Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Retuning to the stage

Here's me playing Feldman's Durations II and Lutosławski's Grave at the Office Musician of the Year semi-final, my first public performance as a soloist for about 25 years:

It's strange to listen back to it now.  At the time I thought it went really well, and others told me they did too.  But recordings are an unforgiving thing, and listening to this in the cold light of day, without the excitement of being present at or involved in a performance makes me start to hear everything that's wrong with it: the notes I didn't quite pitch right, the moments where the rhythm's a bit off, the failure to pull the bow quite straight or put the finger down quite firmly enough that just skews things slightly away from what I wanted.  This is partly inevitable, that small slips become magnified by a recording, and things that are barely noticed as they fly by in performance can be heard and re-heard.  I's like to think it's also down to the fact that I've been working a lot harder at playing than I have for years, and am becoming more exacting of myself and  more aware of what I need to improve.

In the end (post recording self-criticism aside), the semi went well, I thought. Having spent years living in fear of the idea of standing up* in front of people and playing as a soloist, it seemed to come remarkable easily.  My wife said she was surprised at the degree to which I performed, not something she would have previously associated with me.  This was something I and my accompanist Jon had worked on quite a bit since the masterclass - trying to make sure we injected a certain theatricality to proceedings (it's not called performing for nothing, you know).  We even planned our entrance, bow etc.  In the event our brilliantly planned choreography came to nothing, as the event was really rather more informal than that.  We came out of the audience, as there wasn't an easy route from "off-stage" to "on-stage."  I hope I managed to look vaguely like I looked like I knew what I was about, anyway.  I said a few impromptu things about the two pieces which I think managed not to be total waffle, and then we played.  It helped that Jon's a great musician and a good rehearser.  Most of our rehearsing ha to be squeezed into our lunch break, so time's at a premium, and making efficient use of it vital.  It was a massive boost to confidence walking on to the stage to know we'd really thoroughly prepared ourselves and had nailed all those tricky corners.  One of my old teachers once told me you need to allow for a performance being  around a quarter to a third less good than the best you're capable of.  The great feeling was being confident we were good enough to drop that bit of quality and still be OK.

Interestingly, the main criticism I had from the judge was that we could have given more space to the Feldman.  I actually agree with this, but as we'd been given only 10 minutes (and as you can tell from the recording above we were already pushing the boundaries of that) we had to take a particular approach that was a bit faster than I'd have naturally done.  Having said that, I think it's always a good idea to question received wisdom, and the idea that a piece like that should be done as slowly as possible is one such thing.

There were eight of us in the semi, and five went through to the final.  It's a strong line-up, but I think I may actually be in with a chance.  Of course, I'm scuppering that chance with a programme that's pretty much the exact opposite of a crowd-pleasing fireworks display.  I think having got there, there are two ways I can go: one is to do something to show off, and the other is to decide I don't care about the winning and just do something I really want to do.  Too much of my life is given to compromise as it is, so I'm going with the latter option.

* Not literally. This is cello playing, after all.

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