TONIGHT I HEARD AN ANGEL PLAYING
He was an old angel—probably mid 70’s or more.
A smallish man with white hair, he sat at the grand piano in The Segerstrom Center for the Arts and performed like no one I’ve ever heard before. At the hands of this gifted leprechaun, Grieg’s Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra was magic, a seemingly endless cascade of lilting or sparkling notes you’d seldom hear this side of heaven.
Somehow, during that piece, the man and the piano disappeared, and only his lyrical notes remained. The two of us, make that the entire audience, was riveted.
Strangely, Rob and I had never heard of Joaquin Achucarro, born in Bilbao, Spain. Yet, as the program notes said, “It was his victory in England at the 1959 Liverpool International Competition . . . and the rave reviews in the London papers after his debut with the London Symphony in the Royal Festival Hall that marked the beginning of his career.”
Think of it—that was 57 years ago. How old was he then? We can’t be sure. But by any measure this gifted man must be nearing eighty.
How could we not have heard of him, this genius who has been winning international awards right through 2014? Over the years, Rob and I have been treated to a multitude of gifted artists at the piano, but few that moved us like Achucarro. At the end of his Grieg Concerto, the audience rose as one and clapped thunderously, whistled and yelled “bravo!” Achucarro, standing quietly next to the conductor—Rune Bergmann, a Norwegian who was easily a foot and a half taller—smiled and modestly bowed.
The audience would not let him go. The leprechaun came back and played for us another richly dramatic piece—all with his right hand resting on the piano seat.
With those otherworldly notes still ringing in our heads, Rob and I decided not to stay for the second half. When you’ve floated away on a wave of music, you can’t bear to trust competing sounds that might bring you off that high. So we went home.
On the way, I considered briefly and privately how bad most of the day had been—awful Trump news (he’s bringing back as re-treads some of the worst politicians our country has ever known), plus some equally awful personal news for both me and a family member. But I quickly dismissed those thoughts.
The day had ended better than I ever imagined. Better than I thought it could. Not for the first time I recognized a power that men have long known but often forget. Music can lift you up and take you to places that moments before existed only in your imagination. With sounds like we heard tonight, the world suddenly became a better place. And with one of our near-magic CDs at home, we can return to that better place any time we want.
In my memoir, THE TAIL ON MY MOTHER'S KITE, I describe what it was like to do dishes with my gypsy mother, while we sang together in harmony.
The book is available on my web-site, Maralys.com, or at Amazon.