My palms are sweating as I type this

Whenever I'm feeling a little low, I watch the first few minutes of this film.  It always cheers me up.

Not at first, though.  At first, there's a minute and half of despair and terror.   

You can barely hear what the great Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires is saying to the conductor Ricardo Chailly (and it's subtitled in Dutch, which will help only a few of you), but what's going on is clear in the stricken look on her face:  With the orchestra's opening notes of Mozart's D Minor piano concerto, she has realized that the piece that they're playing is not the piece she rehearsed.

This is showing up to the final exam to find people exiting the room.  It's going downstairs to see only the scraps of your homework that the dog hasn't eaten.  It's the nightmare of walking onto stage naked, only maybe it's even worse.  Even if you're naked, you can still perform.

Thirty seconds to go before the introduction to the piece is done and the piano begins.  Oops, now it's fifteen.  I've watched this a dozen times, and each time I find myself clenching a new muscle.

The thing is, Pires knows how to play all of Mozart's piano concertos.  She knows how to play thousands of pieces of music.  She's a professional concert pianist.  It's not clear what evolutionary purpose is served by having a brain that can be trained to recognize and recall muscle movements and musical structures in this quantity and at this level of detail, but it's the brain she's got.

Having watched this more than a few times, after I got done rooting for Pires to pull it together, I realized what a heroic presence Chailly is.  If you're wondering what  makes a good engineering manager, watch this guy.  He's calm and he's patient, or as patient as it's possible to be in the 45 seconds he has.  Most of what he does is to keep the ship on an even keel while he gently reminds her of who she is and what she's capable of.  

As with a good engineering manager, you can't prove that he didn't help her do anything that she wasn't going to do anyway, too.  But I'm pretty sure that everyone on that stage would say they were glad he was there.


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