Switching Musical Gears

May 6th, 2016
Switching Musical Gears

I arrived in Pasadena before my luggage did this past weekend, and had a few scary hours facing the prospect of going onstage in my yoga pants to play Ravel. But the airline delivered and I also made it through the first of six different concertos in a row over the next few weeks. I have almost 40 concertos in my repertoire, but I usually choose to do six or so every season. Sometimes when my manager offers the concertos to a pool of presenters they pick up all six within a concentrated period of time. Like now. Of course these pieces are my old friends and we just need to get together and talk again, but preparing six at once is a masochistic thing.

There’s also a major continent change in the middle: I’m off in a couple of weeks to Australia. Then after three nights of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in Melbourne, I need to leave immediately to fly to Newark for a rehearsal of “Rach 3” less than 24 hours later. Oh, and 20 hours of that I’m on the plane.

Everyone thinks musicians are dreamy, dewy spirits, but actually, any busy traveling artist has to be a total planning freak. There are only “X” number of hours you can devote to each concert, and if you don’t plan it right, there’s no way to get six concertos or multiple chamber music pieces or recital programs ready at the same time. It’s about shifting gears and knowing what your body can handle. We have to know our limits really well. And we need every brain cell to make sure we’re playing the right pieces at the right times.

Here’s a famous scary case. The great Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires was ONSTAGE for a lunchtime concert in Amsterdam when she realized she had prepared the wrong Mozart Concerto. Watch her reaction in this video, and how she switches gears.

This almost could have been me… I'm playing Mozart with the Vancouver Symphony next week. Everything had been discussed previously and we were all in agreement on, I thought, the C major Concerto, K. 467. For some reason I checked the contract a few months ago and there it was: C minor instead of C major. A typo? I called my management and said, “Whether it’s major or minor is fine. I just need to know which one it is.” We got it settled and I’m practicing the C minor, K. 491. But just in case, I may bring the other music, too!