This weekend my Mom and I had the best live music experience of our lives, not an exaggeration. We ventured to New York City to see two great pianists: Martha Argerich and Andras Schiff.
I’ve wanted to see Martha Argerich in concert after listening to her interpretations for a couple of years. She rarely comes to the US, last year she got a Kennedy Center Honor for piano. She’s my main piano inspiration musically, and at 76 she has still got it. The same weekend Andras Schiff, famous for his Bach interpretations, was going to play Bach and Schumann’s only Piano Concerto. I saved a lot of money for this trip and I convinced my Mom to get out her her routine comfort zone and take a spontaneous trip with me.
We were going to see Schiff on Thursday night and Argerich on Friday night, then sadly head home on Saturday.
We stayed at an Airbnb in Manhattan on the border of Central Park and 5 minutes away from Juilliard. Such a convenient location. It was sketchy on the outside, so sketch that my Mom thought it was a scam. Once we walked inside, it was a normal bright, modern chic apartment. Comfy bed, bathroom, that’s all we needed.
We landed in LaGuardia Airport around late-afternoon and Schiff’s concert started at 7:30, and we had a long journey to the apartment. Luckily we made it with time to spare for the concert. His concert was in Lincoln Center, and we passed by the towering MET building on the way. In the theatre, were seated on a box on the side, so we had to turn our heads to see the stage. Now, about the music…
Schiff began the night with a Haydn Symphony, with gorgeous strings by the NY Philharmonic. It was the best quality orchestra I’ve heard live, and I was occasionally closing my eyes trying to savor the sound the best I could. Next they played a Bartok Symphony for Strings, very refreshing and different and I could hear the influence from Gershwin, Ravel, etc from the same time period. His conducting style is elegant, quick, and quirky. Schiff had a distinct movement for epic moments where he puts lifts arm in the air like waving an imaginary small flag, or shaking an imaginary pom-pom as if cheering the orchestra on.
After intermission he played the two piano concertos, Bach and Schumann (which I have memorized by listening to it so many times). Bach was glorious, although the sound was a little softer than I expected, would liked to hear it louder. Schiff’s playing is intricate, accurate, and straight-to the-point. He truly lives Bach. And the Schumann was the perfect ending to 2 hours of music. After the standing ovation he played a short “easy” piece, one that kids might learn their 2nd year playing piano. It was adorable.
The only two things I wanted to do in NYC were to go to a famous historical bookstore “The Strand” and see the concerts. I’m a book nerd. My Mom also just came to see the concerts, so she graciously complied with my plans. We took the metro south to Union Square, got lost in Barnes and Noble, I bought a old-looking leather $35 journal (no shame, since I’m almost done with my current journal and I journal on the daily). And I bought another book called “The ONE Thing” for productivity and inspiration for completeing goals.
Then we walked to the strand, 4 floors of books. My version of heaven. We were there for about 1.5 hours, actually I lost track of time so I don’t know for sure.
After all the walking and standing, our feet were sore, my wallets were tired, so we went to an Italian restaurant across the street and had authentic NY pizza. It was a thin-crusted, cheezy, and delicious Margarita Pizza. Next we headed back the the apartment to take a nap, because we were tired.
I read about 60 pages of my new book, fully-rested, and we reserved dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant. We felt out-of-place there, it’s a restaurant where you pay for expensive bottled water. I shant say more.
We were soo excited to go to Carnegie Hall for the first time, who wouldn’t? I was going to see my favorite pianist of all time, and a magnificent orchestra from Italy conducted by Antonia Pappano. There was a pre-concert talk at 7, not so engaging on the speaker’s part, and until 8pm we roamed around the classic gold and deep red-carpeted lobby areas. The Hall was celestial and tall, classic beautiful architecture. This was going the be the best listening experience of my life!
The orchestra played the overture from Aida, such pristine quality music from the orchestra. Then Martha walked on stage, soon greeted by cheers and a partial-standing ovation even before she sat down at the piano. She played the virtuosic Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3. Her playing was fiery, energetic, effortless, percussive, and the slow sections we so controlled and fluid.. like water. The sounds that came out of the piano I’ve never heard before.
There was a resounding standing ovation, cheering, Bravo’s, and after 5 minutes she played an encore duet with Pappano, Ravel’s “Ma Mere L’oye”.
That wasn’t the end of the night though, The Orchestra played The Pines of Rome, a divine experience, as if I was in Rome. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, and imagined myself there. Cymbals, horns, triangle, organ, all here to take us there. For the encore they played William Tell, I’ve never heard it better, explosive and celebratory at the end. The audience was loving it.
After having these musical experiences I was rejuvinated as an artist, musician, and human being. This art is what the orchestra players had devoted their life to, as with Schiff and Argerich. Their result in their craft is masterly. It is achieveable. I couldn’t wait to play piano and restart my journey of mastering the piano after seeing a few masters live. I am very grateful.