When she arrives at the Golden Age, Ida can see that they’ve tried hard to create a concert venue, setting up a spotlight, renting folding chairs, and printing programs. Still, she’s a little scornful and embarrassed at performing so informally, and she worries about humiliating herself. When the parents met to discuss the concert, some suggested it should be turned into a kind of talent show with other parents singing or telling jokes, but Ida was so frosty that the suggestion was dropped.
For Ida, the concert is a test of her ability to transfer her old gifts into a new and unfamiliar society. So far, she’s held back from assimilating in seeming haughtiness. Her anxiety now shows there was much more fear than scorn in her earlier ambivalence towards returning to the piano.
The audience trickles in and nurses help the children to their seats. Families of patients and staff have come. Meyer is setting out soft drinks donated by Bickford’s. Ida is comforted and unsettled to know that only Frank and Meyer know enough about music to judge or appreciate her work, but she’s still determined to do her best. Her new blue gown now seems ridiculous, an attempt to preserve the rituals of her career in Budapest in an obscure Australian city. She feels intensely foreign.
The concert is a reminder of everything the Golds share in common, no matter how much time they’ve spent apart. At the same time that it solidifies her feelings about her family, it makes Ida feel even less Australian than usual, which induces anxiety.
Ida sees Frank sitting in the front row next to Elsa. He’s talking rapidly and Ida can see that he’s completely in love with the girl next to him.
While other adults (like Lidja) are uncomfortable with the intensity of Frank and Elsa’s relationship, it doesn’t seem to bother Ida, who’s unburdened by stereotypes about how children should and shouldn’t act.
Sister Penny watches Meyer, noting how it always seems like he’s watching events from a distance. She’s invited Elizabeth Ann to the concert but her daughter isn’t coming, probably because Tim Budd, her boyfriend, doesn’t like classical music.
Meyer’s aloofness from events reminds Sister Penny of her own remove, especially regarding her daughter’s life. While she’s ambivalent about the new distance between her and Elizabeth Ann, it doesn’t seem so bad to be like the calm and thoughtful Meyer.
Sister Penny introduces Ida, mispronouncing the names of all her awards but saying sincerely how honored she feels that Ida is playing at the Golden Age. Looking at Ida, she feels the Golds have altered her life with their “sharp attentiveness” and “frankness.”
Even though Sister Penny doesn’t understand much about the Golds’ previous life, she does her best to honor it, showing rare understanding and hospitality. Noting their “frankness,” she, like Sullivan, picks up on the way Frank’s name reflects his actual personality and that of his family.
Ida lowers her fingers onto the keyboard, reminding Sister Penny of a surgeon beginning his work. During her three pieces, which she plays “bare-armed like a workman,” the entire audience is still. They’re transfixed by her dress and exotic appearance, which convince them she must have been famous in Hungary, and by the beauty of the music, which they’ve never experienced before. Even the babies are quiet.
Describing Ida’s arms, the novel again makes clear that art isn’t effete or inaccessible, but a kind of hard work and devotion that anyone can appreciate. Moreover, although Ida’s excellence does underline her foreignness in the eyes of her audience, it makes them value her differences rather than looking down on her as a refugee.
When Ida finishes, the audience is silent and then applauds wholeheartedly. She looks at Frank and they smile at each other, feeling unusually close for a moment. When he watches her play, Frank forgets all his quarrels and appreciates her “strength, her vast determination.” It reminds him of her fierce confidence that he’ll learn to walk again. Ida feels that the concert was worth it, no matter who the audience was.
Frank understands that Ida’s tenacity and perseverance in her vocation is directly linked to her determination that her family survive and thrive. Even though these attributes often manifest in the intensity that annoys him, by viewing Ida through the lens of her vocation Frank is able to truly value his mother.
Meyer watches Sister Penny usher the audience towards the drinks. In the midst of the crowd, it seems like they’ve never had any connection at all. He sees one of the patients Albert, with his five older siblings and is reminded of his own siblings, now mostly dead, and a recent nightmare of his time in the labor camp. He’s reminded that he no longer believes in the innate goodness of people or countries.
While Ida and even Frank are flushed with the success of the concert, hearing his wife play as she used to in Hungary reminds Meyer of the end of their Hungarian life. Even as Ida seems to find a balance between foreignness and belonging, Meyer remains skeptical of assimilating into any society, since they could all collapse at any time.
Rodney Bennet blusteringly informs Ida that her performance was “first-class” and wonders if she would play for a cocktail party at her house. Haughtily, Ida declines. Nance Briggs asks if she can give Ida’s name to an old colleague who works in radio broadcasting. Meanwhile, Ida thinks about her poor technique and imagines Julia shaking her head. She feels she’s cheated the audience out of a good concert, but also knows she has to accustom herself to working in this new country and performing for these new audiences.
Even though Rodney is condescending, he gives Ida the chance to affirm her own confidence in herself by rebuffing him. It’s notable that even the most close-minded of the audience, like the annoying Nance Briggs, are overwhelmed by Ida’s performance. However, general acceptance isn’t enough to make Ida feel at ease with herself, showing she won’t become immediately accustomed to playing in this new environment.
Frank and Elsa escape onto the verandah, wanting to be alone. They feel more at ease with each other than with their families. Elsa says she liked the Mozart the best, because it reminded her of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and Frank resolves to start teaching her piano.
Even when Frank and Elsa crave alone time, they still want to be together. Their quiet companionship shows that for them, solitude is more a reflective state of mind than the fact of being alone.