Anne-Marie McDermott has a funny story about the guest conductor who will lead her and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
A few years ago, she got a phone call from her manager. She needed to be on a plane in a couple hours and fly from home in New York to Florida to perform Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto.
Thing is, the celebrated pianist hadn’t played the piece in more than a year. But she raced home, packed a suitcase and was off to the airport. For the three hours that the plane sat on the tarmac, she played air piano in her lap, going over the piece again and again.
“The guy next to me was probably going nuts because I was moving my fingers in my lap. He had no idea what I was doing,” she recalled.
By the time she finally got to Fort Lauderdale, then jumped in a car for the 45-minute drive to Boca Raton, the concert had started. They arrived just before the intermission.
“I put on my gown. I had never met James Judd. We managed to shake each other’s hand and I played a scale or two,” recalled McDermott. “Then we managed to play Beethoven’s Second Concerto, no rehearsal and I hadn’t played the piece in a year. The performance went great.”
The pair will have plenty of time to rehearse when they are reunited to play with the TSO on Friday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 11.
McDermott, who has appeared several times with the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music over the years and played with the TSO many years ago, is performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27, a piece that she will play several more times this season.
“This piece is completely magnificent,” she said. “Mozart always has this brilliance and sparkle and great clarity. But this concerto also to me has some nostalgia in it. It sounds like it’s a later concerto. The first movement is a little bit relaxed and still has a very uplifting, upbeat last movement and then the most heart-wrenching slow movement.”
McDermott, the award-winning pianist and director of Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, is recording five of Mozart’s concerti — this one is not among them — that she will release before year’s end.
“All of them are filled with such joy and such life. Such clarity; you hear every note,” she said. “I think there’s something so timeless about these Mozart concerti. They are always refreshing. They transport me to a place that’s very sublime, uncomplicated but very profound.”
And now more than ever, we need to be transported to a quieter place, she said.
“In the wild and crazy world that we live in, I think Mozart speaks louder than it ever has,” McDermott said. “We all need to find moments of peace and inspiration and moments of joy, and that’s what all these concerti contain.”