Last evening I attended a concert with the purpose of learning more about music, art, and life. And I was supremely rewarded.

At Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra, I saw Mitsuko Taguchi play—and conduct—two Mozart Piano Concerti (7 and 27). Having seen some of her videos on YouTube, I thought knew, to some extent, what to expect.

The foundation of true excellence is intelligence and character. To gain insight into the essence of Uchida’s music, art, and life, I suggest that you first watch this five-minute interview:

I had bought a ticket just to the right of center in the second row. I was about 15 yards away from where she was seated at the piano. Normally, the piano is placed on stage parallel with the front of the stage, so that the pianist faces the conductor and the audience sees the pianist from the side. But as conductor, but she had arranged that the piano should be on a line perpendicular to the stage front, projecting straight into the thick of the musicians. Thus, she could face the entire orchestra as a conductor does; and I was looking at her back. Sometimes, as she turned to the left or the right, I could catch the expression on her face. Nor was I disappointed with that view, since Rodin had taught me the expressive potential of the back, for example with his sculpture, so She Who Was the Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife.

As I listened and watched, I was captivated. From start to finish, her performance is supremely animated by love—love for her music, for the other musicians, and for the audience. Her extraordinary expressiveness shows boundless care for the individual note, the single phrase, balanced by wisdom that constantly keeps every detail in its place within the whole. She exudes energy and vitality, at times seemingly consumed with exquisite sensitivity and gentleness, at times conveying with commanding presence and gesture the structure of the music to be brought forth.

She made not the slightest effort to communicate with the orchestra with gestures of the head or upper body when it was time for her work as soloist. Her total attention was on her music—the task immediately in hand. She trusted the orchestra to follow fittingly. I saw before me the superb method described by Jessica Somers Driver in Speak for Yourself, in which she counsels not only self-forgetting, but also letting go of any straining to reach your audience: given appropriate discernment of what to present, and appropriate preparation, simply be with the truth that is yours to express, and the communicative qualities that you need will be there.

As I watched Uchida-san, I began thinking about the worship experience, which at its height goes beyond anything we can do ourselves. At such times, the indwelling spirit of God conducts the worship, expressing our feelings that are too deep for words. The qualities, the values, that were shining through her are values that I want to conduct my life.

Mitsuko Uchida photo:

Auguste Rodin, She Who Was the Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife