How does a pianist prepare her mind for Mozart?

It has been said, many times without scientific proof, that people who work in the field of classical music are inherently happy. Anne-Marie McDermott offers abundant evidence of this notion, and anyone lucky enough to hear her play the piano should prepare to be gobsmacked.

Not just because she’s musically and technically secure in her performances. It’s that she exudes such delight in playing music – and talking about it – that her enthusiasm becomes the core of how she communicates.

Her goal this weekend is to share this zeal throughout Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in three performances with TFO under the baton of Music Director Michael Francis, along with a bonus performance Thursday for the Inside the Music series at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. What will go through her mind at the close of each concert?

“That I hope you have fallen in love with the music I’ve played, and that I’ve made a convincing statement,’’ McDermott said by telephone. “I’m just the re-creator, but I hope the performance has a freshness and spontaneity and tells a compelling story to you, and that you’re deeply moved.’’

When McDermott walks on stage this weekend, she won’t be thinking about the technical aspects of the concerto. She might not even be thinking about it at all.

“When I perform, I try to erase everything from my mind and innocently try to rediscover the music with the musicians on stage,’’ she said. “I spent many years studying Zen Buddhism and that’s been a big help in being really prepared, but at the same time to have an empty mind.’’

The 56-year-old musician has invested decades honing her skills and commitment to music. She serves as artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado; the Ocean Reef Chamber Music Festival in Key Largo; and the Avila Chamber Music Celebration on the Caribbean island of Curacao. She’s also a touring member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

She keeps about 50 concertos in her back pocket, sometimes filling in at the last minute for an indisposed pianist, and has recorded the complete works for piano and orchestra by Gershwin and all the piano sonatas of Prokofiev. Her fluency with Bach won her the Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice award.

But this weekend is something different. Mozart’s last piano concerto expresses sadness and resignation, but also a child-like simplicity that is difficult to capture. A current of lyricism runs through all three movements, adding a conversational, chamber-like quality to the whole piece.

“I view all Mozart’s piano concertos as chamber music,’’ she said. “Because there’s so much interaction with the strings and winds, you can’t play the piece in a bubble.’’

The second movement is the heart of the work, almost a lament that requires great nuance to be convincing: “I try to find a real legato (smooth and flowing) in that movement because I think so much of his music is operatic. So I play it like a singer would sing it.’’

This approach matches Mozart’s desire in composing his piano concertos, particularly the late works. They combine three essential elements – an instinctual feel for the keyboard, symphony and opera – which together elevate them to the highest level of the Classical-era tradition. The keyboard gave Mozart the vehicle to explore his prodigious skill, the symphonic writing clothed it, and from opera came the song.

To be absorbed in all this, McDermott said, leads to extraordinary experiences as an artist, experiences that serve as stepping stones in a lifetime journey.

“I’m blessed to be doing what I love,’’ she said. “It’s a gift to be a musician, because music-making is telling a story that everyone can enjoy.’’

Tampa Bay Times Masterworks
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Michael Francis leads a rare performance of the full work, featuring the Lumina Youth Choir, soloists, a narrator and more. Also featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with Anne-Marie McDermott.

Fri, Feb 22, 8 pm, Straz Center
Sat, Feb 23, 8 pm, Palladium Theater – Limited Availability!
Sun, Feb 24, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall

Free tickets for kids and teens in advance.

Click for tickets

Special performance!
Inside Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27

Michael Francis and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott will be your guides to Mozart with live orchestra demos before a performance of the entire work. Admission is pay what you can at the door.

Thu, Feb 21, 7:30 pm, Palladium Theater

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