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Preparing for the Big Day

I am preparing my Ewazen concerto for performance. By this I obviously mean that all of the notes must be solid under my fingers, and the memorization has to be secure. In addition, I need to be physically ready to play through the whole piece effortlessly, and I need to be able to tap into its emotional arc right away, from the very first notes. At this point, two weeks out, my process consists of at least two complete run-throughs every day, plus a fingering/phrase-analysis run-through with one of my three recordings every time I get in the car and a mental run-through every time I go out running. I am working on keeping my mind engaged for the whole duration of the piece, and keeping my body language in character throughout. I am thinking about three things at all times - playing the oboe, and what is required to make it work; playing the piece, and what is coming next; and giving a performance, and how I should look and act to cast the spell for the audience.

I am working on the big emotional sweeps, and I am ready to be swept away on the tide of the music - the river of time, as it were - and to sweep my audience away with me. But in my run-through sessions now I'm losing some of the very fine details of control and perfection. All of the notes have to speak and the slurs have to be perfect and I have to manage the ends of all the phrases with elegance and all of that work needs to be beneath the surface - unnoticed by anyone but me.

I remember taking Pilates classes and realizing immediately that it was easy to do the exercises that Pilates requires. It was very hard to do them right. To really get the benefit I had to find and access very specific muscles, and relax and disengage the bigger, more obvious ones. A simple difference in posture would force me to use some of my core muscles that I previously had not considered, and looking around the room it was clear - once my eyes were opened to it - who was really understanding the deepest aspects of the work. Those people had a compactness to their movements, and a strength and meaningfulness to their gestures. The rest of us were indeed raising our legs to the same angle and bobbing our hands at the same rate, but the difference was crystal clear.

This beneath-the-surface-goodness is what I need to watch for in my preparation. As I perform I can go too much into the moment. I can sacrifice a lot of details for the big picture of the musical phrase, and I believe that this is effective in the moment for the audience, and certainly fun for me. BUT to really deliver a superlative performance I have to have part of my mind on the oboe itself all the time, and keep the details organized.

My plan for this is to pull out some excerpts and start thinking about my upcoming auditions. Whereas a big performance is about the big picture and setting a mood and holding it, an audition is about being perfect. In 10 minutes I have to present 6 different very short excerpts, and each has to be distinctive, controlled, and beautiful. It's a recital, but incredibly compressed. Every detail needs to be in place and each piece needs to stand alone as a performance, and in my preparation I think about my defense as well as my offense - giving the committee members nothing to reject even as I try to wow them to distinguish myself from those around me. I hope that adding that level of specificity to my daily work will help to keep me honest in my big performance.

Which is:
October 2, 2010, 7:30 pm
Quincy Symphony Orchestra, Quincy, IL
Ewazen: Down a River of Time
Click HERE for more information

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(Similar story HERE)

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