The lone figure in black sits at the long ebony Steinway on a large stage filled with musicians, also dressed in black offset by white shirts. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The pianist has recently completed a complex and demanding solo with the Symphony, Bartok’s Piano Concerto #3, to great acclaim. Now he is summoned by a standing ovation to return for an encore.
He pauses before playing, as complete silence envelops the concert hall. The audience holds its breath in anticipation. Will he play something dashing and energetic? Will he run the scales and pound ferociously with his left hand? Will he attempt to dazzle us with blazing dexterity?
He begins the encore, slowly, quietly, and there it remains, a thoughtful mood, a gray sky with overtones of gold, a fading day. He plays as though playing for himself, in his music room at home, alone, contemplative, as though only he hears his song. The music is pensive, gentle, surprising in its delicacy. The entire focus of all eyes and ears throughout Powell Hall are on the pianist, the way he leans over the keyboard, his fingers assured in every move. All ninety members of the orchestra, focused on him, sit as still as the columns that surround them, cradle their instruments in their arms, as though holding an infant or a puppy.
The mood is holy. In close proximity to religion, maybe even closer to God. The audience is held in a spell. The audience, the music, the pure silence between notes and phrases, no one moves. We have entered the Kingdom of a Higher Power, a holy place, another world contiguous to ours where all is peace and love and delicate harmony. We are all one with the music, the simple yet complex sequence of notes. This, you realize, is how beautifully music binds us together.
The pianist leans and bends, his hands bringing forth clear notes that move us in inexplicable ways. His feet shift slightly under the keyboard, toward the pedals, away, his eyes move from the black and white ivories to somewhere above and beyond the piano, some distant scene only he can see.
Quietly, it draws to a close with no flourish, just a single fading note. A moment of silence. Then the two thousand of the audience and the ninety of the orchestra tell him how much they love him and what he has brought them.
The encore is over. In many ways, however, the music and the mystery will linger forever.