Tonight’s concert was spectacular. I admit that I had questioned the programming. I doubted that four piano concertos, with the orchestra subservient to the soloists, would be a convincing way to end the symphony’s season. I thought I’d be bored and invisible the whole time. I assumed that the students from Toradze’s studio would be competent, but I really didn’t expect them to be thrilling.
The wind section maintained some friendly bets on what the soloists would wear. I am proud to brag that I nailed them all, with the exception of the third soloist – but I don’t feel too bad as NO ONE COULD HAVE IMAGINED that she would come out in teal. Complete shock to all of us. No points awarded.
The energy of the concert was great and kept getting better. I got the sense that the young soloists, partly because of their comparative inexperience, were all thrilled and happy to be there. They each came out and outdid themselves in enthusiasm and deep understanding of and love for the music. And the Prokofiev Concerto that closed the concert, with Alexander Toradze himself at the keyboard, was breathtaking. Truly, I’m not sure I breathed the whole time – it was such a thrill to have this masterful performer take us on such a wild ride.
And what I didn’t think about before we started was what all that accompanying would do for our orchestra. Somehow, in a familiar symphony or overture, our minds can wander. We know our conductor, and what to expect from him, and usually know the piece very well. We sometimes go on autopilot a little. The concerto is almost always the hardest part of a concert, and here the entire program required that kind of intense and focused attention.
When our job is to accompany and support a soloist, we have to come together and be alert to that one person. The entire orchestra is poised at the very tip of the conductor’s baton, and ready to react instantly to any subtle change in style, tempo, or phrasing in the moment. We can play the same familiar symphony with more or less the same result time and again, but when one soloist is in charge and is keyed up and energized, anything can happen. We always have to have one ear and one eye on the pianist, and the other on the conductor, and the third listening around us to our colleagues and ourselves. It’s difficult to make 70 people feel a phrase in the same way as a soloist we met just two days earlier. This is a challenge that we rose to beautifully this evening.
In this day and age, in 2012, it’s rare to focus for two and a half full hours on anything. During the concert, my phone was off and my computer far away. I had one job to do, and that was to join the soloists to make astounding music out of some of the greatest works in the repertoire. At one point in the Mozart, my mind started to wander a little, and I immediately biffed a tiny technical lick, and had to force myself right back on point. Staying alert, in the moment, and beautiful for that long was a challenge – a welcome one. I felt that my mind had a serious workout, and I was tired in a good way at the end. I crave running sometimes when I haven’t had the time to get out, and this mental focus felt fantastic in the same way.
I think I’m babbling. I mean to say that the concert was great. The soloists were outstanding, the orchestra outdid itself, and I was proud of us and of the large, appreciative audience. This was a wonderful night.