Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

To be honest, I was forced into the family trade as a musician!  Both of my parents are classical musicians and music teachers, and I started on the piano at age 3, violin at 6, and cello at 7.  Playing music and performing was a mandatory activity but it wasn’t until I was 18 and moved to Los Angeles to go to university (studying Classical Cello Performance) at USC when I started really pursuing ways to make my own music and just work as a cellist in order to pay the bills.  I did a lot of work as a session musician and hired gun, and it helped me learn and familiarize myself with all genres of music, but my main love and obsession has always been Industrial Metal.  I’m lucky that my ‘day job’ of being a session musician has a lot of crossover with my own music.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down and Jaqueline du Pré – she was amazing!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

At the beginning of my career when I had just moved to Los Angeles, I had exactly $0 to my name and didn’t own an instrument (the cello and bow I used were on loan to me while I was in university by a foundation).  It was extremely difficult to get by as I had no outside financial help.  I remember putting up ads daily on musician classifieds online and playing with any band or artist that was wiling to pay $50 for a rehearsal and show, and I played in every club on Sunset Strip.  I taught music students for $20 a hour, and played cello at endless weddings, funerals, Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs etc.  Even though I had a full scholarship for tuition to USC, it didn’t cover living expenses,  additional school expenses like books, etc., so I amassed a good amount of student loans and credit card debt for the 2½ years I was attending.   After 2½ years of school, I left since I wasn’t able to balance performing/working and going to school full time, and I decided to go 100% into music.   It wasn’t until after 7 years of grinding away as a session musician, living in a garage with no kitchen, heat or air  conditioning to be able to make payments on the 1880 Gand & Bernardel Cello I purchased using an instrument loan and 3 credit card advances, multiple failed metal band projects, and using what little money I made to buy music equipment so I could record and self-release my own music, that I was finally offered a position as a soloist with Cirque du Soleil on Electric Cello.

I toured with the Michael Jackson ‘THE IMMORTAL’ World Tour for two years from 2011-2013, and during those years I only had 2 suitcases of belongings and saved religiously, spending only $20 a week. I started taking online courses in investing and began purchasing stocks and investing in Peer-to-Peer lending.  I was able to build a financial foundation for myself because of that opportunity!  I also brought along my studio equipment on the road to continue doing recording sessions for composer and producer clients, and also composed/released 3 of my own albums during that period.  I think being able to figure out how to survive financially has been a major struggle, as well as identifying a clear image of what my own music is, since I love and have delved into so many different genres of music.  During my years in university, I did perform as a classical soloist with smaller orchestras, and also enjoyed my work in the studios recording for soundtracks, as well as my own metal projects on which I worked.  Looking back now, all 10 of my albums have been wildly different in style and approach, but I do feel like they are all genuinely me as I explored different parts of my musical self through the years through these recordings and compositions.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

My very first music video, ‘Queen Bee’ which was from my album THE JOURNEY is something I’m very proud of!  That music video led to me being offered the position with Cirque du Soleil, and also working with Hans Zimmer after he saw it on YouTube.  I was in the early stages of exploring my own version of Industrial Metal Cello – inspired heavily by the band Rammstein and Marilyn Manson – and used  something a bit obvious as the base (the Flight of the Bumble Bee) but felt like that artistically and stylistically the video is truly *me* at my essence.  I was very lucky to work with an amazing team for that video!  To finance it, I spent every penny I had  as I told myself it would be my last “hurrah” at trying to pursue Industrial Metal.  It took a bit of a different turn as I suddenly was approached by composers here in Los Angeles to record my “metal style” cello on their soundtracks after the video was released.  I feel like 9 years later, it’s worked out perfectly and having the opportunity to perform at WACKEN recently, the biggest metal festival in the world, with two amazing bands SABATON and Beyond the Black, was truly a dream come true.  There are many paths leading to the final destination and I love the path that I have been on, which I never would have guessed!  Having my first adventure into New Age Music nominated for a GRAMMY was a huge surprise

The entire album was recorded in one day, completely improvised with myself and Peter Kater the pianist, never having played together in order to capture the purest form of improvisation and musical meeting.  I’ve played with rappers, country artists, DJs, and musically it has helped me expand so much!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Passionate Romantic-era classical pieces, soundtrack music that is very open to interpretation and Industrial Metal!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am open to anything and everything, and a lot of my musical activity is recording for various soundtrack projects, so the film, tv show, or video game determines the repertoire!  I’ve backed away somewhat from performing classical music with orchestras as I’m trying to focus now more heavily on my own original music projects and compositions.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

