Thursday, November 4, 2010
Music or Memory IV - looking back
The last note of “Liebestraum” faded, and Natalie and I made our last bow, exactly at 3:30 last Sunday. We hadn’t timed our program of Folk Tales from the Rhineland and Romantic Piano Music exactly, and we were both a little nervous about that. But it had come out perfectly, and we were looking at a lot of applause and smiling faces, in spite of the grim spectres the stories had conjured up, as would be appropriate for Halloween . Several residents of Amsterdam House talked to us and asked us to come back; one of the visitors even summarized her impressions in the following lovely note:
What a wonderful afternoon! You both work beautifully together. I’m here to visit my husband. The stories were absorbing - what a good actress - speaker you are! And the classical music so enjoyable.....
Thank you for everything. You are appreciated.”
In spite of that, I was completely exhausted after the concert. It’s not just the playing that counts, but the circumstances as well. Taking the bus at 10:30, to allow for plenty of time, in case we hit traffic on the road. Picking up some lunch on the way, then heading for the venue, to have enough time to set up, do a sound check with the microphone, get used to the piano.
Visiting a retirement home naturally means to touch base with declining health and the last stage of life. The kind of energy you sense is very different from that of a concert hall, and the perspective of an approaching performance heightens sensitivity, making the impressions even stronger.
The “Green Room” was the best ever: trees and fresh air, and what a view!
View of the Cathedral of St John the Divine from the garden at Amsterdam House
I was glad that I had visited the premises before, and tried the piano so I knew what I was getting into. I knew I would have to sit higher than I usually do - but I didn’t remember it was that high! The restless spirit of a long deceased piano tuner must have visited the venue well in advance and screwed up the lowest c- octave - the lowest note was about a fourth of a step off. I needed it repeatedly, and it added a real touch of Halloween to the sound.
Fortunately, I was ready for that. Spending an hour trying to coax sounds out of an instrument that aren’t really there made me even more grateful for the instrument I have at home, and wonder whether the pianists who play in concert halls on beautiful concert grands appreciate the luxury they are enjoying.
Under these circumstances, I was glad to play from the score, to have something outside myself to hang on to, and it helped me to stay focussed.
And yet, the next day, it was the greatest relief to put the music away and play the repertoire from memory. It adds a touch of freedom I’ve rarely been able to achieve when playing with the score. Something shifts in my brain the moment I take my eyes off the score and look at the keyboard, with nothing to follow but the music I hear in my mind.