Thursday night I attended a livestream performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra, featuring the Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence Price, a brilliant Black composer whose works were “historically erased” for decades. Written in 1934, the score of this wonderful concerto was discovered relatively recently, sitting in a box in the house the composer had lived in.
The soloist was Michelle Cann, herself a Black woman, and before the conductor lifted his baton she turned to the orchestra and thanked them for playing this piece that meant so much to her. And then, in black masks emblazoned in white with the words “The Philadelphia Orchestra,” these extraordinary musicians unleashed a dazzling performance of this brilliant piece.
I had really been looking forward to this concert. But I was surprised how excited I got shortly before it started when I was standing in my kitchen and heard the sound of a chime coming from my computer in the living room, followed by a booming baritone voice announcing, “Please take your seats. The performance will begin in five minutes.”
It had been nearly a year since I’d had that feeling of anticipation, and of not wanting to be late for the beginning of a concert. Images of Carnegie Hall poured into my mind, with everyone milling around just outside the doors to the red velvet seats. So many people so close together, rushing to sit next to each other in that magnificent space, designed for us, so that we could have an experience that is like no other.
And so I rushed from the kitchen to the living room to sit on the couch alone, and watched the last seconds of the countdown on the computer screen. Brief program notes appeared, overlaid in white on an image of Philadelphia streets, followed by a lovely pre-performance talk by the oboist about his part in the Rossini overture that opened the program. Then suddenly there was a hush, and the performance began.
Following amazing performances of Rossini and Price, the orchestra wowed me again with their performance of Schubert’s great Fourth Symphony. Throughout the concert, the camera frequently zoomed in on individual players, showing their incredible focus and precision when their particular instrument was featured for a moment. The stunning blending of instruments spoke of countless hours of rehearsal and of the lifelong experience of these superb musicians who are some of the best in the world.
The next morning I was still soaking up the deep nourishment I received from this performance, and I realized how badly I had needed that nourishment. For nearly a year now, we’ve been unable to attend concerts in person, where, in addition to hearing great performances we also shared in the applause and in the palpable presence of our fellow human beings in the audience. That exchange of warmth and appreciation between performers and audience has been removed from our lives for so long now that even watching a great orchestra on a computer screen gives us a feeling of the human connection that we crave.
And as millions of people begin to receive the vaccine that will eventually end this long, trying, and deadly pandemic, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to celebrating our shared humanity in concert halls again. It was always a special experience for us, yet somehow, we took it for granted. We never imagined it could be taken away.
I don’t think anything can prepare me for that real live moment when I will take my seat again among my fellow human beings in a concert hall filled to capacity. But I try to imagine it: The lights dim. Breathless conversations quiet down. Suddenly the performers walk onto the stage to the incomparable, joyful sound of applause. Our faces are so radiant. And the hearts of performers and audience alike are full to bursting, welcoming each other like long lost, beloved friends.
We will not want the performance to end.