Piece: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Composer: Edvard Grieg
Premier: April 3, 1869, Copenhagen
The day I took the train to Rochester, New York for my grad school audition at Eastman, the city had a 48-inch snow storm. Even after 15 Vermont winters, that's still the most I've ever seen in a single day. What was already a surreal weekend among the musically gifted was made even more so by the crazy weather. Of course, it's western New York. There are no snow days. Life goes on. Get your boots on and get your sorry ass out there.
Eastman was an extraordinary experience for many reasons. In truth, I was way out of my league. The Eastman School of Music, part of the University of Rochester, is one of the best conservatories in the world. I'll spoil the ending: I didn't get in. But my weekend trip was most enjoyable. I even made a small group of friends among the other auditioners. I kept up with one of them, a piano accompanist, for a little while afterwards. I don't remember his name. Otherwise, I'd track him down on Facebook.
The most memorable part of the trip was not the weather or in fact anything to do with my audition. The highlight was a concert. That particular weekend, the Eastman Orchestra was featuring the winners of its annual concerto competition. Naturally, we all went.
The soloists included two violinists and a pianist. The first two, both master's candidates, were thin, wispy, East Asian women in sexy, elegant, slinky dresses. They dressed for success and played to match. Perfectly satisfying.
Then the third came out, the pianist. She was a doctoral student from Hong Kong and, frankly, she looked silly: geeky glasses and a red dress with little yellow pompoms all over it. She bounced around, grinning wide and waving at the audience like a five year old. As one of my companions said, you really didn't want to take her seriously. But then she sat down to play.
Oh... my... lord!
From the instant her hands hit the keyboard, every jaw in the audience was on the floor. Mind you, Grieg's Piano Concerto is one of the world's true kick-ass pieces. She owned every note. We were putty in her hands. I have never seen an audience jump to its feet as quickly as we did and never was a standing ovation more richly deserved. The evening was hers.
My daughter knows this story and knows how important the piece is to me as a result. Our first Vermont Symphony concert included the Grieg Piano Concerto on the program. This past spring, she learned a reduction of the piece herself. The first time I heard her play it at her lesson was one of those moments when I knew I have lived my life well. Sometimes, I second-guess decisions I have made but every choice that led to her playing the Grieg was undoubtedly the right one.