I’ve been asked in the past what my favorite song or piece of music is. As a musician who enjoys almost all types or genres of music, that is an incredibly difficult, if not impossible, question to answer. However, in one sub-genre of music I can answer it definitively. Without a doubt, my hands-down, no-questions-asked favorite work of classical piano music is Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in d-Minor (K466). Written in 1785, it is one of Mozart’s later piano concerti and was a favorite of young Ludwig van Beethoven, who kept it in his personal repertoire for the duration of his career. Many music historians consider this work a forerunner to Romantic piano music, paving the way for the likes of Beethoven, Paganini and Schubert. It is haunting, mysterious and beautiful. It is also an incredibly difficult piece to learn. I know this because after first hearing it and falling in love with it when I was only a freshman in high school (1985 – 200 years after it was written), I purchased the score so that I could follow as I listened to it over and over again. I could only ever dream of being able to play it. Fortunately, I had multiple recordings of the concerto by accomplished performers, each with his or her own interpretation accentuated different aspects of the work. I have listened to this concerto probably thousands of times, but have never been so astounded as I was today when I read this story in the London Telegraph Online.
Maria Joao Pires is one of the best pianists in the world. She has performed all of the great piano works with all of the great ensembles and in all of the great venues around the globe. Recently, she was on stage with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw ready to perform a Mozart piano concerto (not the d-Minor concerto). As the conductor lowered his baton, the orchestra began playing No. 20, much to the surprise and horror of Pires. She was visibly shaken. You can see her reaction in the video clip below. She whispered to the conductor that this was not the piece she was prepared to play, but that she would do the best she could. Then, like the consummate professional she is, Pires calmed her nerves and performed the work, having had no preparation or rehearsal with the orchestra, amazing both the audience and her fellow musicians. In short, she did what seemed to be impossible.
Very few of us is ever lucky enough to go through life without having unexpected events come our way. Everyone I know has, at one time or another, faced an unexpected and seemingly impossible situation. Regardless of the outcome, the lesson in most of these instances lies not in the result, but in our response to them. There is less to be remembered about the details and more about our actions in the face of certain failure. Years from now, the people in the audience there in Amsterdam will scarcely remember the nuances or Maria Joao Pires’ performance — some may not even remember the piece — but, most of them will certainly remember the manner in which she handled a situation which surely could have been both personally and professionally disastrous. It is not necessary to be a musician or to even appreciate music to draw on what happened to Pires.
I’m going through a difficult time right now. There’s no need to get into a lot of detail. Suffice it to say that I have some major decisions to make very soon and I’m having trouble making them. Nothing I had planned has really turned out the way I expected it would. I understand the way Maria Joao Pires felt when she heard the orchestra introduce a piece she wasn’t prepared to play. I, too, feel unprepared for the situation I’m in right now. The orchestra is playing a tune I didn’t expect to hear. I think I can take a lesson from Pires, here. I think maybe it’s time for me to close my eyes, take a deep breath and trust that I know enough; that I remember enough; that I’ve been given enough to do what needs to be done and to do it the best way I know how. I might make mistakes. I might hit a wrong note now and then and I might get out of tempo, but the end I can trust that the keys to success are right at my fingertips and that I know how to make them work.
If you think about it, my dear friends, say a little prayer for me. I need wisdom and strength and the courage to keep moving forward.
…Now, give yourself 15 minutes and listen to this recording of Maria Joao Pires performing the opening movement (Allegro) from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in d-Minor (K466). She performs it as brilliantly as anyone I’ve heard.