Increased stage presence

May 25, 2019, 11:51 AM · What are some tips to increase stage precense for a concermaaster and Concerto soloist?

Replies (15)

Edited: May 25, 2019, 3:00 PM · For one thing, they are completely different things unless the concertmaster is standing up playing the concerto, then stage effects might be used according to the performer's "stage personality."

If you watch some of the greatest concertmasters playing in that first chair they do not do anything different than the rest of the section; the conductor is in charge (or at least probably thinks he is). On the other hand, in ensembles without a conductor the concertmaster is the focus for all cues and uses body language to convey them to the rest of the ensemble. (Also, in amateur orchestras the concertmaster may make motions to help some players in the string sections figure out what's going on. At least, such concertmasters should be aware of this responsibility - especially if the conductor is not up to the task, which is not unusual in such situations.)

"Stage presence" among concerto performers varies from the staid virtual "immobility" of Jascha Heifetz to the sometimes antics of Christian Tetzlaff and beyond.

(This might unfair of me because I just learned from Wikipedia that "Tetzlaff suffers from neurodermatitis in his left hand, which can cause extreme pain when the hand's fingers are applied to the strings of a violin. Over the years he has managed the condition in a variety of ways, including by using cotton thimbles to cover his fingers, and more recently by increasing his blood circulation by exercising before performances." and this might account for the need to move more of his body.) I recall watching and hearing him play on the A&E Sunday morning show 2 decades ago (when it really was an ARTS & Entertainment channel and he did not do that and I was always impressed by his musicality and virtuosity.

Personally I find performer (and conductor) antics completely distracting and since I have always closed my eyes when listening to music, live performances being no exception, I rarely attend them any more (and besides with my increasingly poor hearing I no longer find any acoustic advantage to live music over my computer or iPod with decent headphones).

May 25, 2019, 1:37 PM · Thank you A V, that was a very insightful post.
May 25, 2019, 2:37 PM · Andrew:

I agree with David. That was a very insightful post, and I also appreciate your sharing of your personal situation. It seems to me that in this era, what we call "stage presence" has been exaggerated and dominated by pop-rock crowd. The visual show has become more important and more expressive than the music.

Personally, I have always liked Zino Francescatti's stage presence. I have found it professional and restrained and yet emotionally expressive, and that includes not only understated facial expressions but body movements.

It it seems to me that this is almost a lost art. We either are totally non-expressive robots or over-agonized facial expressions combined with exaggerated body movements. That may seem very emotionally expressive with pop music stars, but not so much in classical music.

Anyway, have a great day (and I'm saying that while smiling and jumping around with great emotion).

Sandy

Edited: May 25, 2019, 7:27 PM · I am with Andrew on that one, I find performer (and conductor) antics completely distracting. For me a “classical” concert is all about the music, not the show-business, but some of my friends would disagree and find it boring without it, in their mind they are going to a show rather than a musical performance.

The later view is probably more of a majority as André Rieu’s success would demonstrate.

May 25, 2019, 3:09 PM · Well, I have kind of enjoyed many of the André Rieu TV shows I've seen on PBS - and except for his performance of "Song to the Moon" (Dvorak) it's not the kind of music I need to close my eyes for. (It was the first time I'd heard it done as a violin solo and I was so moved by hearing it on FM radio, that I went to our local music store and bought the only copy they had of the soprano song so I could transpose it for violin - the actual music is in a dreadful key - if I remember correctly from an orchestra performance I did with soprano. I also bought the CD of that Rieu performance.)

He is a "showman" and to my mind not over the top with his movements - after all, he is also the director of the show and the orchestra.

May 25, 2019, 3:51 PM · Stage presence comes from within and projects even when you are standing still. It is a calm, inner assurance, that you know what you are doing and you are doing it well.

Some confuse antics and postures with stage presence and it is noticeable because it doesn't come from an assured inner confidence - it's an act and pretty much everyone knows that it is an act.

To be sure many with valid stage presence move around a lot but because it comes from that valid center, it isn't an act and it communicates to the audience because it is neither rehearsed or contrived. When Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg shed tears or danced on stage everyone knew it was a valid response to the music. Even Rieu, for all the schmaltz, comes across as legitimate and therefore holds the audience.

In my former day-job I used to do a lot of public speaking and I could hold (actually still can)the audience's attention because the power comes from a valid core knowing I'm in the right place with the right material and well prepared to be there. It isn't an act and everyone knows it.

There aren't any tricks, just confidence coming from a valid core. Leave the antics and acting to others.