So far, my favorite has been at Wacken Open Air! 125,000 people, amazing wonderful energy, lots of fire and screaming!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The very first time I performed in an arena in Montreal at the premiere of Michael Jackson ‘The Immortal” World Tour – I was so incredibly nervous!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

  1. Being able to make the music you love.
  2. Having financial security so that you are in the mind space and energy to not worry about concerns related to poverty- having been in it, I can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to be musically inspired and focused when you don’t know how you will pay for your next meal!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I am very passionate about entrepreneurship and learning about every aspect of the business side of music as much as possible to educate yourself.  So much knowledge is available to us, for free online, with technology growing and changing at such a fast pace, and so many alternative routes for musicians and creatives to monetize their work.  I have a lot of videos discussing finances, investments, etc., on my YouTube channel if anyone would like to check it out in addition to music videos, concert videos, tutorials, product reviews, and other random things.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My fiancé Rambo and I with our two Fur Babies (our two dogs, Bagel and Pizza) up in the mountains in a cabin with a snow storm outside, fireplace roaring, a Large pepperoni and pineapple pan pizza from Domino’s, coffee, furry Blankets, a big bed and Netlflix on a huge TV!

Tina Guo’s single ‘The Circle of Life’ from The Lion King is available now. More information


Internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-nominated and BRIT Female Artist of the Year-nominated musician Tina Guo has established an international career as a virtuoso acoustic/electric cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and entrepreneur. Known for her unique genre-crossing style, she is one of the most recorded Solo Cellists of all time and can be heard on hundreds of Blockbuster Film, Television, and Game Soundtracks.  In 2018, Tina signed as an official brand partner with Bentley Motors, composing, performing, and producing the launch music for the luxury hybrid vehicle, Bentayga Hybrid.  In 2019, Tina partnered with the Ritz-Carlton to create a soundtrack to the endless possibilities and unforgettable moments experienced at The Ritz-Carlton. Tina will visit four destinations — New Orleans, Dove Mountain, Toronto and Maui — and compose original scores inspired by these dynamic locations.

Read more

 

The world’s oldest surviving firm of piano makers, UK’s John Broadwood & Sons, has found the instrument used by Gustav Holst to compose The Planets.

  • The Broadwood piano was bought by St Paul’s Girls’ School for Holst in 1913 and used by the composer during the time he composed The Planets.
  • The instrument will be honoured with a special performance at St Paul’s Girls’ School on 21st September 2019; the same day as Holst’s birthday. The Planets will be performed on the instrument by piano duo John and Fiona York.
  • Additional concerts will take place at Finchcocks, Kent and the Holst Birthplace Museum, Cheltenham.

On 8th November 1913 the Broadwood porters trundled a brand new, grand piano into the newly-built music wing at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London. The piano was a fine example of the Broadwood Number 5 Drawing Room model, of length 7’ 6’’ (229cm). It had been ordered by the School for placement in a specially soundproofed teaching studio, recently created for their increasingly famous head of music, composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934).

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The serial number of the piano in question is 51868; with casework in rosewood and a special steel ‘barless’ frame – a construction feature unique to Broadwood. Its cost to the School was 225 guineas (less a generous discount for another piano taken in part exchange!). Number 51868 is photographed, in its studio setting, opposite page 42 of Imogen Holst’s famous biography of her father, published 1938.

2217742443_7b28c47f1f_bMost of Holst’s composing inspiration took place whilst he was engrossed at his long table in the School’s soundproof studio. Although he was not a brilliant pianist (his technique was severely hindered by neuritis in his right hand), the Broadwood grand was instrumental in helping him create one of the greatest masterpieces of twentieth-century orchestral music: The Planets. Holst would regularly invite two of the School’s music staff – Nora Day and Vally Lasker – to play to him excerpts from the fledgling Planets on the Broadwood grand to hand, just to hear how the composition was progressing.

