Several years ago I attended a glorious Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert under the baton of a celebrity conductor. A less experienced listener at the time, I was shocked to watch him leading the orchestra in a Rossini overture with his arms folded behind his back. However, I soon became fully aware of the powerful effect that the orchestra achieved in their performance and ever since have been a firm believer, that when it comes to music making, less is always more.

The BSO’s Sunday program called “Gutierrrez Plays Mozart” indulged the Meyerhoff audience in Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, Mozart’s Concerto No 19 and Elgar’s overture In the South. Played in that particular order, the timeless classical gem was thus mounted into a setting created by two great musical impressionists: the grandiose Sibelius and the abundantly expressive Elgar.

Yan Pascal Tortelier gave Sibelius’ work, written on the peak of the composer’s fame in honor of his 50th birthday, a dignified and sophisticated reading. Pompous enough to suit the occasion, the symphony was performed in a deeply emotional yet, a subtle way, typical for a Nordic composer. The final six sharp chords played to the highest effect allowed the orchestra to create the most abrupt and startling musical ending and prepare us for a new beginning and the most exciting part of the concert: Gutierrez playing Mozart.

After the intermission, a man of medium height came on stage. There was absolutely nothing fancy or obviously artistic about his appearance. No pathos, no special concert attire. Under his arm he carried a black folder with the concerto score in it. Without opening it, he placed the folder on top of the piano, sat down at the instrument, brushed through the keyboard in a brief dusting stroke and started playing.

From the very first notes it was clear, why the program was called “Gutierrez Plays Mozart” and why this pianist never opened his black folder. Gutierrez performed like only Mozart himself would: happily, effortlessly and most importantly, unpretentiously. There was no false pathos or posing about his performance: not even in the slightly insane rolling triplet figures of the first movement. Visually, the pianist could not have done less, but musically he could not possibly do more!

The king and creator of a piano concerto, Mozart composed this work to honor the coronation of Leopold II. In his turn, he was honored to premiere it at the emperor’s coronation. In his musical narrative Gutierrez allowed us to sense the joy of a proud and excited twenty-eight-year-old composer, that he must have felt in anticipation of this significant event. The pianist’s collaboration with the orchestra was fascinating. While allowing himself to immerse in the grandiose sound created by the musicians, he was able to stand out in a distinct, yet unimposing way, like a truly virtuosic soloist.

The concert concluded with Elgar’s In the South, an overture written while the composer was vacationing in one of the Italian Riviera’s gems, Alassio. The orchestra gave a very excited and uplifting performance of the piece, allowing us to envision the beautiful scenery of the little paradise in the heart of Italy.

Leaving the Meyerhoff that afternoon, I was thinking about Mozart and all the musicians who attempt to play his music. To achieve the desirable effect, some try to win their audience with their unusual interpretation of the score, others even try to look like Mozart. However, unless the artist has known the joy of Mozart’s inspiration, he will hardly be ever worthy of playing his music. Horacio Gutierrez has, and though his performances, so have we.