Martha:   When you have multiple performances like this weekend, when you play a piece many times each one is different…it changes. Talk a little about what makes a change or how does it evolve? How does it feel night to night?

Jeremy Denk:  Do you want to cover that one Cristi?

Cristian Măcelaru: Gladly , I’ll let you finish your drink.

{Audience laughter}

Good evening and thank you for coming to this concert. You know, without an audience, actually it’s kinda difficult to have a great concert because then it just feels like rehearsal.

{Audience laughter}

So you are a very big part of it. Thank you very much.

So to answer that question, for me, each performance atleast it starts like a really really complex and beautiful Sudoku. With every event that happens, which they happen every second clearly, it informs the next event that needs to happen.   I think that is the beauty of live performance, because to allow that freedom takes a lot of work and preparation in rehearsals to be able, for all of us, to feel comfortable so that we can understand that game so to speak. I mean [the word] game by just playing on the beauties of each individual phrase. I can’t say that I necessarily plan each performance to be different, but it ends up being different because the music forces us to react to every event that happens. So that’s my philosophy with that.   Jeremy, what do you think?

Jeremy Denk: This is one of the most horrible things about being a musician. We practice and practice and spend, you know, thousands of hours of unbelievable time alone and then here comes the moment with all its accidents and possibilities. For example, last night we played in a very different hall, with a very different acoustic, and a different piano. You come out here and suddenly you are encountering a totally different piano.   So, that can be thrilling and very frustrating.

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Audience: What constitutes the configuration of the orchestra? Who decides where they sit and how they sit, because I’ve noticed changes all the time?

Cristian Măcelaru:  Some of those things are usually answered by practicality. While it makes sense so people can see the conductor. So I have the choice of where the violins are sitting. I’m sure you’ve noticed sometimes the violins sit opposite of each other. That was a tradition back in the 19th century, it’s what we call a Viennese style of playing. It’s very appropriate for someone like Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, or even Brahms because the two violin [sections] were treated as two equal parts. In the 20th century , like in Shostakovich’s music for example, the 2nd violin has more of an accompaniment roll in the way that a 2nd violin in a string quartet would have. That is why I requested actually the 2nd violins sit next to the 1st violins. Many times the 1st violins play an octave above than the 2nd violins, and if they are not next to each other it is very difficult for them to hear each other. So, that was the first major change, and of course that affects the rest of the setup of the whole orchestra because it’s a completely different setup that you need to have. So, I guess it’s my fault.

{Audience laughter}

The conductor usually says ‘I would like this { setup of the orchestra}” and most of the time it’s possible and sometimes it’s not.

Martha: It depends certainly on the orchestra. Some orchestras decide, ‘We are going to sit this way no matter who stands on the podium,” but this orchestra is flexible and allows that to be determined by the conductor.

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Audience: How do you handle going from piano to piano every concert you have to play?

Jeremy:  Uggghh.

{Audience laughter}

It’s the worst thing. Each piano is such a different…it’s…and each hall…it’s…{stutters} Actually it’s worse than you can imagine. You can take a piano that you love, for example, and you can put it in one room. You put it in another room and you’d be like, “This is the worst piano I’ve ever played.” And it’s even worse than that, because they give us a little dressing room always back there, and there is a piano in there. It’s a small room and it’s really live and you sound great playing. You get out there then you start your first notes and “doink”. {Audience laughter} You feel like there is nothing, you know? You just have to say, “Oh, this is OK this is going to be fine. The sound is going out. ” The thing is you have to learn to be able to react in the moment to what the piano can do and change your physical approach and listen to the hall. And that’s hard when you’re nervous in front of a lot of people and it takes time and practice. It never gets really pleasant.

{Audience laughter}

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Martha:  Where were you when you got the call [that you had won the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant]?

Jeremy: You know where I was? I was at the NY Sports club on the Stairmaster and I got a call from this mysterious 312 number. Who was it? The Ghost of Saul Bellow calling me? Who calls me from Chicago? And I was like, ” I better take this call.” I never take a call in the gym….  And it was the most profitable trip to the gym I ever took.

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 Audience:   There was a disruption tonight with the cell phone going off and when you are in the audience you feel like you are just holding your breath thinking, “Oh my goodness, how can this be happening?” As a performer, how do you handle that kind of disruption? What goes through your mind and how do you start to move past it, get over it, and keep going on?

Jeremy Denk: That was a particularly good one because we often joke that it always happens at the most sublime moment, BUT IT ACTUALLY DID HAPPEN AT _THE_MOST_BEAUTIFUL_MOMENT_IN_THE_ENTIRE_PIECE.

{Audience laughter}

Right? That moment when the piano comes in. The whole piece, in a way, has been waiting for this magical moment and then the phone rings… I smiled inside.

Cristian Măcelaru: What happened?   I was so busy conducting?

{Audience laughter}

Cristian Măcelaru: For me, maybe I would’ve acted a little bit differently before I had children.

{Audience laughter}

It reminded me a lot of trying to take our 3 year old and 5 year old children to a wonderful museum in Philadelphia. I remember I was just squeezing their hands so they wouldn’t get out of hand. Yet, maybe every 30 seconds there was a very kind person that would come and say, “You know your kids are not suppose to get too close to the paintings.”   But at the same time, I loved being there and I love them having the opportunity to be there.  So, just like Jeremy, I actually started smiling because it reminded me of them.

ART LIVES.   It’s all around us. The way that we individually react to it is our own choice to make it as beautiful as what we make of it.