Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music honors pianist with $50,000 prize

The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University has awarded renowned pianist Emanuel Ax the $50,000 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance for 2016. Ax will spend two nonconsecutive weeks in residency at the Bienen School of Music and present a public recital on May 3, 2017.

Established in 2005, the biennial Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance honors pianists who have achieved the highest levels of national and international recognition. Previous winners include Richard Goode (2006), Stephen Hough (2008), Yefim Bronfman (2010), Murray Perahia (2012) and Garrick Ohlsson (2014).

“I am deeply honored to receive the 2016 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance and delighted to join such a distinguished group of colleagues who have received this award,” said Ax. “I eagerly look forward to spending time with the students of the Bienen School of Music during my residencies, and to yet another opportunity to perform for Chicago audiences.”

During his two residencies, scheduled for May 2017 and May 2018, Ax will engage with students, faculty and the public in activities such as master classes, chamber music coachings and guided discussions.

Ax will present a public recital as part of the Bienen School’s Skyline Piano Artist Series on Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts’ Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall. The Skyline Piano Artist Series, established in 2015, takes full advantage of the exquisite acoustics and remarkable Chicago skyline views of the Galvin Recital Hall -- the school’s premier recital venue.

“The Bienen School of Music is pleased to announce that Emanuel Ax is the 2016 recipient of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music. “Mr. Ax is a frequent performer in the Chicago area, and it will be our honor to have a pianist of his stature interact with our students and faculty in on-campus residencies.”


Born in modern day Lvov, Poland, Emanuel Ax moved to Winnipeg, Canada, with his family when he was a young boy. His studies at the Juilliard School were supported by the sponsorship of the Epstein Scholarship Program of the Boys Clubs of America, and he subsequently won the Young Concert Artists Award. Additionally, he attended Columbia University where he majored in French. Ax made his New York debut in the Young Concert Artists Series and captured 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.

Always a committed exponent of contemporary composers with works written for him by John Adams, Christopher Rouse, Krzysztof Penderecki, Bright Sheng and Melinda Wagner already in his repertoire, Ax will perform two newly commissioned works during the 2016-17 season. 

With the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert, January will bring the world premiere of HK Gruber's Piano Concerto followed in March by the European premiere with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle. In recitals throughout the season, his program will include works by Schubert and Chopin partnered with “Impromptus” (2015-16) by Samuel Adams, commissioned by Music Accord and inspired by Schubert. His ongoing relationship with the Boston Symphony will include visits with them to Carnegie Hall, Montreal and Toronto. Ax also will appear with the Cleveland Orchestra as the featured artist for their Gala opening concert of the season. As a regular visitor he will return to the orchestras of Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Toronto, Seattle, Milwaukee and Detroit.

A Sony Classical exclusive recording artist since 1987, Ax has recently released recordings of Mendelssohn trios with Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, Strauss’ “Enoch Arden” narrated by Patrick Stewart, and discs of music for two-pianos by Brahms and Rachmaninoff with Yefim Bronfman. In 2015 Deutsche Grammophon released a duo recording with Perlman of Sonatas by Faure and Strauss, which the two artists presented on tour during the 2015-16 season.

Ax has received Grammy Awards for the second and third volumes of his cycle of Haydn’s piano sonatas. He also has made a series of Grammy-winning recordings with cellist Yo-Yo Ma of the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas for cello and piano. His other recordings include the concertos of Liszt and Schoenberg, three solo Brahms albums, an album of tangos by Astor Piazzolla, and the premiere recording of John Adams’ “Century Rolls” with the Cleveland Orchestra for Nonesuch.

In the 2004-05 season Ax also contributed to an International Emmy Award-Winning BBC documentary commemorating the Holocaust that aired on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In 2013, Ax's recording “Variations” received the Echo Klassik Award for Solo Recording of the Year (19th-century music/piano).

A frequent and committed partner for chamber music, he has worked regularly with artists Young Uck Kim, Cho-Liang Lin, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Peter Serkin, Jaime Laredo and the late Isaac Stern.

Ax resides in New York City with his wife, pianist Yoko Nozaki. They have two children together, Joseph and Sarah. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary doctorates of music from Yale and Columbia Universities.


The Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance is made possible by a generous gift from Jean Gimbel Lane -- a 1952 Northwestern graduate who majored in art history -- and her late husband, the Honorable Laurence W. Lane. The prize was endowed in 2015 and Northwestern named the reception room in the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts in Jean Gimbel Lane’s honor.

The Bienen School also recently awarded Steve Reich the 2016 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. The $100,000 biennial award, established in 2004, honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement.