Last week, J and I went to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert: the last of three such concerts we’ve gone to this season. The program featured a symphony by Sibelius and a piano concerto by Busoni, two composers I wasn’t familiar with. The soloist who played the Busoni piece, Kirill Gerstein, was amazing: the concerto was long, fast, and complicated, and Gerstein performed it without sheet music, committing more than 70 minutes of emphatic, keyboard-pounding music to muscle-memory.
I don’t know much about classical music, and during any given concert, my mind sometimes wanders. But I’m always inspired by the mastery both regular symphony members and visiting soloists demonstrate as they perform long, intricately orchestrated pieces. I’m not a musician, so playing an instrument seems difficult enough, and playing an instrument in unison with an entire orchestra of others seems downright miraculous.
My favorite moments in any concert are the quiet ones, when all eyes are on the conductor and you can almost hear the musicians holding their collective breath. These expectant moments thrill me in a way the dramatic crescendos and flourishes do not. Playing loudly seems easy enough: even I could make a lot of noise with a horn or drum. But it takes talent and a well-tamed temperament to ride the crests and troughs of a well-written concerto, the music and surging and subsiding in unexpected and ultimately satisfying ways.