To open the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's 82nd season Oct. 22 and 24, music director George Hanson is "conducting from the keyboard," playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 as well as leading the orchestra.
Hanson has been practicing the piece for months now, at home and at the office.
"Basically, I'm doing two a days, like football practice," he said. "There's enough of me playing the piano to disrupt home life."
His family has noticed. When he's practicing on the 7-foot Steinway in the Hanson living room, "that is what's happening in the house. I would say it's disruptive at least, if not devastating. I'm sitting there playing a six-note figure 20 or 30 times. It can drive anyone completely bonkers."
The piece is "pretty hard," Hanson said. "This is all about producing the right sound with a simple and straightforward approach, except in the finale where you have to play like the wind." In the finale, he's playing the equivalent of 640 notes in a minute.
"It's nerve-wracking," Hanson admits. "Every once in a while, I'm reminded I don't do this for a living. I'm reminded of what my background is, and what musicians go through on a daily basis. It's the physicality," be it the French horn player who spends up to a half hour to warm up, or the violinist who exercises the fingers every day.
Besides, "there are mountains of notes to be learned and gained," Hanson said. "It's good for the conductor to be reminded what that's like. And you're connected with the music in a physical way."
As a conductor, he'll "struggle through scores … on the sofa, with a work open, analyzing and imagining. The actual production of sound is a different ballgame."
This is the third time Hanson has played with the TSO. Very few modern conductors play with their orchestras.
Conducting from the piano would be difficult, "if I didn't have such wonderful musicians, such wonderful leaders in the sections. … The biggest challenge is the way the piano is placed."
What do the musicians think of Hanson playing?
"You'd have to ask them," said Hanson.
"If I do my job, to the level of playing I had as a young pianist, if I demonstrate a musical side hopefully they'll enjoy," Hanson wants to "make a connection musically." If he does, "I think it enhances our relationship."