Unforeseen illness can wreak havoc when it strikes a professional classical concert soloist just days before a scheduled performance.
The schedule of an in-demand soloist is typically set at least a year in advance, with a lengthy planning window ensuing. Travel, accommodations, rehearsal schedules, hall bookings, and other details are spelled out in contracts and riders painstakingly negotiated between the booking agency and the presenter, often taking six months or more to complete.
In addition, classical concertos are complex and difficult, requiring lengthy preparation. Even the most gifted artist can only keep so many pieces under his or her fingers. Soloists thus usually have a relatively short list of works ready for performance in any given concert season.
For all these reasons, classical music organizations are not particularly adept at turning on a dime when the unforeseen strikes.
The unforeseen struck recently when Symphony Tacoma officials received a call from pianist Andrew Tyson’s agency—just three days before the concert—that the artist was too ill to fulfill his November 18 engagement. Tyson was slated to make his regional debut performing the Ravel Piano Concerto in G at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater, with Sarah Ioannides conducting.
We all know the old adage “the show must go on,” but part of being a professional is knowing when you’re too ill to give a performance your best–and bowing out in time for the presenting organization to have a shot at replacing you. In this difficult circumstance, Tyson did the right thing. It cannot have been an easy decision for him.
Fortunately, the quick-thinking Sarah Ioannides immediately texted pianist Charlie Albright—with whom she had just collaborated in Philadelphia the week before—to see if by any chance he was available and knew the concerto. Charlie, who has been acclaimed as “among the most gifted musicians of his generation” by The Washington Post, hails from Centralia, just an hour down I5 from Tacoma. He responded right away: yes, he was available, and yes he was ready, willing and able to perform the formidable Ravel concerto on a scant three days’ notice!
This was truly a happy solution. The Pacific Northwest native had previously appeared with Symphony Tacoma in November 2014, so he was already known and loved by local audiences. As The New York Times put it, he has “jaw-dropping technique and virtuosity meshed with a distinctive musicality,” and to add to the package, a friendly, outgoing and generous personality that is the same onstage or off. Finally, he has the rare talent of being a master improviser. He knocked the ball out of the park with his dazzling performance of the Ravel concerto, and then played an encore improvised on the spot after asking audience members to pick the first four notes.
Sometimes turning on a dime brings positive artistic results. The unforeseen may start out by bringing havoc, but if properly embraced it can result in high flying!