I would like to get into a regular habit of reflecting and sharing my thoughts here after each concert. As an active performing musician, it is very easy to move quickly onto the next concert or project, but I think it is important to always take a moment to reflect on how I played. While self-evaluation can be difficult and sometimes a hard reality to face, I think this type of reflection should be done consistently to measure growth. This is something I always stress with my students; therefore, I should practice what I preach!
Overall, I thought the performance with Cole Tutino was a wonderful success. For me, performing chamber music is always a sheer joy, but I tend to get more nervous for these type of concerts than solo.
Why, you might ask?
Quite some time ago, I page turned for a pianist and friend that I admire greatly. I remember he was playing Ernest Chausson, Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet. If you don't know this piece, check it out here. It is a wonderful work and it is fiendishly difficult for piano. After the performance, he told me something that summarizes my thoughts in a simple way about chamber music: "I get more nervous for chamber music performances because if I screw up, it can really mess up the entire ensemble; whereas, in solo performances, if I make a mistake, then it is simply my own fault and hold only myself to blame."
I find that performing chamber music requires a completely different skill set than playing solo music. One cannot be fixated only on how they are playing, but needs to, what I like to call, possess several levels or layers of intensive listening: balance between the various hands and textures within the piano part, balance between piano vs. the other instruments, overall mix of sound, and unified sound in the hall (accounting for venue acoustics). But wait, there is more! If you are playing something that has a lot of tempo changes or rubato in the piece, such as the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata, then you would have to add pacing to the list of things you would need to actively listen for during a performance. Additionally, there is performance spontaneity to also account for as well, and one must anticipate for unrehearsed musical impulses and decisions during performance. And here is the kicker: all of these levels of listening need to be done simultaneously and in real-time!
These type of things take a while to develop, but the way I see it, these are necessary skills to master in order to become an excellent performing musician. I always use this example with my students: what makes a chef at a five-star restaurant truly outstanding is not only the mastery of his technical skills and cooking abilities, but also his refined and sensitive taste buds, which are developed through hard work, passion, and experiential learning.
If I can only share one thing that I have learned from collaborating with friends and colleagues in past performances, it would be that I learned how to truly listen to others during performance. On Sunday, I was pretty happy with how I listened to Cole, particularly the Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata, which contained a difficult and active piano part. There is, of course, always room for improvement.
But what really made my day was a brief conversation that I had with a young boy after the concert. He asked me the question that most musicians frequently receive: how long have I been playing piano? After I told him, he responded, "Oh, okay! 25 more years to go!" This young boy clearly understood the value of hard work and I am glad that I was able to inspire him. These type of warm experiences remind me why I spend so much time developing my craft!
I hope you enjoyed reading my post-concert reflection and thoughts on chamber music. Here is a short clip of the Rachmaninov for you to enjoy. To stay up-to-date on my performance and activities, please visit and like my Facebook Page.