May 25, 2019, 4:38 PM · I do agree that a soloist and a concertmaster do different things. However, I find it strange to say that the concertmaster does the same as the rest of the section. In my opinion, concertmasters almost to a T go over the top with extra gestures that I find very distracting, and not the least bit useful to the rest of the section or the orchestra.
May 25, 2019, 5:16 PM · Stage presence is a mixture of confidence and awareness.
Edited: May 25, 2019, 11:20 PM · That reminds me of the perhaps somewhat new trend with string quartets to project their bows up in the air in an exagerated manner at the end of piece. It drives me nut!
May 25, 2019, 7:58 PM · What does this mean?
Putting a few extra pounds? Wearing a flashy bow-tie?
If the music does no speak to the audience, "increase stage presence" means nothing.
How about increased sound presence?
May 25, 2019, 11:33 PM · "Stage presence" means different things to different people.

The most common usage, I think, is the performer's ability to project a sense of command -- likely more self-command, than command of the situation or those around them. Stage-presence of this sort is most likely to come from an inner sense of self-confidence and feeling in control of the situation. I think it's generally best cultivated by actually cultivating self-confidence and a sense of inner calm and control.

If you don't have those actual qualities in yourself, you can look more self-confident by upright, balanced, relaxed posture (genuine "good" posture in the Alexander Technique sense of it), confidence in your movements, and a relaxed smile on your face.

Some of this comes from performing simply being a "routine". Performing has a certain kind of ritual to it. Once you get used to it, it's the equivalent of any other day at the office, for professionals. Even amateurs can get to the point where performing feels fairly routine, though, and that generally comes with the unconscious confidence that comes from being comfortable with the situation.

If you're talking about "stage presence" in the sense of conveying musical leadership, both concertmasters and soloists use their body language and way of playing to do it. (In rehearsal they may also use verbal communication, of course.) Concertmasters at all levels should be doing this, though the sorts of thing that they need to convey will differ to some extent by the type of orchestra. (Even at the professional level, cues and other physical signs are important.) Soloists generally also shape their phrasing to communicate. Chamber musicians do this, too, by the way, which is why playing chamber music is arguably the best way to learn musical communication.

If you're talking about "stage presence" in terms of showmanship, most players don't, I think, consciously cultivate this element. (Non-classical and crossover entertainers are a different case.) Everyone has a certain degree that they naturally move, and it can be greater or less in different players. Orchestra players will have their movement more constrained by the space available, and that includes the concertmaster. (Too much extraneous movement on a concertmaster's part is also distracting, and it may interfere with clear musical communication.)

Concertmastering 101 for youth orchestras: Sit up straight, near the front edge of your chair. Put your violin up at more or less the same time before every entrance. Inhale before the entrance itself, with the tactus of the conductor's beat. This will cause you to naturally raise the instrument in a cue. Start almost all entrances from the string so they are very precise. Play with confidence, using your normal orchestral technique.

May 26, 2019, 9:13 AM · Of course there is stage presence - but IMO this is intrinsic to the individual. Some people look great on it others do not. To what extent can you move yourself from the latter to the former? Not sure, as mentioned above, to do so may actually move you the other way. Who can forget little girls playing dressed up like dolls or, worse, as women.

But it should be mentioned that 'stage presence' is (unfortunately) different for men and women. The former generally dress as 'gentlemen' (though there are exceptions, Nigel Kennedy springs to mind) but with the latter there is very often a sexuality in the dress. Its a tough issue since for many women this works very well for attention but it can also backfire. The usual bind between audience expectation vs audience judgment that men can generally avoid.

May 26, 2019, 12:30 PM · Advice or opinion about stage presence and amount of movement is like that for parenting:

Whatever you are doing....it's all wrong.

May 28, 2019, 6:50 AM · So true Scott Cole.

If a concert master or soloist is little more into it, it might because they are trying to feed energy and leadership to the rest of the musicians. An energetic conductor can pull amazing performances out of an orchestra. A live performance for me is a journey, one in which a musician can take more liberally tempos, ritardandos, play with more rubato, etc. Some of which could otherwise sound ridiculous on a recording, but directed with the right stage presence it can be daring and spectacular!

I used to be quite distracted as well, but I stoped only listening and only caring about the music, but started to experience the performances with the performers as whole and have been a much happier concert goer since.

May 28, 2019, 6:50 AM · So true Scott Cole.

If a concert master or soloist is little more into it, it might because they are trying to feed energy and leadership to the rest of the musicians. An energetic conductor can pull amazing performances out of an orchestra. A live performance for me is a journey, one in which a musician can take more liberally tempos, ritardandos, play with more rubato, etc. Some of which could otherwise sound ridiculous on a recording, but directed with the right stage presence it can be daring and spectacular!

I used to be quite distracted as well, but I stoped only listening and only caring about the music, but started to experience the performances with the performers as whole and have been a much happier concert goer since.


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