What a weekend with Mr. Watts!


Callum’s “review” of the January 26, 2013 MasterWorks concert (and rehearsals):

My dad and I had an amazing weekend (or at least Friday and Saturday) with the Canton Symphony! First, we went to the rehearsal on Friday night. The orchestra only rehearsed the pieces that André Watts was going to play with them, because it was the first time that he was there to rehearse with them for this concert. The pieces were by Franck and Saint-Saëns, and I loved them, especially the Saint-Saëns (it was his second piano concerto). It was the first time I had seen Mr. Watts play, and he was just amazing. It was so great to be able to sit right where I could see his hands on the keyboard and see everything he was doing, and it just blew my mind. I’ve loved all the pianists I’ve seen play with the Canton Symphony, and they’ve all been great, but I’ve never seen anyone play the piano like Mr. Watts does, even the DVDs we have at home of Daniel Barenboim and other pianists. I thought Mr. Watts was even more amazing, and definitely more exciting to watch. And then to be able to see him play up close in person made the experience even more awesome. I even came close to meeting him after the rehearsal, when he came up to talk to someone and he waved and smiled at me. You could tell he was a really nice man.

You could also tell that he and Mr. Zimmermann are really good friends, and love working together. They were definitely having a lot of fun, but at the same time they were working really hard to get everything just right about the music. A lot of times Mr. Watts got up from the piano to talk to Mr. Zimmermann about the music, and obviously one of them would say something really funny and the orchestra laughed, but we weren’t sitting close enough to hear what it was. They even reminded me of me and my friends at school, how we sort of pick on each other to have fun. They were really fun to watch, but the results they were getting were just fantastic.

One of the many awesome things about how Mr. Watts played was how his whole body moved with the music. The way he moved expressed the way he felt about the music, like Mr. Zimmermann does. And the way he uses his hands is just unbelievable, and I mean that. Because sometimes it almost looked so easy for him, that it almost reminded me of a little kid just sort of randomly hitting keys, but of course he was playing every single note right. His hands seemed so relaxed a lot of the time, that it even sometimes reminded me just a little bit of how Chico Marx used to play. My piano teacher told me I should watch some videos of Chico Marx playing piano, so my dad and I did that a few weeks ago. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, here’s one of the videos we watched: Horse Feathers. Now I don’t mean at all that Mr. Watts actually played anything like that, but just that his hands seemed so relaxed and natural, and also that sometimes he almost seemed to be using some of the same techniques, like hitting keys with his index fingers like he’s shooting them with a gun so those notes really stand out. Now that probably sounds funny, which it is when Chico Marx does it, because he was doing it for looks and comedy. But if Mr. Watts was doing it, it was because it’s the best way to play the music. But of course it also made it even more fun to watch, too.

And I could go on and on about all the amazing things about how Mr. Watts played. Like how softly and lightly he could play while he was playing faster than I could ever imagine. And how sometimes his hands and fingers were moving so fast, I couldn’t really see them anymore. And he also played more beautifully than I can imagine anyone else playing. And he looked at different musicians or parts of the orchestra a lot while he was playing, too, almost like he was talking to them with the music.

We loved the rehearsal on Friday night so much, that we decided we had to go back for Saturday’s rehearsal, too, and it turned out to be an even more awesome experience. Mr. Watts and the orchestra rehearsed the Franck and Saint-Saëns pieces again first. So I got more of a chance to enjoy seeing him and Mr. Zimmermann work together and make the music sound even better, which was hard for me to imagine. One funny thing that Mr. Zimmermann said to the orchestra was the way he described the 3 movements of the Saint-Saëns concerto. He basically called the first movement “Saint-Saëns goes to church” (because some of it sounds a lot like Bach), and the second movement “Saint-Saëns has a play day with his kids” (on Monday), and the third movement (Tuesday) is “Saint-Saëns has an argument with his wife.”  I told my dad, “notice there’s no Wednesday.” After Mr. Zimmermann said that, when they played the second movement, I pictured Saint-Saëns and his kids playing with toy soldiers, because that’s what the music sort of sounded like. There are also a couple places during that movement when the music slows down and gets sort of funny, and both Mr. Zimmermann and Mr. Watts even moved with the music in a funny way. I thought it sounded like Saint-Saëns being goofy and dancing or marching around the room, making his kids laugh. There was also a part during the third movement when Mr. Watts sort of bounced on the piano bench while he was looking at the orchestra, like he was riding a horse. He even did it in the concert. He was so fun and amazing to watch. There was also another part in the third movement, I think near the end, when Mr. Watts plays really big, loud chords, and it reminded me of part of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet music. My dad said that part is called Montagues & Capulets. There’s a version of it by Emerson, Lake and Palmer that I really like, and we have a DVD of the Berlin Philharmonic playing it, too. I love that music. I would love to hear the Canton Symphony play it sometime.

