As a musician, I am used to sitting alone on a stage and to play for people who have made the decision to attend a concert and to spend the evening listening to a pianist.
A couple of years ago I did something that was totally the opposite. I decided to play in locations where I would reach an audience unexpectedly, an audience that normally does not attend a concert hall. I wanted to reach people with the music of Handel.
My first experience was in Amsterdam, where I played on a piano towed by a car. We went 10 miles an hour and stood still in between, and I played Handel in streets and near canals that already existed, or were built at the time when the composer was still alive. It was a beautiful sunny day and the city was crowded with Amsterdammers and tourists on a Friday afternoon.
The experience moved me a lot. My contact with the unsuspecting audience was very open and electric. People reacted from the heart, they came up to me and asked questions like “Is this Bach?” or just listened closely. Children looked into the piano whenever I stopped. People on bicycles cycled next to me as I was playing. And everybody was taking photos. I realized that most of the people I played for never go to a concert hall, and there could be so many reasons why they wouldn’t. This was a way for me to play on their terms: I was making a step towards the audience and it felt good. Of course there were also people who did not stop — and there could be so many reasons for that, but I was not trying to please everyone. I was doing an experiment of playing Handel (only Handel! — nothing else) outside in a city to see if people would react to it and love it just as much as I love this music. I never thought this afternoon would impress me as much as it did. And I learned a great deal from it — mostly about the relationship you have as a musician with your audience, and the responsibility you have for how the music you play reaches the ear of the listener. It is something very special. I decided to take it a step further, and I will continue this story in my next blog!