It is clear that the Broadwood in question was long regarded as the ‘flagship’ of the School’s fleet of pianos, being moved for important concerts within the School. Broadwood’s: records show that their porters were hired to trundle the grand on at least 17 occasions between 1913 and 1938 from Holst’s room to the Singing Hall or Great Hall, and back.

The fascinating provenance of the instrument was only re-discovered by chance in September 2016, when a routine search through Broadwood’s company’s records proved beyond doubt that grand piano No. 51868 was indeed the one used by Holst at the School. Thanks to the kind cooperation of the piano’s present owner, Katie Smith, the grand piano will once again be publicly seen and heard this year.

The celebrations

Broadwoods are delighted to sponsor a number of recitals to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first public performance of The Planets. The highlight will be a concert at St Paul’s Girls’ School on 21st September (Holst’s birthday), featuring the intriguing piano duet version of the suite, performed on the very same Broadwood instrument used in the piece’s creation one hundred years ago. It should be a remarkable experience to see and hear this treasured instrument as well as The Planets as Holst would have experienced it. Additional performances will take place at Finchcocks piano school, Kent, and the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham. (Full listings are below)

About Broadwoods

John Broadwood & Sons Ltd is the world’s oldest surviving piano firm, founded in 1728. The company has held a Warrant for supply and maintenance of pianos to the various Royal Households since the reign of George II and can name among its illustrious customers the composers Haydn, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams. The company continues to make, tune and repair pianos at its workshop in Lythe, near Whitby, north Yorkshire. The present-day directors of the company, which is an independent enterprise, include three members of the Laurence family, whose ancestors had worked for many generations in a technical capacity in John Broadwood & Sons’ Soho factory from 1787 until 1922.

Event Listings

Saturday, 21st September 2019, 3pm

Holst Birthday Concert

St Paul’s Girls’ School, Brook Green, London, W6 7BS

John and Fiona York will perform the piano duet version of The Planets on Holst’s piano with Heidi Pegler (soprano) And the Paulina Voices choir from the School.

With an introduction from Dr Alastair Laurence.

Exhibition of ephemera in Holst’s soundproof studio throughout the day.

Admission: £12. Students 18 and under: free entry.

Tickets: holstbirthday.eventbrite.co.uk

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Saturday, 28th September 2019

The Vaulted Concert Room, Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent TN17 1HH

An evening with Gershwin and The Planets.

The Planets’ Suite will be performed in its duet version by Jong-Gyung Park and nthony Zerpa-Falcon on a 1920 vintage ‘model 5’ Broadwood grand (identical to Holst’s)

Admission: £10.

Tickets: finchcocks.com

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Two concerts: Sunday 13th October; 2pm and 7pm

The Holst Birthplace Museum, 4 Clarence Road, Cheltenham, GL52 2AY

Greg Tassell (tenor) and Gary Branch (piano)

Inspiration from England: music by Holst, Elgar, Sullivan, Stamford, Vaughan Williams and Britten.

Admission: £20 including wine and canapés

Booking essential: 01242 524846 Or contact curator@holstmuseum.org.uk

 

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(source: press release)

Guest post by Madeline Salocks

Decades later, I recall my first piano performance in front of a large audience as if it occurred only a few years ago. I was in college, and, with another student who I’ll call Michael, had worked up the Beethoven G minor sonata for piano and cello. Wondering if we could take it beyond the practice room, we’d auditioned to perform in a well-attended campus concert series, and had been thrilled to be selected. With the good news, we’d stepped up our rehearsing, and had availed ourselves of expert coaching from our respective noted teachers.

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By the time the concert was fast approaching, we were ready. But, once the countdown had progressed from weeks to days to just hours, you’d have thought I was about to make a Carnegie Hall debut I was so keyed up.  The entire night before the concert, I tossed and turned in varying states of dread, the quiet darkness enabling my swirling thoughts. How did I ever get myself into this? What if I play fistfuls of wrong notes all over the place? What if I freeze and have to leave the stage, disappointing not only myself, but worse yet, Michael, who is depending on me to play my part? And on and on it went. After hours of this, I began to see the dawn easing in gently through the gauzy white curtains of my bedroom window. I hadn’t slept one minute, but I still had plenty of energy–nervous energy. A little later, the bright spring day brought marginal relief, but I still wished it were some other day. Do I have to do this? Yes, you do! I passed through a few more fretful hours, and then the moment arrived. Alex, in a yellow button-down shirt and gray dress pants, and I, in a long blue and yellow flowered skirt and blue top, stood waiting in the wings, looking through the stage entrance across a wide-open expanse of wooden flooring at the Steinway grand piano, and the chair and music stand in front of it. Michael smiled, perhaps through jitters of his own. But I, feeling as if I were perched on the edge of a cliff, wasn’t smiling, and practically had to be pushed out on stage.

