Context. Three days after the inauguration of Barack Obama. The Steelers are headed for the Superbowl. The city is giddy with gratitude and anticipation, hope and delight.
And in this environment the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offers a breathtaking performance of Samuel Barber's first symphony. And then Gabriela Montero plays Rhapsody in Blue. And then, with the audience suggestion repeated and supported by the musicians onstage (bass section, I'm looking at you…), Montero yields to our wish and improvises incredibly on the theme, "Here we go, Steelers – here we go." The shouts and standing ovations delay intermission for a few minutes. And then we return from intermission to the surprise performance of John Williams's quartet, "Air and Simple Gifts." Montero had only just played this at the inauguration, yet we can feel that it's already part of the American canon, part of our shared history. We conclude with Mendelssohn's Reformation symphony.
O.k., so that's just a list. A series of pieces. You've read it on the website or seen it in the paper. What I'm failing to express here is how context and content, circumstance and performance, came together to form a whole. Reflection. Tears. Pride. Humor. Passion. So much emotion was so close to the surface for us to begin with, and then the musicians built it, shaped it, and made simple feeling take complex flight.
This is only possible in a particular moment, a particular place, and why I love live performance. I'm grateful to have been there.