In pursuit of perfection
Practice makes perfect. All practice is destined for a perfect performance. But how can you avoid cold hands and clammy fingers on the day of performance?
The guitarist cancelled all his pupils on Friday 2nd April so that he could relax and focus on the evening concert. In the morning, he and the pianist went jogging and stretching, and later took naps.
The drive to the west coast of North Holland coincided with the evening rush hour. Predictably the traffic caused an hour's delay, which meant there was no time to run through the last piece in the programme.
The proprietor greeted the duo and offered soup, coffee, or tea. On a cold afternoon as this, they preferred soup, however thin it was.
The concert hall was once a small church but showed no remnants of religious order of any sort. It had a feeling of community. A large and rather new Bechstein grand dominated the stage. With houseplants and paintings adorning the walls, it was a very cozy place for an intimate concert for no more than fifty people.
In the back was a room with a Feurich grand piano for warming up. The musicians were grateful for a separate, secluded place to retreat to.
Getting used to the instrument (Bechstein grand) and the environment is absolutely essential for a good performance. The guitarist decided to amplify his guitar to fight against the volume of the piano whose lid was completely closed.
The pianist decided to turn her own pages after a bad experience with a last-minute page turner previously. She requested for better lighting to see the music, and a piano lamp was adjusted on the stand.
There is tension and energy just before a concert. And all that is released at the end.
Introduction. Applause. The performers enter the room. They take their places and bow. The applause stops. They begin.
In such an intimate atmosphere, the performers are in direct eye contact with individuals in the audience. The moment the performers recognise faces in the audience, they feel encouraged. There is nothing more motivating for the performers than to see friends, fellow composers, and other supporters just before they take their places, and then to talk to them after the concert.
The first piece is usually the most difficult piece, for they have not had the opportunity to play it in front of a live audience. The guitar may not be suitably amped. The contrast of the piano against the guitar may no longer be optimal as that in the empty hall earlier.
The guitar is exposed to the audience, and every note can be heard when the piano is silent or soft. For the guitarist to predict with great certainty the outcome of his playing, he must be extremely confident and controlled. Practice has the objective of reaching this state of confidence and control.
The piano, on the other hand, sits there like a lazy giant surrounding the guitarist. It is intimidating to compete such a mighty instrument, but the guitarist is armed with the amplifier beneath the piano. The pianist's only concerns are to be able to hear the guitar during the performance and to be able to turn the pages on time.
During the second piece, the pianist accidentally turns two pages instead of one. With one swift motion, she corrects the mistake. In the third piece, she changes to the last page so quickly that the previous page falls to the ground. In the final piece, she turns the page too soon and the audience notices.
The concert debuts a new piece in four movements written by a Dutch composer for the duo. He explains what the piece was about - the torment of lost love and the joy of finding it back.
It is the duo's first full concert performance in the Netherlands. The audience gives them a standing ovation, followed by several bouquets of long stemmed red and white roses. Wine is served.
A composer from Chicago announces that he will write a piano guitar piece for the duo. They rejoice. The concert hall invites them back.
Such moments remind the pianist and the guitarist why they want to perform and why they need to practise until they are confident they can be perfect. It's a long road to perfection. But the road will take them around the world, the dream of a lifetime.
8 April 2004 Thursday
In pursuit of flexibility
Sound clips from piano
guitar duo concert