Soloist's practicing and life

Edited: November 2, 2019, 5:17 PM · Hello,
I have asked myself multiple questions:

What soloist do when they aren't touring?
How many months a year soloist aren't touring?
How much time are they practicing a day?
How many times do they rehearse with the orchestra and the conductor?
When do they take plane,train etc before concerto(ex:4 days before concert)?
When do they prepare concerts (ex:prepare for concert 3 months berfore )?
How hard are them with themselves?
Do they sighread all the pieces they play(reference to Heifetz's citation)?
What are the pieces that are always played
by them(probably know the answers)?

Cheers

Replies (25)

Edited: November 2, 2019, 5:47 PM · What soloist do when they aren't touring?
They drink beer, raise their children, and buy real estate.

How many months a year soloist aren't touring?
Josh Bell could tour 12 months a year if he wanted to. But it wouldn't be good for him. I would guess that most soloists actually do not "tour" per se, rather they have mostly isolated appearances. Most soloists are not in Josh Bell's category.

How much time are they practicing a day?
3 hours

How many times do they rehearse with the orchestra and the conductor?
Once or twice.

When do they take plane,train etc before concerto(ex:4 days before concert)?
They roll in the same day or the day before the rehearsal, unless they have also arranged to give master classes and the like (for example at a nearby university).

When do they prepare concerts (ex:prepare for concert 3 months berfore )?
How hard are them with themselves?
Mostly they have everything they are playing already in repertoire and they just have to maintain their skills. Three months is probably about right for a classic piece that is new to them, but it might take longer to prepare a debut if there is going to be back-and-forth with the composer and such.

Do they sighread all the pieces they play(reference to Heifetz's citation)?
They probably burn through new stuff once, yeah. Of course, by definition they cannot do that (or anything else) as well as Heifetz.

What are the pieces that are always played
by them(probably know the answers)?
The big warhorses - Mendelssohn, Bruch, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and such. Some soloists like Josefowicz are specializing in more modern stuff like Adams and Van der Aa.

November 3, 2019, 12:18 AM · The lives of soloists who tour full-time and play 100+ concerts a year, are quite different from those who get a few engagements each month, and different from those who might do an engagement a month (or are not concertizing as actively in general) and usually primarily hold a professorship at a conservatory.

November 3, 2019, 12:40 AM · Full-time soloists typically select a small number of pieces to focus on and maintain at peak performance level for a concert season, or at least for a half-season. In order to ensure the best quality of performances, all or most of the concert engagements they schedule for that time are pieces from that short list, though they most likely have plenty of other pieces memorized or mostly-memorized that they would be capable of performing competently on short notice.
Edited: November 3, 2019, 7:57 AM · A few years ago I read in an article in The Strad about a concert cellist who had spent 3 months on tour in Europe playing concertos, giving recitals, interviews on radio and TV - you name it he was doing it. When he returned to England he realised his technique had gotten a bit ragged after those intensive 3 months with no respite for practice, so on his return he had to spend a while bringing everything back up to scratch.

John Lill, the pianist, had a concert engagement in a Far East country. Due to unavoidable travel delays he arrived at the concert hall while the programme was under way and had just enough time to change before he was due on stage for Beethoven 4, a concerto with one of the more difficult openings, which demands very carefully placed opening chords on the solo piano. Lill had had no opportunity to rehearse with the orchestra or even to warm up, the piano was therefore completely strange, the orchestra was an unknown quantity (but he did know the conductor), and the conditions were hot and humid, not good news for any piano. Anyway, despite all this John Lill, being John Lill, produced the goods with his usual professionalism.

November 3, 2019, 3:08 PM · Only 3 hours!
Thought there were practicing minimum 4-5 hours
November 3, 2019, 3:49 PM · Achieving virtuosity and maintaining it are two things.
Edited: November 3, 2019, 4:44 PM · Lesser mortals may well take 4-5 hrs to do what the virtuoso does in 3, because the virtuoso knows exactly how to make the most efficient use of his practice time.

Another point is that he may indeed only be 3 hours a day at the violin, but at some stage there is likely to be a lot of time at a desk studying not only his violin part in detail, but also a piano part and orchestral pages, even before the physical practice starts. Nobody likes nasty surprises, hence this essential background study.

November 4, 2019, 2:09 PM · This may come as a surprise - but the routine that occurs when one does 10-20 concerts in a month makes each performance that much easier; the nerves that much more at bay; the practice/travel/rehearsal schedule that much more bearable.

The toughest shows are those after a 3 or 4 week hiatus.

To answer a question - one's schedule must be very structured throughout the day, because during the tour, you're always "on" - the interview circuit, rehearsals, private practice, socializing...every waking moment is dedicated to the brand.

This is why so many artists yearn for that sabbatical where the first thought when they wake up isn't, "what city am I in, and what concerto is it today?"

November 4, 2019, 3:13 PM · One artist (whom I won't name) took a sabbatical because he felt he couldn't face the prospect of playing the Mendelssohn 20 times on tour and still find something fresh to say.
November 4, 2019, 6:31 PM · “Face the prospect of playing the Mendelssohn 20 times?!”

That reveals more about the fiddler than the concerto. The healthy inquiring mind would say, “How fortunate that this season I can commune with the brilliant Felix Mendelssohn and unravel new mysteries/phrases/orchestral voice input...”

