When Maria João Pires learned the wrong piano concerto, but had a ‘miraculous’ recovery

26 February 2024, 19:51 | Updated: 26 February 2024, 20:09

Maria Joao Pires was expecting another Mozart concerto

By Kyle Macdonald

The time when a top pianist learned the wrong concerto has gone down in history as one of classical music’s most bizarre and amazing moments.

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25 years ago, two of the world’s top musicians got together for a lunchtime concert in Amsterdam, and what happened on that day has become the stuff of classical music legend.

It was a concert of Mozart and Mahler. Conductor Riccardo Chailly and pianist Maria João Pires assembled on stage, with the audience looking on. As Chailly launched into the opening of the concerto, it immediately dawned on the soloist that it was not the concerto she was expecting.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20, which was the concerto officially on the programme that day, has a dramatic orchestral opening of around two minutes and twenty seconds – and this particular opening had more drama than most.

Pires, ever the professional, and with some encouragement from Chailly, trawled her muscle memory and miraculously joined in with the correct concerto without missing a single note.

It’s a testament to her, her musical mind, and her grace in musicianship. Watch the incident unfold above.

Read more: Pianist horrified as orchestra starts playing wrong concerto in competition nightmare

Maria João Pires in 1999, when she had learned the wrong piano concerto.
Maria João Pires in 1999, when she had learned the wrong piano concerto. Picture: Allegri Film

She was shocked because she was expecting us to play another concerto,” Chailly recounted afterwards. “So when I started the first bar of the D minor concerto, she kind of jumped and panicked like like like an electric shock.”

While the orchestra continued the introduction passage, the conductor and soloist exchanged some words while the strings and woodwind played. Pires explained to Chailly that she must have misread the schedule and was expecting a different piece. However, as the moment of the piano entry neared, she told him she would try to quickly recall the Mozart and continue the performance.

“The miracle is that she has such a memory, that she could within a minute switch to a new concerto without making one mistake,” Chailly said.

In the incredible footage, you can see Pires compose herself after that initial surprise and get into the headspace of the new concerto. After the orchestra’s introduction ends, she enters with the soft opening lines of Mozart’s piano solo.

Watch the full video below.

Maria Joao Pires - expecting another Mozart concerto during a lunchconcert

The wrong concerto moment goes viral (again)

A video of the performance was uploaded in 2009 but lay relatively dormant for some time. Then the press picked up on it in 2013, turning it into a viral smash and earning it legendary status.

11 years later, the footage was shared again by Classic FM presenter Joanna Gosling on Sunday 25 February 2024, sending it viral all over again.

Chailly, as Gosling says in her tweet, is “surely the cheerleader we all want in our corner”, while Pires’ response to the situation is “belief and bravery in action”.

A day after Joanna’s Sunday afternoon tweet, the video had over four millions views. It reaffirms how this very human story of exemplary musicianship meeting day to day trials and mishaps, is one that continues to amaze and inspire us all.

Listen to Joanna Gosling’s Classic FM show every Sunday afternoon from 1-4pm. You can also catch up on Global Player here.