On the Piano and Loneliness

I once read in an interview that Martha Argerich—one of my idols—preferred playing concertos to solo piano works because she didn’t like being lonely on stage.
It seems like a mere quirk, something you’d attribute to the fickle creative type, but I’ve since discovered that to be a pianist is to be alone. Many people have told me that they gave up seriously pursuing piano because of the solitude the job entails. Although people who play other instruments also need to have a lot of solo practice time, they often work with accompanists or ensembles.
The amount of time I spend alone in the name of piano is surprising. Of course there are the countless hours of solitary practice time. There is the time spent in my room listening to recordings of pieces, by myself (for self-criticism) or by the masters (for inspiration). There is the time alone backstage or in the green room before a solo performance.
One of my piano professors, Dr. Cooper, said that at one performance during his career, as he walked onstage, he realized that he had spent more time in his life with the piano than “with any living human person.”

I had a funny realization as I watched Claudius Tanski rehearse the second Liszt piano concerto at the Großes Festspielhaus in Salzburg. (Fun fact, I played on that piano in that concert hall the day before; the acoustics were mindblowing.) Even on a stage with dozens of musicians, the pianist is alone. He (or she) sits behind the conductor’s back, totally separated from everyone else.

Conclusion? It takes someone who needs that degree of solitude in their lives to become a pianist. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to consider.
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Musical going-ons

I need to start blogging more because I feel like every time I update, I apologize for not updating more. In my defense, I’m currently swamped in rehearsals and practicing and studying for finals. (Not to mention that in addition to my own piano and violin juries, I’m accompanying two vocalists, a clarinet player, and a tuba player for their juries.)

These past few weeks I’ve been plowing through several rehearsals per day in addition to hours of practice, and last Friday I performed Debussy’s La Puerta del Vino and Liszt’s concert-etude Gnomenreigen. (To which my piano professor told me both that it was the best I’ve ever played it, and that I also played it faster than he would ever dare to play it himself.) Saturday I played the same program in a church gig and received some pretty positive feedback.

Tomorrow I will premiere a voice-and-piano piece, titled “The Right,” written by a composer friend. It alternates between being fierce and being sweet, and it’s set to text from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Learning and rehearsing music that has never been performed before is basically a process of discovery. Alon Goldstein, the concert pianist who taught the master class I played for in September, recently blogged about rehearsing a newly written piano concerto. (Okay, I’m not premiering anything as big as a piano concerto, but it’s the same concept.)

When I perform with an orchestra, whether Mozart or Beethoven, Schumann or Rachmaninov, the days of rehearsals are devoted to building the interpretation, the performance. We don’t have to “worry” about the piece. It has already proven itself. It transcended time and place. It is settled. Our time is spent on making our understanding of the piece work.

When premiering a new piece, the center of our attention falls on helping the piece settle as a new entity. Similar to helping a new baby stand on his two feet, we help the piece stands on its 337,486… notes. Of course a good performance helps.

So wish us luck!

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