A Scandal at the Symphony? How could a performance by the venerable Ann Arbor Symphony possibly be considered scandalous? While I was out of town for the March 21 concert, my plant in the audience filled me in.
Towards the end of the first movement of Bach’s demonic D minor keyboard concerto, soloist Joel Hastings suddenly stopped playing, walked over to the conductor, conferred briefly, and then resumed playing, picking up a few bars before where he had got stuck. But when he got back to the same spot, Hastings stopped again, conferred with the conductor, and resumed once more. This time, he made it all the way through. The second movement went well, but deep into the third movement Hastings stopped yet again. Fortunately, only one restart was needed to complete the performance. “At intermission,” the Ann Arbor News reported the next day, “it was all anyone seemed to be talking about.”
I was shocked myself. I’d heard Hastings play on several occasions and consistently found him a first-class pianist with a fine temperament and a terrific technique. His performance several years ago of Liszt’s transcription of the Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan und Isolde reduced me to tears. Something had gone wrong for Hastings, and I knew what it was: a memory slip. It happens to everyone. When pianist Paul Badura-Skoda tried playing Berg’s Sonata at Rackham Auditorium, he had one and had to go backstage and get the music to continue. It’s happened to me too, twice, and I know all you can do is get up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse.
That’s what Hastings decided to do. Immediately afterwards, he says he “felt betrayed by my own brain! It was a terribly embarrassing moment, especially in my hometown. Why couldn’t this have happened in Timbuktu!?” But Hastings knew he had to get back on. “I wanted another opportunity to play the Bach as I envision it and to perform it in Ann Arbor. I want to play it sooner rather than later to forestall any anxieties that might arise after my previous experience.”
So on Wednesday, June 10, Hastings will remount Bach’s D minor at the Kerrytown Concert House, and this time he’ll be using the sheet music. “This way I can focus solely on the music and the ensemble and not be concerned with memory.” Instead of the Symphony, he’ll be accompanied by a string quintet—a perfectly legitimate aesthetic decision in this work—with players drawn from the Detroit Symphony and Michigan Opera Theater. They’ll also perform Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet and Chopin’s E minor Piano Concerto, which like the Bach Concerto, will be accompanied only by string quintet. The 1830 string arrangement of Chopin’s work that Hastings will use was found at the University of Chicago Library several years ago; as far as anyone can remember, it’s never been played in Ann Arbor before.