One of the most frightening aspects of concerts is that nothing is ever the same twice; but the adrenaline this creates can lead to exciting playing. Roger and I spend a lot of time discussing the character of the music in our rehearsals and are constantly devising new sounds to make our arrangements as effective as possible. This reached an extreme last April when we were warming up just before a concert and realised we were playing different versions of the same song and couldn’t quite remember what changes we’d agreed! However, the bonus of this way of working is that you become more spontaneous and learn to respond to sudden ideas in a way that can sometimes achieve inspiration.
Years ago I was strongly influenced by the Russian actor Stanislavsky’s books about ways to encourage what he called the superconscious in performance. One of his ideas was that an actor needed to focus on the inner character of the role he was playing and allow that to take on a life of its own. Translated into concert performance this means concentrating on your own interpretation of the music, rather than on nerves, technique or ensemble. Of course actors become immersed in a single character, while concerts involve a variety of styles. But the feeling of connection when all goes well is the same; and this applies to playing in wedding quartets, trios and duos as well as in recitals.
Stanislavsky in the role of Othello
Some of the concerts I have been most affected by have not been by the greatest performers; but they have all involved commitment and creativity. One was an informal concert of Vivaldi’s Double Violin Concerto by two struggling children , which was conducted so imaginatively by Emmanuel Hurwitz that none of the mistakes mattered. The other was a Rachmaninoff piano piece played by a teenage boy, who was not technically perfect, but put his whole soul into the performance.
Is the message then never to worry about technique? No, just that ultimately what people remember is communication; and while you need to work at technique when practising, in performance you have to have the courage to forget about all that and reveal yourself, imperfections and all. JB
- Follow up reading: An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky