André Watts; photo by David Bazemore

Last night, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra gave a concert in Carnegie Hall. Orpheus is a riderless horse, as I call them: an orchestra without a conductor. Last night, they began with an OOMP—an obligatory opening modern piece—by Vijay Iyer. A creditable piece it is, too. I will write about it in my forthcoming “chronicle” for the print magazine. The concert ended with a Beethoven symphony, the First.

In between came a Mozart piano concerto: No. 9 in E flat, K. 271, known as the “Jeunehomme.” The soloist was André Watts, the veteran American pianist. I was a little nervous. How would he play? What condition is he in?

Over the years, I have occasionally heard senior musicians—former stars, if you will—and decided not to write about them. Too sad.

I am happy to write about Mr. Watts. In the first movement, he did some beautiful trilling. He has always been able to do that. If memory serves, he once said, “I can trill so fast, the two notes blur into one.” (A pianist of my acquaintance cracked, “Why trill?”) He was relatively free in this first movement—with tempo, with phrasing, with pedal—but ever tasteful. He could have been more crisp in his playing. More crisp in his articulation. But he did not seem to suffer from undue tightness—tightness of arms—which was gratifying.

In the second movement—the Andantino, that masterly thing (like the concerto at large)—he was occasionally a little mannered. I like more of an inevitability, more momentum. But at least he wasn’t dainty, which is an error of pianists here. And he was totally sincere.

What’s more, he played an interesting cadenza. Frankly, it was interesting that this movement had a cadenza at all. Does it usually? Maybe I have been sleeping.

There was a cadenza in the third movement—the closing Rondo—too, if I’m not mistaken. And I was glad to hear it. Yet Mr. Watts fell down somewhat in the Rondo. It was very uncrisp, even sloppy. Muddled. And this movement relies on crispness, to go with an overall playfulness.

Be that as it may, André Watts acquitted himself well on this evening, and many of us were very pleased to see him.

I will give you a couple of footnotes. Watts had music—sheet music—at the ready, but he never used it, that I noticed. Now and then, he’d turn the pages to catch up to where he and the orchestra were.

Also, there was applause between movements (as between movements of the opening piece by Vijay Iyer). Before the concert, the executive director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Scheirle, did some talking, and in the course of his remarks he mentioned that there were 600 children in attendance, free of charge. Was it they who were applauding?

I think Watts and the orchestra should have acknowledged the applause, however briefly or modestly. Mozart would have, I feel sure. (I can’t vouch for Mr. Iyer.)

A Message from the Editors

Our past successes are owed to our greatest ambassadors: our readers. Our future rests on your support, as The New Criterion Editor Roger Kimball explains. Will you help us continue to bring our incisive review of the arts and culture to the next generation of readers?