The music that made me #6

Ha! I’m back!

So there I was, an undergraduate music major, summering at the Aspen Music Festival. The very best thing about that summer was all of the concerts, and the concert that impacted me the most was Lili Kraus playing a Mozart piano concerto with the festival orchestra. * 

In case you don’t already know (and if you do know, then skip this paragraph), a concerto is a sonata for solo instrument plus orchestra. In the opening (sonata form) movement, usually two themes are introduced in what we call the exposition; and then the exposition is repeated. In a concerto, most often the orchestra plays the first time through the exposition, without the soloist; and on the repeat, the soloist takes up the melodies and the orchestra primarily accompanies the soloist. (Please note all the wiggle words I put in, since the music does what the composer wants and therefore concertos don’t always follow this pattern. But Mozart’s concerts do.)

So the soloist has to sit there for a while. **

Maybe: doing nothing.


Lili Kraus played that concerto from the very first moment, even as she was “merely sitting there.” There was nothing mere about her sitting! And yet, she wasn’t squirming around or doing anything overt to be participating. She was just listening so intently, and I believe she was mentally creating the music with the orchestra.

I tell my students that a rest is a silence that we play. This encourages both observing the rest and giving it the same precision we give to the notes.

Well, Lili Kraus played that huge long rest before her own notes began, and she played it with passion and commitment. Her performance completely transformed my concept of what it is to play piano.

I am very sorry to have to admit that I no longer remember which concerto was performed that evening. But here she is, playing the first Mozart concerto I ever learned.


*  Well, and Pinchas Zuckerman and Isaac Stern and their friends showing up to create truly amazing sting music. They all embodied so much joy! Nothing in life could ever be better than to create music with such joy.

** Pedantic point: in Mozart’s concertos, often the pianist would play along with the orchestra during the first time through the exposition, essentially doubling the bass in a continuo. This was an aspect of Baroque style that had not quite died out yet. It is not done today unless the ensemble is purposely following historical performance practice. This is a very big bunny hole we could, and will not, go down!

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