Skip to main content

I Take It Back

Tonight’s concert was spectacular.  I admit that I had questioned the programming.  I doubted that four piano concertos, with the orchestra subservient to the soloists, would be a convincing way to end the symphony’s season.  I thought I’d be bored and invisible the whole time.  I assumed that the students from Toradze’s studio would be competent, but I really didn’t expect them to be thrilling.

The wind section maintained some friendly bets on what the soloists would wear.  I am proud to brag that I nailed them all, with the exception of the third soloist - but I don’t feel too bad as NO ONE COULD HAVE IMAGINED that she would come out in teal.  Complete shock to all of us.  No points awarded.

The energy of the concert was great and kept getting better.  I got the sense that the young soloists, partly because of their comparative inexperience, were all thrilled and happy to be there.  They each came out and outdid themselves in enthusiasm and deep understanding of and love for the music.  And the Prokofiev Concerto that closed the concert, with Alexander Toradze himself at the keyboard, was breathtaking.  Truly, I’m not sure I breathed the whole time - it was such a thrill to have this masterful performer take us on such a wild ride.

And what I didn’t think about before we started was what all that accompanying would do for our orchestra.  Somehow, in a familiar symphony or overture, our minds can wander.  We know our conductor, and  what to expect from him, and usually know the piece very well.  We sometimes go on autopilot a little. The concerto is almost always the hardest part of a concert, and here the entire program required that kind of intense and focused attention. 

When our job is to accompany and support a soloist, we have to come together and be alert to that one person.  The entire orchestra is poised at the very tip of the conductor’s baton, and ready to react instantly to any subtle change in style, tempo, or phrasing in the moment.   We can play the same familiar symphony with more or less the same result time and again, but when one soloist is in charge and is keyed up and energized, anything can happen.  We always have to have one ear and one eye on the pianist, and the other on the conductor, and the third listening around us to our colleagues and ourselves.  It’s difficult to make 70 people feel a phrase in the same way as a soloist we met just two days earlier.   This is a challenge that we rose to beautifully this evening.

In this day and age, in 2012, it’s rare to focus for two and a half full hours on anything.  During the concert, my phone was off and my computer far away.  I had one job to do, and that was to join the soloists to make astounding music out of some of the greatest works in the repertoire.  At one point in the Mozart, my mind started to wander a little, and I immediately biffed a tiny technical lick, and had to force myself right back on point.  Staying alert, in the moment, and beautiful for that long was a challenge - a welcome one.  I felt that my mind had a serious workout, and I was tired in a good way at the end.  I crave running sometimes when I haven’t had the time to get out, and this mental focus felt fantastic in the same way.

I think I’m babbling.  I mean to say that the concert was great.  The soloists were outstanding, the orchestra outdid itself, and I was proud of us and of the large, appreciative audience.  This was a wonderful night.


  1. I truly wish you had babbled some more about the individual performances(and, please, don’t claim you are not a critic). But thank you for writing about it right away. I am always impressed by the quality of performance of the SBSO, but this concert was extraordinary by many standards. A few months ago I went to a recital at UISB School of Music given by students( piano and violin) and was not impressed. The violinist, too ambitiously, decided to tackle Paganini’s Caprices, which challenged my charitable instincts dramatically.
    I am not exactly in sync with you about their lack of experience. With the exception of young Ignace Cambro, the res of the young ladies have had substantial experience under their.. Whatever from the international competitions they participated .(By the way, I am a big fan of competitions, instrumental, vocal and dance, as well as auditions. Group of friends attending we always made friendly wagers on the outcomes).
    I could barely see you at the concert; partially being hidden by the conductor.
    I was amused by your confession about “biffing a lick”,(I must learn more about oboe jargon).It brought me back to Wednesday night when I went to watch the MetHD telecast of La Traviata, with Natalie Dessay in the title role. During the first break interview she also confessed she missed a high C.(Actually she just didn’t finish it.)

  2. I wouldn't presume to be a critic in a concert I played - mostly because my perspective is necessarily so skewed toward myself and the work I am doing. It would be like lecturing to geology majors on the topography of a region I drove through once while texting. All I have is fleeting impressions of the overall event.

    But those impressions of mine were all positive, and I'm glad to hear from you and from other comments on Facebook that others felt the same way. This kind of truly special night makes most of the other nonsense in my chosen career feel irrelevant. It was an honor for me to participate.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.

What a LIBERATING concept!

When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.

I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

Warming Up - Long Tones

I must not talk enough about warmups. I say this because recently, in my last lesson ever with a student leaving for college, I was mentioning something about my warmup regimen and his jaw dropped. Apparently long tones and intervals and scales with varied articulations are not part of his daily routine, nor had it ever occurred to him to use his band's warmup period to improve his playing. And I'm not telling this story on him, but on myself. Obviously I need to address the warm up period because it is fully half of the playing I do, and sometimes more.

Much of practicing is focused on learning a specific piece - either something you are performing at a specific time in the future, or an etude for your lesson, or the piece you're playing in band or orchestra. You are working on the specific problems or techniques that that piece requires. Of course you are working in as efficient a way as possible, and at the end of your practice period you can play the passage or pi…