As we started the piece and my fingers shakily navigated the notes I’d spent so many hours drilling, every sound and sensation was magnified, and at the same time the very familiar score in front of me suddenly looked less familiar. Doubts pushed their way in front of the music. What am I doing here? I feel like a fraud! I clung on in autopilot, but would the autopilot be reliable all the way through? Moving past the introductory Adagio Sostenuto ed Espressivo and into the Allegro Molto Piu Tosto Presto, the opportunities for mishap seemed to increase tenfold. So many notes, so fast–I feel like a runaway train! But I hung on. Then, a few pages in, settling down a bit, I began to play some of the phrases less automatically and with more in-the-moment intention, although I still tightened up here and there. Maybe I can get through this. My fingers continued rippling across the keys, through the driving cascades of the Allegro Molto and then through the sparkling passagework of the effervescent Rondo Allegro.

In the end, my sleepless night and apprehensions notwithstanding, the performance was pretty good—about a B in comparison to our best, considering various aspects—accuracy, expression, ensemble. After the clapping died down and we returned back stage, we were both smiling this time, pleased with the outcome and feeling a sense of accomplishment. But my nerves had done their best to derail me, and it was only because I’d been so thoroughly well-rehearsed that I’d been able to still turn in a decent showing. There’s a reason for the adage that there’s no substitute for practice.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve never been affected by performance nerves to the point of missing an entire night of sleep. And on occasion I’ve felt genuinely comfortable performing. But usually I find myself somewhere along the performance nerves scale (excluding zero).

It’s as if your mind’s evil twin swoops in and says, “Ha! Let’s see how you do now!” as it tries to sabotage your hard work by revving you up, planting what-if thoughts, pulling away your focus–or the opposite, heightening your awareness of too many details, and, at the same time, making your hands shaky, sweaty, sticky, ice cold, stiff, or some combination of those sensations. Bringing distraction on the mental side and technical constraints on the physical side, and impeding flow on both sides. Furthermore, the precision required in classical music, with little leeway and no opportunity to pause or “play it by ear”, makes things worse.

What causes stage fright? For some, it could be perfectionism. For others, it could be fear of being judged. For me, it’s that I want the end result—all coming down to this one moment, with no warm-ups or re-starts possible—to be worthy of the time I’ve invested, and at least in the “ballpark” of whatever I’ve managed to achieve. And the fight or flight part of my brain doesn’t seem to like the uncertainty that anything can happen during that one chance. More so, I want the end result to be worthy of the audience’s time, even though, when in the audience myself, I’ve seen other musicians become noticeably out of sync, play those fistfuls of wrong notes, or even stop and regroup, and yet I’ve never thought the concert wasn’t worth my time. In fact, I’ve respected their soldiering on despite a glitch, enjoyed the performance, and left with an overall positive impression. So why wouldn’t I allow myself the same latitude? It’s a good question without an easy answer.

If I’m playing with others, which is usually the case, the biggest stage fright trigger is my fear of letting the other musicians down. They’ve invested a lot of time too, and surely want an outcome that’s at least reasonably representative of the work they’ve put in just as much as I do. I don’t want to throw a wrench into their performance.

So why perform? Because I believe in the tradition of live music. Since I’ve spent a lot of time learning to play an instrument, it makes sense that I put it to use and make a contribution with it.

In my college years studying piano, I found surprisingly little written on the topic of stage fright. And people didn’t freely discuss it–almost as if the subject was taboo. An admission of performance nerves seemed like an admission of inadequacy or unworthiness. Assuming (erroneously) that everyone else was, if not unflappable, then at least far more easy-going than I about performing, I felt isolated. If I asked a teacher or a coach, I might get a blank look, as if stage fright were a foreign concept, then, “Oh don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” This was useless. Other responses were, “Pretend the people in the audience are in their underwear,” or, “It’s just a matter of concentrating.” These too were useless, and as for the latter, this tip was also ironic, since one of the very things stage fright can cause is a problem with concentration. The teachers were well meaning, but unprepared to guide in this aspect. And perhaps those particular teachers had been, luckily for them, relatively free of nerves in their own performances.

