Emanuel Ax Plays Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2

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Andrey Boreyko


Emanuel Ax


San Francisco Symphony


Piano Concerto No. 2

Johannes Brahms
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.

The Mermaid (Die Seejungfrau)



Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2

All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
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Davies Symphony Hall

Thu, Apr 11, 2019 at 11:00PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 11:00PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Sun, Apr 14, 2019 at 5:00PM

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Event Description

Arguably “the most distinguished American pianist alive” (The Telegraph), Emanuel Ax adds an almost improvisational fluidity to Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, a piece that combines harrowing pianism with symphonic muscle. Also on the program, the masterful Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko brings his own brand of passion and nuance as he leads the SF Symphony in Zemlinsky's lush symphonic fairy tale based on the Hans Christian Andersen tragedy The Little Mermaid.

At A Glance

Piano Concerto No. 2 1881 | 50 mins

In a letter to a friend, Johannes Brahms coyly mentioned he had finished a “tiny, tiny piano concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo.” This quintessential blockbuster is anything but tiny and early listeners were keenly aware of the new relationship it explored between piano and orchestra. The Brahms of the Second Piano Concerto was a master, confident and altogether mature, and the composer must have felt that he had at last achieved the perfect fusion of inspirational fire with encompassing technique. LISTEN FOR: The first and second movements end in ways meant to produce the ovations they got at their early performances. The Andante, which commentator Charles Rosen once remarked is the slow movement that Rachmaninoff tried all his life to write, features a long and famous cello solo. The finale moves gently in that not-quite-fast gait so characteristic of Brahms, flavored with a touch of Gypsy music. Read More


Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) 1903 | 47 mins

Among the array of powerful talents populating turn-of-the-century Vienna was Alexander von Zemlinsky—friend to Richard Strauss and Mahler and mentor to Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. With the unveiling of Strauss’s gigantic narrative symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben in 1901, some listeners argued that such a piece had gone as far as the genre could go. Zemlinsky set out to prove that Ein Heldenleben was not an end-point, embarking on his own symphonic poem Die Seejungfrau, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Den lille havfrue (The Mermaid). Andersen's tale—which was also the inspiration for the ubiquitous 1989 Disney animated film—recounts the story of a young mermaid who saves a prince from a shipwreck, becomes smitten, and barters her voice for legs so that she might seek him out in the world of humans. (It does not end well.) Zemlinsky’s command of orchestral color is admirable, summoning up sensations of underwater undulation and cavorting creatures in the first movement, a hunting scene for the prince in the second, and the grandeur of the prince’s court in the third. DID YOU KNOW? Zemlinsky was himself feeling love pangs as he worked on this piece, since his student/lover Alma Schindler (soon to be Alma Mahler) broke up with him shortly before he began to  sketch Die Seejungfrau. Read More

Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor at the San Francisco Symphony. 

Concert Extras

Inside Music: an informative talk by Peter Grunberg, begins one hour prior to concerts. Free to ticketholders. Learn More.

*Please note that there will be no Off-The-Podium on Apr, 14.

Emanuel Ax on April 11 will sign CD's following the evening concert in the Orchestra lobby.

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