Saturday, May 7, 2022

Out with the old

Last night was the launch concert. After all the non-music-related preparation of the past couple of months, it felt good to get to it. 

The program was half old, half new to me. The Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and two Scarlatti sonatas were first performances. The first half of the concert, my Bach “Double Suite”, I had played on my first-ever UVM concert and a few times before and after. (Here I am playing it on digital piano at a 2010 conference in Paris.) It’s virtuosic but familiar. I thought that programming it would give me some breathing room, given how preoccupied I knew I would be with project setup logistics, and function as a “safe” foundation to ground me from any anxiety about performing the new repertoire.

But the result was the exact opposite. I had more memory lapses and other extended glitches in the first half than at any concert over the past 30 years. I actually had to restart the Partita’s Courante after a false start. That can be ascribed largely to a special circumstance: I had just taken a brief unrehearsed speaking break to talk about Bach’s famous 280-mile walk (each way) from Arnstadt to Lübeck, to make a point about the dubious “necessity” of rapid long-distance travel to advance musical culture (and Bach didn’t even have the internet). My loss of focus came partly from jumping in after an unscripted chat, and partly from the anxiety of “coming out” in public, in person, as an evangelist for non-flying. Still, whatever the extenuating circumstances, overall the first half came closer than ever to validating performance anxieties which my rational brain had been telling me were phantasmagoric bugaboos.

And then, in the second half, with all the new rep, I was in the groove. I was able to let myself be in the moment more than I’ve been able to for any longish solo performance stretch in recent memory. (Being in the moment is the only way to fully realize one’s musicality, but can be scary because letting go of intention and forethought opens up the possibility of going completely off the rails.) It’s like skiing (also a challenge for me): paradoxically, the way to real control is to let go, to trust your body and gravity and send it.

From this experience, I can choose between two takeaways:

  1. Yup, your impostor fears are grounded! You really don’t know what you’re doing. Sorry!
  2. You’re on your game when playing music you’re most recently excited about and invested in. Keep on learning lots of new music!

Since I’ve committed to another 251 concerts over the next 4.5 years, I think I’ll go with Door #2.

P.S. All the above notwithstanding, the crowd was warm and appreciative, even of the first half. My favorite comment on this eclectic program: “When you have that, who needs Spotify?”

P.P.S. For another take on this concert, including a remarkably positive take on memory lapses, here is my wife’s write-up (guaranteed 100% unbiased).

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