But now, stage fright is freely discussed, and recognized as very common, from beginning students to the most seasoned world-class musicians, including the likes of Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz, Emanuel Ax (New Yorker). Many books have been written, the Internet is full of blogs and articles (a particularly good example being The Bulletproof Musician website), and some music schools and departments have classes to help.

I’m still an occasional performer, and always open to ideas for reducing performance nerves, so I’ve read plenty of material and tried various suggestions over the years. Following is a roundup of my personal anecdotal experience with many of them, and a brief assessment of their effectiveness in decreasing my level of nervousness, to the extent that I’ve been able to recognize.

These anti-stage fright suggestions have produced no positive effect on performance nerves in my personal experience, although some are good practices for other reasons:

  • Eat a banana shortly before the performance. Bananas are rich in B vitamins and magnesium, which are associated with calming the nervous system and promoting a positive mood. However, I suspect the potential dose of tranquility in a banana is far too miniscule to have any chance against the powerful presence of the stage fright beast.
  • Limit caffeine the day of the performance. Saying no to coffee or tea for several hours before the performance won’t lessen jitters, but it’s obviously sensible to avoid exacerbating them.
  • Eat a light healthy meal no closer than 2 hours before the performance. This is sensible because a large meal ahead of the concert, no matter how healthy, would likely produce a negative impact on cognitive function due to blood being diverted from the brain to the stomach for digestion.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day of the performance. This too is sensible since dehydration can also have a negative impact on cognitive function.
  • Connect with the audience just before the performance. Chatting with people before the concert or making eye contact with someone in the audience just before playing is nice to do, but here too I’ve found no connection between it and lessened performance nerves.

The next suggestions have produced no obvious positive effect on performance nerves in my personal experience, but I believe they might be helpful, even if only subtly or imperceptibly:

  • Take a walk or otherwise exercise moderately on the day of the performance. Since there seems to be no debate on the benefit of exercise for stress reduction overall, I assume this can have a slight positive effect on performance nerves, especially if it’s a regular habit and not just done on the day of the performance.
  • Practice meditation. Once, as part of my preparation for a concert, I took a 6-week meditation class and then continued practicing meditation every day for the remaining two months prior to a performance of particularly difficult music. Perhaps my meditation sessions weren’t long enough or the three and a half month duration wasn’t sufficient, because, as it turned out, the level of jitters at the concert was about the same as usual. Still, as with exercise, given the volumes written on meditation and stress reduction, I believe it should be considered as potentially beneficial for performance nerves, even if its effectiveness may vary with the individual.
  • Make a fist with your left hand and hold for a few seconds just before performing. The act of making a fist with the left hand is thought to activate the brain’s right hemisphere and thereby counter overthinking, one of the features of performance nerves. Studies have been done on athletes with success, and I’ve occasionally noticed professional tennis players do it. I haven’t detected any difference when I’ve tried it myself, and I also wonder if the desired state is sustained though a piece of music. But it’s certainly easy enough to do.

These suggestions have produced a very modest yet noticeable positive effect on performance nerves for me:

  • Turn negative self-talk positive. I’ve heard it said that self-talk can change belief, and I’ve also heard it said that self-talk is ineffective without underlying belief, which sounds paradoxical. I look at it as reinforcing an idea in which one can at least entertain some belief. If I catch adverse self-talk when it comes up (typically on the day of the performance, or even the day before) and turn it into something positive but at the same time realistic (and believable), it helps to avoid the extra shot of jitters that come from self-doubt and adverse predictions. For example, “This is just a thought. It may be worrisome and unpleasant, but it’s not a predictor. I’ve practiced well, so chances are good the concert will go well.” A common recommendation is to reframe “I’m nervous” to “I’m excited”, which might work for some people.
  • Breathe deeply with a controlled technique. I like to incorporate this well-known anti-stress measure in general anyway, using the Weil 4-7-8 breathing technique (Weil). When a performance is about to go on, the deep breathing certainly doesn’t usher in total relaxation, but it helps.
  • Centre. This technique is based on deep breathing but adds additional steps of finding a physical center, visualizing the release of negative thoughts from the center (described, for example, as an imagined ball being thrown, or a balloon rising up, or even a laser beam of energy directed to a far point), and then affirming positive intention or affirmation. Admittedly, the effectiveness of the ball/balloon/laser beam part has eluded me. But, I find the rest useful as basically a combination of deep breathing and positive self-talk.

