Written by Amy Beth Horman
Published: August 26, 2014 at 3:51 PM [UTC]
To say my drive to New Jersey was difficult would be an understatement. A trip that was slated for less than 4 hours ended up at over five with traffic jams, leaving me only time to tune and use the restroom before the opening bars of my concerto. I had to laugh (rather than cry) because really, what is an extra half hour of practice when you have only had two days to prepare anyhow? I decided to keep my head up and use the rehearsal for information for my next practice session, which would be the next day, the day of our first concert.
That first rehearsal with orchestra was stable and solid which was what I was aiming for. They were happy I was there. They remembered me from my two prior performances with them (Barber and Tchaikovsky) and they were genuinely relieved to see me try and step up to the plate. I felt supported, “rooted for”, and bolstered by a conductor who is both sensitive and incisive with the baton. He helped me play better by making decisions for me if I faltered. We made it to the end and I had no major mishaps. A sense of accomplishment came over me – first rehearsal: CHECK. I then went to dinner followed my hotel room where I marked down everything that went wrong so I could problem solve without practicing it physically. The conductor and I set a time to get together the following morning to go over things.
When I met with the conductor the following day I knew we would get right to work. His audiences are enthusiastic and lovely but also very informed. We needed to pull up my Brahms to that level and quickly. It was stable the night before but I knew it could really shine if we buffed it up together. It truly helped that we knew each other. I trust him and he knows I will try to grow musically even if my back is up against a wall. I listened to every comment he made. I tried everything he asked and even agreed to shape a few things differently after I realized my reasoning was not in keeping with the piece as a whole. There was a five-minute period where things got very intense with him asking for something patiently and me failing to deliver it cleanly. My technique was up and running – but to elongate it and really sing? I wasn’t quite there. I felt my heart pounding for a second and I briefly doubted I could deliver this to him in time. But then I remembered how much he knew my playing and I allowed his faith in me to replace my own. And then it happened. I turned a corner and it all started to flow.
A few hours later we hit dress rehearsal and I felt like I had entered a totally new zone. It was all coming together and everyone was more together. With my own playing now plugged in musically, everyone was feeling it and the enthusiasm was palpable.
I wish I could report that I never doubted myself from that moment. In my twenties, I might not have. But the hour before we performed, I wondered if adrenalin would kill this wave for me. I was already fascinated that my muscle memory was so readily available but under pressure, would it falter? How elastic could I be with a full audience in front of me? I texted my brother to come back and see me. Luckily he responded and was there to come give me a hug. Somehow this made all the difference to my nerves. I wasn’t alone and it reminded me of how my whole studio was rooting for me at home from a distance. I thought of my husband and my kids and how they had rearranged their lives so I could have this beautiful experience. I wasn’t going to allow fear to steal it from me.
The performance itself was surreal. I had nothing to lose because of the short notice and I had everything to gain to see what I was capable of. It made me really re think how I approach fully prepared concerts. I took risks and followed my ear and the orchestra was right alongside me. The audience gave us two standing ovations – one after the first movement and one at the end of the concerto. We did it all again the next day with identical standing ovations at the Borgata.
Under the heading of “the universe smiling down on me”, while leaving the theatre after our performance at the Borgata, I turned back and saw a sign drop from the ceiling on stage that read, “ COMEDY CLUB” and laughed. I hadn’t laughed like that in days. As I exited all of the electronic billboards had already changed. I smiled. Poof, it was done! It was the quickest prep and performance I had ever done.
I am so grateful for having been asked to do this. I think so often we doubt what is possible with our own technique and muscle memory. I spent most of my childhood practicing and a fair bit of that went to the Brahms Concerto. That young girl back in conservatory was fearless and had a laser focus on her musical voice. I had the time to work hours a day on deep thoughtful practice way back when. While I don’t have that same luxury now with three kids and a full studio, life is richer and there is still that pilot light of focus and ability. This will be a weekend I will never forget.
The following are youtube clips of all three movements from my rehearsal with the Bay Atlantic Symphony and Music Director, Jed Gaylin.
Photo credit: ArtC New Jersey