Recently I read several interviews with performers who talk about gaining their inspiration from audiences while performing a “live” concert. During these lockdown years when performances have been at a minimum, all of us missed that stimulus, and we certainly missed the energy and excitement that accompanies a “live” event.
Granted, there is a completely different kind of feeling when playing for a live audience than performing all alone in one’s living room or even in a recording studio. The energy and anticipation right before a concert can be palpable. Who doesn’t feel the excitement just before the artist walks out onto the empty stage and seats himself at the piano? Before launching into that opening passage, the audience is at attention, silent, receptive, listening and waiting to tune into the unique talents of the performer.
But there is a contradiction at work here. (For argument’s sake, let’s confine our discussion just to classical artists.)
Concentration and focus are of prime importance to great music-making. When I walk out onto the stage, of course I feel the excitement level of the audience, and I must admit that my adrenalin is also working overtime on concert evenings. But I try hard to not allow the public to distract from my concentration process or interfere with my focus. The reason is simple. As soon as I turn away from the music, even for a split of a second, and think about the people in the audience or anything else that might pop into my mind, my focus has been lost. The line that I am trying to sustain has been broken, and the journey that I am trying to share has been interrupted. Simply put and usually accompanied by a heavy dosage of nervous adrenalin, I have allowed myself to be distracted. So instead of opening the door and inviting the listener into my musical world, I detoured for that split of a second and went off course. I left “the zone.”
How does the artist get “into the zone” and still manage to maintain that connection with the audience and the composer? A delicate balance is necessary to share the magic of the music and open the portal to all. The performer is not building a wall between themselves and the audience, but leaving the door open so they can feel, understand and enter into the world of the composer. It takes boldness to open oneself up to the experience—boldness from the performer as well as the listener who becomes part of the event. Both are taking the risk to feel, explore and make something memorable happen, and it is being done completely without a safety net!
As a performer it is my responsibility to take you into the composer’s world and make his music come alive. The biggest problem for me to overcome is to not interfere with the direct line of communication. I call it “getting out of the way” so the magic can happen, and the music can travel directly to the hearts of those listening. The performance should not be about me. It’s about allowing the music to pass through me. I am only the conduit—the connection between the listener and the music. Ideally, I try to create the space where only the composer and his music can reside comfortably without outside earthly distractions. And then I invite you into that magical world where we can both experience the divine gifts of his creation.
All of us strive for those rare and memorable moments when everything works—the performer, the piano, the acoustics—all are in tune—no cell phones accidentally going off— everything is in harmony. Here we can leave our earthly world behind and take a leap of faith to venture into a higher realm, always seeking to get closer to the divine spirit of the music so it can freely soar and touch deep into our souls. And it is the music that connects us and inspires us to keep striving to achieve the impossible!
When Stravinsky was asked about the “ideal” performance of his works, he answered: “the very moment that I myself have heard the work for the first time— that divine moment of creation.”
The performer is the middleman between the composer and his music and has the responsibility to come as close as humanly possible to try and convey that divine moment to the listener. That’s what it’s all about—that is the true inspiration!
Easier said than done! And that is why we keep practicing, keep performing, keep striving—chipping away to get a little closer every time.
A life-time addiction!