Wednesday, November 8, 2017

An Unexpected Surprise

Musicians can do a lot of remarkable things, and not just the international superstars. Most classical musicians are trained to a high level of capability. Just off the top of my head, I think it was pianist Maria Joao Pires who came onstage expecting to play one Mozart concerto, but the conductor surprised her by having the orchestra play another. She had a couple of minutes of orchestral introduction to a) shoot dirty looks at the conductor and, b) recall to herself how the other concerto began. He was pretty sure she had it in her fingers because they had just played it together a few days before. But talk about a nasty surprise! You want proof? Here's the clip:

I experienced a lesser surprise myself. With another guitarist I was booked to do a brief session for CBC Vancouver. When I arrived at my duo partner's house in Vancouver to have a practice session before the taping he said "you know, that piece we picked out is really not great for this session, let's do the Miller's Dance by de Falla instead." Well, sure, that might seem perfectly feasible except we had never played it together! Ever! But he handed me a part and we read through it a few times, and there it was. This is one of the miracles of musical notation: trained musicians can sit down and in a couple of read-throughs put together a performance. Here is the piece, the Miller's Dance from the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, by Manuel de Falla:


Marc Puckett said...

I wonder if there is a recording of the entire concerto? have watched that clip two or three times over the years and it is always stunning to me that MJP could perform such a feat-- but I've never gone looking for a more complete recording. Did what's his name, Riccardo Chailly, inform the audience afterward? For all I know Pires was perfection throughout but at literally two minutes' notice it seems to me it'd be crazy to expect it.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, one of the things that astonishes us is the "from memory" aspect! But I think they had performed this same concerto a few days before. Equally astonishing, if you think of it, is every orchestral movie score you have ever heard. A musician's union "service" is two and a half hours. Go over and you have to pay overtime. Therefore, nearly every movie you have ever attended with an orchestral soundtrack was recorded in under two and a half hours. Given that movies tend to be around one and a half to two hours long, this means that most of the score was played once. At sight.