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.