Then after they were done rehearsing those 2 pieces and took a break, the most amazing thing of all happened. Mr. Zimmermann walked up to me where we were sitting and asked how I was and shook my hand. And then he asked if we were staying for the rest of the rehearsal. When we said yes, he asked if I would like to sit up on stage behind the orchestra! Of course I said yes! He said they could put a couple chairs up there on the side of the orchestra where there aren’t as many musicians. That was so nice of him. He’s such a nice man, and it was so thoughtful to let us do that. I wrote before about us getting to sit behind the orchestra when they rehearsed Mahler, where the chorus was going to be, so that’s sort of where we expected to be this time. But we were sure in for a surprise, because Mr. Zimmermann actually told my dad to move our chairs right up inside the orchestra! We were actually in front of the trombones and basses, right in between the cellos and bassoons! It was so completely amazing. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It really gave me an idea what it would sound like to play in an orchestra. It was so awesome.

rehearsal seats

Our view of rehearsal! (Ravel & Debussy)

I even got a basic idea what it feels like to play a contrabassoon. No, I didn’t actually play one. But the bassoonist next to us, who was a really nice lady who also played the contrabassoon, asked me if I wanted to know what it feels like. At first I was sort of worried that she was actually going to let me play it. But she just meant that I should cup my hands over my ears really tightly and then buzz my lips. Wow, did it ever feel weird. It sort of rattles your whole brain. The part of the concert where she played the contrabassoon was one of my favorites. She carried her instrument (which is really big, especially compared to a regular bassoon) right up to the front and center of the orchestra where there was a chair set up for her, just for that part of the music. It was the fourth movement of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, that’s called “Conversation of Beauty and the Beast,” and you can probably guess which part the contrabassoon played. Here’s a video of that movement, in case you’ve never heard it: “Beauty & the Beast” (note from dad: the “beast” comes in around 1:20)

All of the musicians next to us were really nice. And of course Mr. Zimmermann was, too. There was so much going on at once that I felt like I wanted to look everywhere at the same time, and I loved watching him conduct and hearing what he’d say to the orchestra, too. And he would always smile when he looked at me, and I think he really enjoyed watching me enjoy and be amazed by the experience. I was beyond amazed. And I can’t imagine a better rehearsal experience. They also rehearsed the Debussy piece after that, and it was so beautiful and powerful. So then I was even more excited for the concert that night.

And another reason I was excited about this concert was that my piano teacher, Matt Riddle, was going to be there, too! When we told him a few months ago that Mr. Watts was playing with the orchestra, he was really excited to go. He lives near Akron and had never been to a Canton Symphony concert, and he was really impressed. And of course he absolutely loved seeing Mr. Watts perform. My dad and I went to the pre-concert lecture, too, and it was really good. Britt Cooper, who directs the Canton Symphony Chorus, talked about the music and played parts of it, and I learned a lot of new things that made the concert even more interesting. He said some funny things, too, like that in impressionistic music, sometimes you’re not really sure whether it’s the right chord or not, but you don’t really care because it’s beautiful… or something like that.

I got to sit with my Aunt Carole for the concert so that I was right up near the piano, and we both loved the concert more than I can ever say. But so did everyone there. The standing ovation at the end of the concert was amazing. It seemed like everyone there jumped out of their seats right after the last note. Lots of people were cheering, yelling, and whistling, too.  The clapping lasted so long that my hands hurt, but it was worth every second, because Mr. Watts, Mr. Zimmermann, and the orchestra deserved every bit of it. I think everyone was hoping Mr. Watts might play an encore, too. I know I was. But he was probably tired after playing both of those pieces. Where we were sitting, I could see his face the whole time he played, and a lot of the time, his expressions looked like he was so involved in the music, and that it meant so much to him, that it seemed almost painful for him. It was just an amazing experience to get to see him perform, and I am so excited that he’ll be back next year, and then the year after that he’s going to play all the Beethoven piano concertos. I cannot wait!

And of course, as usual, I can’t wait until the next concert, when they’re going to play the same music that was played on the very first Canton Symphony concert 75 years ago! That’s going to be really, really cool. I hope as many people as possible come to that one, too.

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3 Responses to “What a weekend with Mr. Watts!”

  • Uncle Bill:

    Wow, Callum!
    You really draw me in with your descriptive writing. I feel like I’m living the experience with you! Good job! Keep up the good work! Keep that piano going too! Someday maybe you’ll be up there playing with the Canton Symphony!

  • Matt Riddle:

    Great review Callum! I whole heartedly agree with your astute assessment. Keep practicing and maybe someday you’ll get to play with an orchestra too!

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