When one considers that most of the world's great concert artists perform more than 100 concerts a year, it's easy to understand why remembering the details of specific concerts becomes increasingly difficult after years of performing. It's music's version of the film “If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.”
During a recent interview with Louis Lortie, I asked the Canadian pianist if he remembered what he had played on his previous appearance with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic in 2004. He hesitated briefly but then said he seemed to recall that it was Franck's “Symphonic Variations” and Liszt's “Totentanz.” A quick check in The Oklahoman archives verified it.
Before a hiking accident in Italy, Lortie was scheduled to return this week for his third appearance with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Another pianist will step in, and the lineup hasn't changed. Titled “Commoners and Kings,” the program will feature Handel's “Music From the Royal Fireworks” and Rimsky-Korsakov's “Russian Easter Overture.”
I asked Lortie about his debut with the popular concerto, Beethoven's “Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major,” also known as the “Emperor.”
“I was just 21 or 22 when I played it in Toronto with Sir Andrew Davis,” Lortie recalled. “I remember before the first rehearsal, Sir Andrew turned to me and said, ‘I suspect that you'll remember this special moment.' I've since played it with so many conductors and have even conducted it from the keyboard, but I'll always remember that first time.”
Lortie studied with Yvonne Hubert (a student of Alfred Cortot) in his native Montreal, with Beethoven specialist Dieter Weber in Vienna and subsequently with Artur Schnabel disciple Leon Fleisher.
Lortie made his debut with the Montreal Symphony at age 13. In 1984, he won first prize in the Busoni Competition and was also a prizewinner at the 1984 Leeds Competition. Lortie was named officer of the order of Canada in 1992.
Unlike the actor who settles into a comfortable routine during a lengthy run of a play, musicians don't like to feel like they're giving the same performance over and over again. Working with a different orchestra and conductor changes that dynamic and also allows the soloist to constantly rethink his approach to a familiar work.
“I don't come in with a predisposed idea, so I can be open to tempo and even articulation if the musicians do it convincingly,” Lortie said. “I like to let things happen without talking too much. Performances are always different because of the chemistry that develops.
“The conductor and the soloist can have different personalities and different ways of seeing things but we have to be unified in what we're trying to do. That's why we rehearse and discuss. It's important that we don't contradict one another but that we complement one another. That allows you to bring the freshness of the work back to life.”
Performer steps in for Philharmonic
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic announced Saturday that Louis Lortie, the originally scheduled soloist for its Jan. 7 classics concert, will be unable to perform because of a hiking accident in Italy. Taking his place will be American pianist Andrew von Oeyen. The programming will not change. Von Oeyenwill perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”).“We are very grateful to Andrew for making himself available for this performance on short notice,” said Philharmonic executive director Eddie Walker. “His past performance with us was so exciting that we have been trying to arrange for a return engagement and we are blessed that he made himself available.”
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic, under the direction of Joel Levine, will also perform Handel's “Royal Fireworks Music” and Rimsky-Korsakov's “Russian Easter Overture.” For ticket information, call the Philharmonic box office at 842-5387 during regular business hours.