Great artists: how do they do it?

October 26, 2022, 12:17 AM · Last Sunday I attended a concert where Joshua Bell was playing in duo with pianist Peter Dugan. The program included Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy and Bartok. They also played two encores, the last being Wieniawski's Scherzo Tarantella, and almost needless to say the performance was fantasically musical and technically flawless.

More to the point is this. Josh and Peter arrived that morning from New York (six hour time difference), and the concert was at 6:00 PM, meaning that they had no time to rehearse the program (it was the first time they were playing it in public) and no time to get to know the Fazioli either.

The next morning late they had a car to take them to Bologna where the program was to be repeated. The day after, in Rome (5hr drive). After finally a day of rest, off to Tel-Aviv.

How can these artists not only live with a schedule like this but still be as sharp as nails onstage?

Replies (14)

Edited: October 26, 2022, 1:56 AM · Mustafia, I'm thinking your unspoken question may be "why do they do it?". Is their business so precarious that even such a celebrated figure as Josh Bell has to agree to an insane schedule devised for him by his agent? Or is he a performance junkie like Mick Jagger?
Edited: October 26, 2022, 2:12 AM · I almost wrote your thought into my post. If this is the measure of success, as far as I am concerned, it's not for me. But it must be for others. PS. It's Musafia" without the "t" :-)
October 26, 2022, 4:06 AM · Sorry Dimitri, I wasn't fully awake yet!
October 26, 2022, 4:12 AM · I think it's because they possess a level of skill and talent that's hard for us mortals to relate to. You could throw me in a plane for 18 hours, have me barely get any sleep, and I could still play a decent Twinkle Twinkle, because it's relatively easy for me.

I imagine they're at the level of skill where difficult repertoire is basically child's play to them, so it doesn't matter that much if they're not mentally 100%.

With that said, perhaps they sound even better when they're well rested, and the performance you saw was what they would consider "just ok".

Edited: October 26, 2022, 6:49 AM · Most probably, they rehearsed it in New York, also they are probably flying business class, so they can sleep on the plane.
Edited: October 26, 2022, 10:57 AM · Just think about Schubert, or Mozart, or other great composers who either did not have a chance to live a normal life span, or who (like Beethoven) were burdened by a problem (deafness, in Beethoven's situation). Just think of how much time each day it must have taken them to compose, write out, and edit their life's work. And they had to do it with full focus of attention for at least as many hours a day that professional musicians have to practice and play. And they didn't have computers.
October 26, 2022, 11:00 AM · Maybe they don't do it, or at least maybe such a schedule takes its toll on the consistency or quality of their performances.

I heard Josh Bell, earlier this summer, give a pretty bad performance of the Tchaikovsky VC, so if I want to be generous, maybe he didn't have enough rehearsal or rest time ahead of it.

October 26, 2022, 12:33 PM · I have asked my daughter's violin teacher about this. He essentially said that standard rep is always under their fingers, and professionals know how to work together without much by the way of practice, having done it for a very long time, and can adjust to each other on the fly.
Edited: October 26, 2022, 5:49 PM · It's called stamina and you build it up over time. My PhD professor said it best. We were talking about work schedules and some people were saying they're "morning people" and others making excuses for rolling in late, and my professor said, "What I've noticed is that the morning people are also the evening people and the weekend people." And was he ever right. So there's stamina, and there's motivation.
October 26, 2022, 6:52 PM · Greetings,
ultimately I think it is about the mind. The greats have clearly etched performances in their heads and as Kreisler put it it (sort ofZ) ‘you just pull the trigger and bang.’ Milstein didn’t like people warming up in front of him when they took his lessons. He admonished his supplicants ‘If you can’t just do it right away you don’t have enough mental control.’
However, it is also worth remembering that they (the greats) prepare for the eventuality of difficulty. For example, Oistrakh performed a Paginin caprice from cold first thing because he knew he had to be ready to take his violin out and play without warm up in the most horrendous wartime conditions.
October 27, 2022, 12:36 AM · If you're someone who works a cognitively demanding job that must be done while you're a globetrotting road warrior, you get used to functioning in this fashion.

We know that people's abilities are compromised when you're constantly jetlagged, and it affects both short-term and long-term health, etc. But if your overall functioning is high enough, even your compromised level might be more than adequate.

Also: Business class, sleep hygiene (likely with melatonin and possibly drugs if needed), conscientious attention paid to staying properly hydrated,

October 27, 2022, 12:39 AM · @ Paul, that's an interesting point. When I was in my 30s I did a lot of long distance sailing regattas, some where you're out a week or more at a time, pushing your boat to the limit day and night.

Conventional sleep time was out of the question. On our boat every evening the skipper divided us into groups ("watches") so we had two hours on deck and four hours for resting, on rotation. After the first day or two we took it in stride and learned indeed to fall asleep instantly at any available hour. We always returned in good shape (although we never won anything).

October 27, 2022, 1:16 AM · If they match well together, they won’t need many rehearsals. I, in my lower level, can play very exactly with other musicians, with only one rehearsal.
Still, some pieces don’t get what they deserve, although the performance may be perfectly together and with great passion.
If it is very complex, then it is worth having a good plan and concept for the whole piece. This needs some time, otherwise the interpretation will be just something like opening a can of really good food.

I don’t want to criticize the players you mentioned, though, maybe they have exchanged their interpretational thoughts via email, before. Matters of articulation, dynamics, etc., can work, spontaneously, but without a plan, they won’t be coherent, throughout the whole piece.

What I wonder is, though, is when do they practice, especially new repertoire?

October 27, 2022, 1:36 AM · Besides having aptitude/talent that exceeds that of most, like anyone else who's really good at a particular endeavor, they got on a track at a certain point where opportunities came about and they kept on it. I imagine Joshua Bell or Hillary Hahn etc. are capable of doing something else but would they enjoy (fill in the blank) as much as wowing audiences with their violin?

I'm sure part of it is mercenary - they're striking while the iron's hot and putting $$ in the bank while they can. An unfortunate accident could end their career tomorrow or when they're not as young and cute the opportunities could simply become less. Hillary plays superbly but would she have the same career she's had if she weren't as photogenic?

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