At my second class, Oct. 16, we explored four very familiar works: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Van Cliburn playing in Moscow, fresh from his win at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition; two versions of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; two versions of Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus from "Messiah" and, to end on an intimate, meditative note, Claude Debussy's "Claire de lune."
You could feel the energy in the room during Cliburn's bravura performance, but I was still surprised when people applauded, even though I shouldn't have been. Tchaikovsky wears his heart on his sleeve, communicating great beauty and intense emotions -- conflict, nobility, triumph -- that Cliburn perfectly captures. Tchaikovsky is so unabashed at this, he frees us to feel the same things. As the pianist Stephen Hough says, we have a feeling of internal release.
The smiles and gasps in the class tell me we all felt it, yesterday.
But the concerto form also captures something deeper, something we are instinctively drawn to: a hero's journey.
A concerto soloist enters the stage filled with 80 or 90 players, and faces a hall with 1,000 or more people acting as witnesses. He or she faces severe obstacles, alone. The music begins by pitting the pianist against the entire orchestra, and the movement ends with a cadenza, where the orchestra falls silent and the soloist must forge ahead, alone in the wilderness. Moment by moment in this cadenza, the soloist navigates the challenges until, by the end, he or she soars in triumph and the orchestra rises to greet the hero.
We had a great class and I'm grateful to everyone who joined me. I hope to see you Nov. 13 for a look at "Timeless Symphonies."
David Stabler is a pianist, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and just finished riding across America with his brother this summer.