Ax said, ” I’m exhausted and not doing another 10 minutes of this. You’re getting up and we’re both getting out of here. Right now, homeboy.”

Ax was, in fact, due in the lobby to sign autographs.


Symphony No.4 was outstanding. The first movement felt relaxed and “fun”, as though the orchestra was enjoying the performance as much as the audience.

Hello Rose Lombardo! Roughly 2/3 through the 2nd movement, the flute played a simple ascending major scale with a distinctively rhythmic feel. The phrase “grooves”, if you know what I mean. Lombardo played it with such command it felt like she lifted the orchestra by herself.


In the future, if anyone ever needs to lift 85 musicians at once, they know who to call.

Offstage: “Hey, the angle for the orchestra’s promotional photo is all wrong. We need to lift the entire orchestra up an eighth of an inch! Rose, could you get your flute, you know, and just do that thing you did in “Beethoven Four” for a minute and just …?”

Lombardo: “Yeah, sure. I got this.”

Lombardo plays ascending major scale with the conviction of Eric Dolphy. Throws in the 9th for good measure. The ensemble levitates briefly.

Offstage: “Perfect!”


Back to the performance… Beethoven can feel heavy the way Mozart can feel light. Not in terms of quality, but feel.

The words “natural” and “organic” came to mind during Symphony Four’s third movement. The orchestra felt together but the melody “floated” nicely when things got “Beethoven” heavy.


Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Teaser: If you like Metallica, Soundgarden, Spinal Tap or Cannonball Adderley you’ll dig my upcoming “San Diego Symphony 1/24/20: Wow” post.

2 thoughts on “San Diego Symphony 1/11/20: Manny! Manny! Manny!

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