November 4, 2019, 6:49 PM · Andrew, unless you are speaking from experience, perhaps you should try eating your favorite food base - say fresh salmon - 20 times in a row before making that conclusion....
November 4, 2019, 8:19 PM · Andrew is a full time soloist. I imagine he does speak from experience.
Edited: November 4, 2019, 8:51 PM · I don't know, Elise. I've had pretty much exactly the same thing for breakfast every day for the past 25 years and I still look forward to it when my alarms goes off. Only small variations here and there. On Sundays I make pancakes or waffles for my family -- but do not eat them; I have my regular breakfast.

Vladimir Horowitz reportedly ate the same dinner every day for decades too: Dover sole. According to Charles Kuralt, the reporter covering the story for CBS, one of the difficulties that they faced when planning his triumphal return to Moscow was getting fresh sole flown in every day for his dinner.

People like that, who are singularly committed to something, live very regimented lives. They are creatures of routine. Horowitz also toured with his own piano, which I would guess very few if any of today's pianists do.

Edited: November 4, 2019, 11:52 PM · Elise - just yesterday, I played the Franck sonata for probably the 200th time...and I’m still discovering intricacies and pearls in it. In fact, my pianist and I turned to each other after the final glorious A major chord and agreed, “this piece never gets old, does it?!”

I also remain grateful for all performing opportunities, no matter how many times that evening’s work has been trotted out. Again, I would imagine that a performer tiring of one of these Olympian works says less about the Mendelssohn...or fresh salmon, as you put it. :)

November 5, 2019, 7:49 AM · Andrew - thanks for the follow-up and of course I appreciate the explanation. But do you feel the same about all of the pieces? There are many that I feel the same way about (not as a repeating soloist but from practicing them for a year for a single performance!) but others that I hate or feel ambivalent about even the first time through. Could you also play those 20 times in a row with equal enthusiasm?
November 5, 2019, 9:22 AM · If they are as good as the most played dozen concerti, than sure!
November 5, 2019, 9:28 AM · Vladimir Horowitz was probably the last to tour with his own piano (including a piano technician, apparently); at any rate I haven't heard of any others since.

What happens today is that a sufficiently eminent pianist will have a contract with one of the major piano manufacturers to give public performances and make recording only on a piano supplied by that manufacturer, and no other. The upside is that the soloist knows that a top quality piano will be ready for him on the platform wherever he is playing. The downside is that the pianist won't be able to accept an off-field public engagement playing on a piano by another manufacturer, no matter how good. Similar to some top violinists being tied in to a particular string manufacturer, and the disadvantage of this restriction, as someone here pointed out in a recent post, is that the violinist may therefore be hampered in finding the best strings to suit his violin.

November 5, 2019, 9:43 AM · I think the idea of performing the same concerto (or otherwise) many times over is dreamy! Imagine the possibilities of pushing your level of understanding and interpretation to new places and glean new insights.

November 5, 2019, 12:13 PM · There was another pianist, I forget her name, that traveled with a custom built piano. She had small hands, and had a piano made with slightly narrow keys. She also specialized at doing recitals in small American towns, that rarely have live classical music events.
-- I also like multiple performances, like Opera. The quality improves and the performance anxiety starts to disappear.
November 5, 2019, 12:36 PM · Two hundred times? I'd like to be able to play the Franck Sonata decently even once! With apologies to Gershwin, that's nice work if you can get it. ("And if you get it, won't you tell me how?")

November 5, 2019, 2:30 PM · Krystian Zimerman for sure tours with his own piano, and I'm pretty sure he's not the only one. US customs at JFK airport jacked-up his piano at least once.

I would imagine that the sensible practice schedule for a touring soloist would be only as much as necessary, and not so much that you go insane.

November 6, 2019, 6:46 AM · Gary Graffman writes of being a Steinway artist back in the 50s and 60s. There was one piano he really liked, and would swap it around with William Kapell and Leon Fleisher, depending on who was playing where. There were problems of time between cities to consider, and at some level there were costs they had to bear.

Eventually, Steinway's budget for that kind of support dropped, but there was a bracket of artist who could call in favors for an especially good instrument to be where needed.

Horowitz was obviously a special case: he could specify contracts that made it possible to bring his own piano-- and Dover sole, and whatever else it took him to get through the horror of a concert in someplace other than New York.

November 6, 2019, 7:52 AM · They probably practice forty hours a day, nine days a week?

In all seriousness, I expect several hours a day is out into practice. The soloists that visit my local orchestra to play with us, they rehearse once before the concert and then on the day of the concert. Sometimes, we might only get a rehearsal with them the day of the concert.

Hilary Hahn has just finished a long tour, and has decided to take a one year sabbatical, from performing. This will give her an opportunity to spend time with her children (I believe she has two), and perhaps her husband? But also time to practice different repertoire, work on her own technique, and well, have some well deserved time off.

November 6, 2019, 9:35 AM · I speculate that HH is secretly training to transition her career to the podium. I bet she emerges from her sabbatical with a few guest-conducting appearances.
November 6, 2019, 2:50 PM · Yes I hope so Paul.
Waiting for HH return (in 9 months if evreything is okay)


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