DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mozart Master Meets the Museum

Ladies and Gentleman: The Rolling Stones - Jagger, Richards, and Watts ...
... and their classical counterpart Paul Badura-Skoda

With the Rolling Stones starting their 50 and Counting tour last week, much is being made of the ages of the 3 original members still playing with the band. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 69, while drummer Charlie Watts is 71. But, as performers, the Stones are mere whippersnappers when compared to 86-year-old Austrian pianist and conductor Paul Badura-Skoda, who brought his incredible talent to the National Gallery of Art last night.

Badura-Skoda, recognized since 1950 (13 years before the Stones 1st took the stage) as one of the world's great classical pianists, performed 3 compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The set list (yes, I know you don't refer to the pieces in a classical performance as being in a set list, but we've got a rock n' roll motif going here) consisted of Piano Concerto n. 12 in A Major, Sonata in C Minor, and Piano Concerto in E-flat Major. As the titles would indicate, Badura-Skoda played the sonata solo. He was joined on the 2 concertos by the strings and brass of the National Gallery of Art Orchestra, which he vibrantly directed with periodic alternating flailing arms from his piano bench.

From our fantastic seats in a 2nd row of chairs on the side of the stage, we had a clear view of the mesmerizing sight of Badura-Skodas' hands figuratively flying up, then down, then up the keyboard again and again as he executed even the most difficult Mozart passages.

Our seats also allowed us to view the evident joy that the aged pianist was taking in the beauty and majesty of the music. From time to time, Badura-Skoda would glance upward, appearing as if he was drawing some empyrean strength from the highest reaches of the towering atrium of the National Gallery. Other times, he would emphatically bob his head, letting his requisite-for-a-classical-genius mane of white hair punctuate the power of the more upbeat passages.

As the final notes of the rondo:presto movement of the last concerto faded, the audience rose to their feet, clapping loudly and wildly. There were even scattered whistles and calls demonstrating the appreciation of the age-defying performance that had just been delivered. Badura-Skoda, after consulting with the 1st violinist and a few other members of the ensemble, sat once again at his bench to play and conduct the group in a Mozart encore.

After that piece, he exited the stage, only to be summoned back by another cacophony of appreciation. This time, many fans left their seats and rushed toward the stage, cameras out to capture the moment. Then, with the audience seated and now joined as listening participants by the orchestra,  Badura-Skoda played a final encore, a brief, but technically difficult Mozart piece. After one sustained outburst of audience approval, the pianist left the stage for good.

As they slowly made their way out of the packed atrium, the crowd excitedly discussed what they had just witnessed. "He's 86! Eighty-six, to play like that at 86, it's truly incredible," one woman said. There was no question that the concert-goers had just witnessed marvelous music. But there was also a message here. In an increasingly youth-obsessed world, there will always be a place for talented, experienced veterans, whether they be classicists or rockers. For as Badura-Skoda and Jagger/Richards continue to prove, in many things, music being one of them, you can deliver Satisfaction just as well at 81 as you can at 18.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Last night's concert at the National Gallery was the the 1st of dozens of special programs this month celebrating the diverse cultures of 27 countries representing the European Union. To see a complete list of all events, click here.

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