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Emanuel Ax Visits SCPA to Kick Off Busy Weekend

The first weekend of 2012 was a busy one for SCPA music students.  World-renowned pianist, Emanuel Ax, visited the School on Friday, Jan. 6 for a master class that was part of the Mayerson Master Artists Series.  On Saturday an ensemble of students in the jazz program made their third appearance as the “house band” at The Blue Wisp – Cincinnati’s premiere jazz establishment.  And on Sunday seven SCPA band students performed in the Ohio Music Educators Association Honors Band in front of an audience of 1,300.

7-time Grammy-winning pianist, Emanuel Ax, took time off from his appearance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to tour SCPA and to listen to a student piano quintet and a soloist perform.  Ax, the child of Holocaust survivors, led the quintet in a master class following their performance of a particularly challenging piece of music.  The opportunity for SCPA students to be instructed by someone who regularly performs on the world stage with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman is one of the benefits of the Mayerson program.  

After the Quintet’s performance, SCPA’s 9th grade piano “phenom”, Charles Ramsey, played a flawless improvisation piece that left Ax all but speechless save for a single word, “P-E-R-F-E-C-T”.  I honestly have never seen a master artist respond in that way to a student performance.  Ax, a faculty member of Juilliard, reinforced the comment with a genuine invitation for Charles to follow-up personally with him in the immediate future.   

The best was yet to come when Ax humbly asked if the audience of fewer than 50 in the Mayerson Theater would mind if he “played a little something”.  What followed was a performance of a Schubert piece into which Ax threw himself as if performing at Lincoln Center.  He epitomized the “master artist” label that he wears with such ease.     

Saturday night drew a different crowd to the opening weekend of the newly relocated Blue Wisp.  The storied jazz establishment has taken up residence in the center of downtown (7th & Race) where it will continue its 35-year run as the local savior of Jazz.  Kicking off Saturday nights at the Blue Wisp will be an ensemble of SCPA jazz musicians who perform under the name, “The Young Lions” which is the name taken by generations of jazz musicians during their early careers in music.  In their third appearance at the Blue Wisp, the SCPA students earned high praise indeed.  One of the wizened bartenders said, “They’re the best Young Lions we’ve had in years”.  In the coming weeks the SCPA Young Lions will open for regional and national touring acts at this beloved haunt.

Give a listen to the SCPA Young Lions.
The weekend wrapped with a standing-room-only performance in front of 1,300 by the OMEA Honor Band.  This adjudicated event selects the very best young musicians from throughout the region.  Seven SCPA students – more than from any other high school – filled the ranks of the brass, wind and percussion sections of the all-star band.  They performed brilliantly under the direction of Guest Conductor, Gary Speck, Professor of Music from Miami University.

The pressure to excel doesn’t let up this week at SCPA as students participate in Arts Boards.  Twice a school year, students in each arts discipline perform a prepared audition piece in front of a panel of SCPA faculty.  Failure to pass Boards has consequences which may entail the choice of an alternative artistic major or counseling regarding students’ appropriateness for a school of art and their return to neighborhood schools.

The Mayerson Artistic Excellence Program at SCPA provides enhanced instruction to exceptionally talented SCPA students through master classes with visiting artists and year-long instruction with professional ensembles-in-residence.  Upcoming programs include visits from violinist, Midori, and video art workshops in conjunction with the Contemporary Arts Centers’ exhibit on the history of music videos.

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