Education and Background
Axel Schmitt earned a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004; a Master of Music from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2001; and a Bachelor of Arts from University of California, Los Angeles in 1999.
Born in Germany in 1975, Axel Schmitt received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance as a student of the renowned Russian Pianist Prof. Vitaly Margulis at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004. At UCLA, Dr. Schmitt taught both private studio lessons and keyboard proficiency classes for undergraduate music majors. Before coming to the bay area, he served as a faculty at Southwest Music Conservatory and a staff pianist at Biola University in the Los Angeles area. As the first prize winner of the Los Angeles Liszt Competition and the national German competition Jugend musiziert, he has performed as a concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber-musician throughout the United States, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Hungary, and Russia. Press reviews describe him as “a great pianistic talent” of an “amazing artistic range with a singing sound quality, tasteful power, noblesse, and calmness.” He is an “artist of mature, extremely rich ability of expression” who possesses “virtuosity, temperament, but also a great sense of melody and poetry.” In 2007, he was granted permanent residency by the United States government as an artist of extraordinary ability.
Axel Schmitt received his first piano lessons at age eleven and already one year later had his first public performances. In 1991, he became a private student of Mrs. Leontina Margulis in Freiburg and in 1992 won the first prize at the nationwide German piano competition “Jugend Musiziert” with the highest possible score. He was awarded the “Edwin Fischer Stipendienfonds” Scholarship and made his orchestral debut in his hometown Titisee-Neustadt with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, K 482. In the same year, he was invited to perform at the Goethe-Institutes in Rome, Naples, and Tarquinia, Italy. In 1993, he was chosen as a guest soloist of the “Landesjugendorchester Baden-Wuerttemberg” under the direction of Prof. Thomas Ungar and performed Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto in C Major on a tour that included several cities in South Germany. The final concert in Moessingen was broadcast on radio and later issued on CD. Critics wrote about a “great pianistic talent” of “technical perfection and a natural, convincing musical interpretation” (Schwaebisches Tagblatt.) In 1994, he played Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor in Titisee-Neustadt. From 1992 to 1995, he also had a piano trio, with which he performed frequently and won the second prize at the national German competition “Jugend Musiziert” in 1993 and was invited to perform at the Brahms-Festival in Baden-Baden in 1995.
In 1995, Axel Schmitt moved to Los Angeles and became a student of Prof. Vitaly Margulis at UCLA where he received numerous awards and scholarships including the Sophia Guzik Scholarship, the Benno Rubyini Scholarship, the Atwater Kent Award, the Meyers Award, the Gluck Outreach Fellowship (three times,) the prestigious UC Regents Scholarship, the Dissertation Year Award, and the Graduate Recognition Award. In 1996, he returned to Germany to perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in C-minor with orchestra. In 1996 and 1998, he won first prizes at the Los Angeles Liszt Competition and was invited by the American Liszt Society to perform a recital at the Liszt Museum in Budapest, Hungary. After a Solo-Recital for the “Rotary-Club Hochschwarzwald,” critics wrote about an “unforgettable evening” full of “virtuosity, temperament … and poetry” (Badische Zeitung.) He also won a third prize at the IBLA Piano Competition in Ragusa on Sicily and was a finalist in the Senigallia Competition for Young Pianists.
In 1999, Axel Schmitt was invited by the Austrian Consulate General to play chamber-music recitals in Los Angeles and Washington DC. In 2000, he performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E-flat Major K482 with the Musik Zentral Festival Orchestra under Dr. Jon Robertson in Bad Aussee, Austria. In 2001, he was invited to the same festival to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major “Emperor.” From 2000 to 2003, he also had a piano trio at UCLA and performed twelve concerts every year throughout Los Angeles as part of the Gluck Outreach Program. In 2002, he won the UCLA Concerto Competition and performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in C minor with the UCLA Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Jon Robertson. A review in The Beverly Hills Outlook was titled “Ravishing Rachmaninoff” and praised a “brilliant soloist … in a stunning interpretation.” In 2002, he returned to his hometown in Germany to perform MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto in D minor and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with orchestra. In the same year, he was invited to perform at the World Piano Pedagogy Conference in Las Vegas and, in 2003, performed at the International Conservatory Week in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In April 2004, Axel Schmitt was the piano soloist in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the UCLA Philharmonia Orchestra. In the same year, he was invited to perform with the Grammy-winning Southwest Chamber-Music. His final doctoral recital at UCLA, which was announced as a featured recommendation in the LA Times, was dedicated to the piano transcriptions and paraphrases of Franz Liszt and received a standing ovation from the audience. The program included Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the Don Juan Fantasy, which is the subject of his doctoral dissertation. In June 2004, he was the graduate student speaker for the commencement of the School of Arts and Architecture at UCLA. In 2007, he performed Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto “Emperor” in Germany for a sold-out audience and received rave reviews from the press. In the same year, the United States government declared him an artist of extraordinary ability and granted him permanent residency. At CSMA, he has performed solo and chamber-music in the faculty concert series in Tateuchi Hall to a sold-out audience.
In addition to his studies with Prof. Margulis, Axel Schmitt has participated in numerous international piano master-classes of Natalia Antonova, Dimitri Bashkirov, Sergei Dorensky, Elza Kolodin, Vitaly Margulis, Victor Merzhanov, Murray Perahia, Robert Ward, and Martyn van den Hoeck. From 2000 to 2003, he received chamber-music coaching from Prof. Mark Kaplan at UCLA. Besides his solo activities, he has performed as an accompanist of singers, instrumentalists, and choirs. His extensive repertoire reaches from Bach to the 21st century and displays a special affinity for the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Liszt.
“Central to my teaching philosophy is the belief that music is one of the most essential parts of human nature and education. As many scientific studies have shown, every child benefits in multiple ways from learning the piano. By mastering the technical challenges of an instrument and comprehending the rich diversity of musical styles, students develop into creative individuals, who are able to express themselves as independent thinkers. I train not only the fingers of the students, but also nurture the mind and sharpen the ear. In my teaching, I incorporate music theory, music history, and knowledge of performance traditions, as concepts such as articulation, dynamics, and musical expression differ for every composer and musical period.”