Thursday, April 21, 2016

Getting the Best Performance from Your Collaborative Pianist - Part 2


Today, I will conclude my look at those things that build the most positive relationship between soloist and collaborative pianist -- leading to the best possible performance. Now let's look at specifics related to the rehearsal process and performance.

  • The first rehearsal sets the tone for the entire collaboration process. If you have never worked together, this is your opportunity to see how each other works. Is the overall mood relaxed and jovial while being productive? Or is it straight to work with no down time? Knowing what the relationship is like from the beginning will make the rehearsal process run much more smoothly.
  • Every rehearsal should not include a run of the program. I generally like to start rehearsals with a read through just so we can begin to figure out how things fit together and decide what passages need immediate attention. In many cases, the parts line up easily and simply getting familiar with the piece will solve a multitude of problems.
  • If we are not playing the entire piece, how do we work through it? Efficient rehearsals will involve a good deal of conversation. You and your pianist need to discuss your overall interpretation of the piece as well as issues related to breaths, rubato, tempo changes, and ritardandos. Once you have discussed a passage, isolate it from the whole and work on that segment alone. This allows everyone to direct their attention to the point that was just discussed and then evaluate the execution and effectiveness. Is a better cue needed? Who gives it? Is the tempo change driven by the pianist or soloist? As you work through these passages, each member of the ensemble makes note of issues they need to correct in their personal rehearsal time; it makes no sense to waste the other musician's time while working out technical and musical problems that can be effectively corrected in the practice room alone.
  • Your first run through of a piece should NEVER be a coaching session with your teacher. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. It's simply unfair to ask your pianist to attempt to keep the piece together in front of another professional whose job is to help the student shape musical phrases and deal with technical challenges. At the very least, a preliminary rehearsal -- in advance of the first coaching session -- should be held to establish tempi and to alert the pianist to any odd ensemble passages. Soloists who repeatedly put their collaborative pianist in this awkward position may find themselves in need of a new chamber partner. (The exception to this would be a piece that is very familiar to all pianists -- things like the Brahms' clarinet/viola sonatas or the Hindemith trumpet sonata. It's still not a great idea to have a coaching without a rehearsal, but at least the pianist has some idea how this standard rep fits together and has probably played it before. Still, you are taking a huge chance that your coaching session will be a waste of time by not rehearsing in advance.)
  • Subsequent rehearsals -- after coaching -- are all about polishing. There is no substitute for rehearsing together to allow music to fully mature and for your ensemble to gel. As you continue to rehearse on a regular basis in preparation for your performance, focus on issues related to balance while continuing to address ensemble concerns related to cues and phrasing. Don't allow technical challenges to become the main focus -- after all, making music together in partnership is the ultimate goal of any collaboration. Your final rehearsal before the performance -- a dress run, if you will -- is all about getting a sense of the flow of the program. If at all possible, conduct your dress rehearsal a few days in advance of the performance.
  • Continue to be gracious during the performance. Your audience will notice the strength of your partnership as you graciously acknowledge the pianist's work through shared bows (the days of extending a hand to the "accompanist" after the performance are gone) and genuine smiles. Don't forget to be gracious backstage as well. This is not the place to comment on passages that didn't go as well as you hoped. Keep things positive while complimenting and encouraging each other. If you have built a true collaborative partnership during the rehearsal process, this mutual respect and admiration comes naturally.
  • After the performance is over, your continued support of your collaborative partner is greatly appreciated. One of the best ways for pianists to get new performance opportunities is through word of mouth referrals. If you enjoyed working with your pianist, tell your colleagues about your experience and encourage them to get in touch with your collaborative pianist for future engagements. The pianist will be grateful -- and might even cut you a deal for future work together.