Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You're naked, lecturing to strangers

Did you ever have that panic-inducing dream? Maybe you've had the "taking the final exam in a course I've never attended" nightmare. If so, the look on your sleeping face was probably like the one on pianist Maria Joao Pires in this video, when she realized she had showed up for a concert with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra after preparing the wrong concerto.

This moment of confusion came before a free rehearsal for the evening performance, but the hall was full of people. (The Charlotte Symphony invites the public to its rehearsals, too.) Pires had the right composer: Mozart, one of the three men this poet of the keyboard has made her specialty all her career. (The others are Chopin and Schubert.) But where music director Riccardo Chailly had prepped his orchestra for Concerto No. 20, Mozart's most dramatic, she had been working on the sunnier 21st.

I like this video for three reasons. First, it shows that a world-class artist can make a horrible mistake but pull herself out of it almost immediately: Pires starts playing the D Minor from memory after a few seconds of preparation, and the opening bars indicate she's in full emotional command.

Second, the genial Chailly can elicit a tremendously weighty sound from one of the world's best orchestras while chatting with his soloist: When she explains that she'll try to play the piece he's started, he calmly says, "I'm sure you do that. You know it too well." He never stops conducting, never looks worried, never falters.

Third, it reminds me that a great performance of Mozart can't be topped, and you can see this will be one. The combination of the Dutch orchestra and the Portuguese pianist looks like it must have been a terrific blend. In case you'd like to hear her do the whole piece, here's a performance from 10 years ago with Pierre Boulez and the Berlin Philharmonic: