“It’s called Elvira Madigan,” she explained. “I think you’ll like it.”
We turned on the color TV my grandmother had just given us. The movie was about two young lovers. I watched as they frolicked in bucolic fields, tenderly holding each other’s hands and treasuring their moments together. I was in my early teens, and the film captivated me. A slow, lilting piano melody captured my attention. It made the story more poignant.
“What is the music?” I asked.
“It’s a theme by Mozart,” she explained.
The melody stirred in me the same feeling as when I’d encountered The Little Prince. Hearing Mozart’s music was like hearing a song from heaven. I had to play it.
In this concerto, the piano conveys the theme as the orchestra creates a panorama of sound around it. My teacher had two pianos placed side by side in her living room. As I learned the music, we practiced together in duet. On one piano, I played the solo part. On the other, my teacher played the orchestral accompaniment. Three years went by, and with my teacher’s help, I mastered the music.
Every spring, a well-known conservatory in our area hosted a competition. My teacher suggested that I audition. If I won, I’d have the privilege of performing my concerto with their orchestra. The contest was especially challenging. Many accomplished brass, string, and wind players were vying for the prize, as well as pianists.
I practiced and practiced, sometimes five or six hours a day. My mom wrote notes to excuse me from school, saying I wasn’t well. That way, I could stay home and prepare.
To sustain my inspiration, I listened to famous pianists play my piece. Hearing their performances gave me confidence. I decided to bring a favorite recording with me to the audition so I could listen to it as part of my warm-up.
On the day of the competition, my teacher and I drove together to the conservatory, a stately mansion with tall Greek columns. As we entered, a woman greeted us. She led me up a wide staircase to the rehearsal rooms. My teacher went to the auditorium to hear the other contestants.
The practice room was far from the auditions—peaceful and filled with light. A grand piano sat near a window that opened to the trees and sky.
Alone in the room, I began to warm up. For fifteen or twenty minutes, I focused on the challenging sections of my piece. I couldn’t calm myself. Anxiety coursed through my body. I stopped playing and put on the recording. As I listened, the sound gradually entered my awareness. My fear diminished. I was brought back to the feeling I’d had when I first heard the music, years earlier.
The practice room door opened. The woman from the conservatory looked in. "Your audition will start in five minutes,” she said. Her words were clipped, monotone. She paused for a moment. “You know,” she added with a tinge of superiority, “the competition is very steep.”
What happened next was unexpected. I looked directly at her, imbued with the splendor of the music, the words erupting from my lips before I could think, “I am the competition.”
Finally, we reached the slow movement with its sublime beauty. The notes came forth, one to the next, exquisite and delicate. I lost track of time. The judges faded into the background. Mozart’s melody was all I could hear. It was the only sound on earth.
With much deliberation, the judges awarded me second place. First prize went to a violinist. The decision was controversial—the boy was already a professional. He’d just returned from concertizing in South America.
I was disappointed that I didn’t win, but I imagined what it might be like to perform in an exotic place like South America. Flora, after all, was from there.