On May 1st I am going to be performing Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with the New River Valley Symphony, in Blacksburg, VA. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do this because other than performing a Bach keyboard concerto with a small string ensemble when I was very young, this will be the first time I've performed on piano with an orchestra. So how does Florence Foster Jenkins fit in? Well, first let me start out by quickly describing who Florence Foster Jenkins was so that we're all on the same page here. It's such a fabulous story I figure everyone should hear about her at some point.
Florence Foster Jenkins was an American that obviously had a passion for music and in particular, singing. Unfortunately, her natural talent did not match this passion. She persisted, however, and thanks to the money she received upon the deaths of her mother and father, basically ended up buying herself a performing career, of sorts. The performances are legendary and fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) they were recorded for us to enjoy today. Here's a youtube clip for you to sample:
OK, so now you know who she is...how does this relate to me and this upcoming concert? Well, there has been one detail about this upcoming concert that has been slightly problematic and I was trying very hard not to be troubled by it. The hall where the concert is being held has two pianos - one is a small grand and one is a concert grand but they both are in very, very bad condition. Before I even knew I was going to be in this situation, I heard horror stories about these instruments. Since people have found out I'm doing the Beethoven, I've had pianists who have performed in there come up to me with looks of great concern in their faces, wondering what I'm going to do. At first, I didn't want to do anything because I know that money is scarce in this particular organization and because I know that the pianos don't even belong to this particular group. I also prefer to keep a low profile - I'm definitely not a diva pianist. But as stories kept pouring in (one pianist who is a very humble, easy-going person said that after playing on it she truly thought it would be better off being chopped up and used as firewood) and as I grew more and more attached to the Beethoven, I started to get very nervous about the whole situation. The second movement, for example, is for me, music of the heavens. I can't think of music that is more transforming, more exquisite. And when I closed my eyes and thought of having to play those opening phrases all alone, in a large hall, on a tinny "toy piano" as some call it, well, I just don't feel real great about it...I'm worried that it just won't do justice to the music and to the hard work that will have gone into the performance from myself, the conductor, and from the orchestra members.
What to do, what to do? Here's what my husband and I decided to do. Against all common sense, we followed Ms. Florence Foster Jenkins' lead. We e-mailed the closest piano dealer (in Richmond, Virginia!) and we, meaning my husband and I! are renting a 9 ft. piano for that performance! I truly think that there are some that have heard about this and that will hear about this who will think I am either insane, foolish, spoiled, or crazy but at this point, I don't really think I care. I have had to dig down really deep this week to figure out what's most important to me and here's what I came up with:
The music, it's all about this exquisite music. And it's about making music with a bunch of college students that don't have to be doing what they are doing. They are in this ensemble because they are engineering students, architecture students, art students, and music students...for them, this music is joy. For me, this music is joy. Why not give this performance the best chance it can have?
It will be worth it...I am pretty sure of that! I guess we'll find out soon enough.