New York, NY


February 16, 2011

Dear Readers,

I am up in a plane without my earplugs again, my head wrapped in a scarf to block the sun streaming from the window in the aisle ahead. The pianist Simone Dinnerstein is a few rows back, studying a score. She introduced herself in the airport in New York an hour and a half ago, before we boarded the same flight, at the very instant I opened a salad container that threatened to spill onto the floor. She is going to Madison, WI to play with the orchestra; I am going to play a recital with Valentina – tomorrow.

I am a little frazzled. I have been juggling lots of repertoire in the past month or so, while being ill with that laryngitis/fever/flu/cold/sore throat thing that has been going around (thank you, restaurants and airports!), and this switch today is the most mentally challenging. The Curtis Orchestra and I played the Higdon Concerto in Philadelphia two nights ago and in Carnegie Hall in New York last night.

The Higdon violin solo part takes a unique (to that work) combination of complex mindset and muscle memory. The recital program I am playing starting tomorrow is varied, with different requirements for each piece. Antheil’s first sonata calls for a clinically logical approach to memorization; I have to adopt my best guess at the composer’s thought process in order to remember it. Of course, the music in the Antheil is really fun to play, so that is a separate part of the experience. Charles Ives’s fourth sonata needs a certain kind of rhythmic memory alongside musical expressivity, because the piano and violin parts are simultaneously uncoordinated in a way that has to be precisely worked out while conveying emotion. Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata is classical and lyrical through and through. Kreisler’s “Variations on a Theme by Corelli” is a short character piece that is at once showy and charming. And Bach’s Partita #1 in b minor comes in four pairs of movements, so the concentration it draws out of performer and audience is hypnotic and intense. And that is only my perspective! In a recital, the pianist adds a whole other dimension, because we are an integrated duo – it is not just my preparation that leads into the performances, it is also hers and ours together. So that is what I am trying to wrap my head around at this moment.

I don’t normally change so abruptly to a recital tour from a concerto engagement, but in this case, the Curtis Institute was a co-commissioner of the Higdon and part of the inspiration for its creation, the wonderful conductor Juanjo Mena is busier than I am, and Carnegie Hall is in constant demand. We wanted to perform the Higdon together this concert season, but this Monday and Tuesday were the only two days all year that were possible for everyone combined. The orchestra did a great job. They were so prepared, and the many solos written into the orchestra parts sounded terrific. Juanjo was going back and forth between Philadelphia and Baltimore during rehearsals: on Friday he had a concert in Baltimore; Saturday two rehearsals in Philadelphia and a concert in Baltimore; Sunday a concert in Baltimore in the afternoon and a rehearsal in Philadelphia in the evening. And now he is rehearsing in Baltimore again, as I write. But he was completely focused and committed in our preparation, and he worked from the start on musical elements of the piece that often don’t get addressed until the last minute.

I am very glad we did those performances. It brought an experience full circle for me: when I was a student at Curtis, barely into my teens, I made my Carnegie Hall debut – in the Curtis Orchestra, at the back of the second violins, next to the anvil being used in the New York premiere of Ned Rorem’s “Piano Concerto for Left Hand”. I warmed up in the same room the orchestra warmed up in last night, and I was as excited as many of the students were yesterday to play in that hall. It didn’t feel much different last night, except that I now know the acoustics rather well and am 18 years older. Some of the students onstage this week weren’t even born when I played that concert.

Last night in Carnegie Hall, I had a new experience. During an orchestral tutti (when they play without me), I was looking out at the audience when I saw a flash of white fly diagonally down from my left to my right and out of sight. I thought that maybe something had caught the light and created an optical illusion, until I looked over and saw that Juanjo’s hands were empty and everyone in the first row was smiling and craning their heads in the direction of the flash. His baton had gone flying, as it turned out, and only inches in front of me! In the middle of the second movement, during another orchestral tutti, I looked over to my right and noticed the baton in an audience member’s lap. She appeared to be sound asleep. I must have seen wrong, as I met that audience member at the signing after the concert, and she was very much awake.

I also broke a bow hair last night, but that is relatively normal.

I can’t remember if I related the tale from Lucerne of my breaking a string during the final movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto and, as per Leonard Slatkin’s suggestion in that moment, finishing the performance on the concertmaster’s violin. This has been quite the season for unexpected occurrences.

Hilary