May 2nd, 2004


getting lost in Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto

For me it's a beautiful, powerful piano concerto. Last night I went with my wife and some friends to a concert that included the first movement of this concerto.

It was a performance of the University of Chicago Orchestra, which is mostly made up of students. It was a real bargain at $8 a general-seating ticket. We sat on the left side of the hall so that we could get a good look at the pianist's fingers doing their magic.

The young woman, a freshman in biology I believe, who did the Tchaikovsky piece, generally did a marvelous job. And I felt myself swept up in the music, almost transported to another world. But then, in the middle of a big piano solo, I snapped out of it, because the pianist was playing notes that weren't right.

It appeared that she "got lost" in the other sense... she lost where she was or how the notes were supposed to go. She was playing without sheet music, concerto soloists generally do, so she didn't have the paper notes to fall back on. Since it was a solo, she couldn't tell where she was supposed to be by listening to the orchestra.

I felt really bad for her. Fortunately, she did find her way again, and got back into the swing of things, and finished the movement with its rousing finale.

The crowd applauded very heartily. It was mostly students in the audience. I'm not sure if they knew she had flubbed part of it. I applauded very heartily, too. She had done a great job except for that little bit.

She was not smiling as she took her bows. People kept bringing her bouquets of flowers, until her arms were so full she could barely hold them. But she looked as if she had no real sense of triumph. She looked as if the was still deeply chagrined by her little problem patch.

I suspect world-class soloists sometimes make mistakes too, but that they have better musical improvisational ability, so the audience is even less likely to notice.

By the way, you may have heard the main tune of this piano concerto movement in the form of an old song that took its melody. It was called "Tonight We Love." I had a janitorial job once where I heard the song frequently in a Muzak version.

Rhyme of the day:

If you get lost, just find you're way back.
It's still way better than the damned Muzak.