The next suggestions are concerned with boosting confidence from having already “been there”, thereby automatically reducing the nerves to some extent for the next performance, and, in my experience, are clearly helpful:

  • Record. Turning on a recorder can bring out performance nerves just as if an audience dropped down into the room, especially if it’s a recorder in a professional studio, but even a phone recorder will do. It feels like a performance, and is a performance, except that the audience is a microphone. Also, recording the piece under less-than-optimal conditions, some of which could be the case at the concert, is useful because it makes me realize I don’t have to have my usual comfortable environment in order to play. Possibilities include: a too hot or too cold ambient temperature, poor lighting, noise, and especially, lack of warm-up since, more often than not, there’s little or no chance for warming up at a concert.
  • Arrange trial performances. There’s nothing like actually performing the program to build confidence. A home concert works well, and, for me, even a one-person audience counts. A potential added benefit of the trial performance is that it can reveal areas that need more attention.
  • At this point, I should mention visualization, which some would put in the same category as the two above, suggesting that visualizing playing a successful performance (complete with audience clapping) results in the same kind of memory as playing an actual successful performance, thus boosting confidence and reducing nerves from having “been there”. I’m aware that studies have shown visualization does lay down neural pathways similar to real action. So, in theory, visualization of a successful performance should plant a desirable imprint in the brain. But, I cannot personally attest to its effectiveness from my own experience, although it’s possible I haven’t tried it enough, or my visualizations haven’t been vivid enough. (However, as an aside, I can say with confidence that visualizing playing a piece in detail is helpful for knowing it better, particularly a memorized piece, performance nerves or no performance nerves.)

The next anti-stage fright suggestion, in a different category, is also clearly helpful in my experience:

  • Beta-blockers. These require a doctor’s prescription and may not be medically appropriate for some people. And some might not like the idea. But, for me, Propranolol is definitely helpful for lessening shaking hands, somewhat helpful for reducing sweaty palms, and occasionally (but not reliably) marginally helpful for mentally staying in the moment–although the benefit is almost entirely on the physical side.

In addition, I offer two more ideas that go back to the practicing–but with an eye to performance nerves. These suggestions don’t decrease performance nerves per se, but having done them in practice can be of some help when performance nerves crop up.

  • Improve preparations. I’m not talking about thorough preparation of the piece in the general sense, although clearly that’s important. Here, I’m talking about hand preparations at a detailed level. One of the aggravating symptoms of performance nerves during the concert is the feeling of being stiff and stuck, in contrast to a relaxed practice session where it can often feel like there’s all kinds of time to move from note to note with ease and flow. Because of this feeling that there’s plenty of time to move about, I might have drilled in a habit of, for example, moving from a certain chord to the next chord at the last moment, which works fine as long as I’m relaxed. But, in performance, if my hands and fingers feel semi-paralyzed, as if they’re up against a mini headwind, moving from that first chord to the next can be more of a frantic scramble. Anticipating that possibility, I can add a bit of “insurance” with a slightly adjusted gesture where I move to the second chord sooner. There are many variations on this concept, including more efficient hand positions and fingering adjustments. I’ve found it helpful to go through the piece well before the performance and look for places where I can improve motion between notes and positioning, all toward the goal of better preparations. Plus, and this can be harder to detect, I sometimes find spots where I’m mentally lagging or sticking to a spot in my head rather than moving forward. Ideally I’d be efficient with good anticipation everywhere in the piece from the start, both physically and mentally–but I always find room for improvement when I devote time to examining a piece with that purpose in mind.
  • Consciously notice details. Another aggravating stage fright symptom during the concert is suddenly noticing details that have been relegated to the background and trusted since earlier stages of working on the piece. Once I look at a phrase or a bar, or even a portion of a bar, in a different way than before, I’m thrown off, and, as the music goes on, I must quickly regroup. One way to help reduce the surprise of details coming out of the woodwork and grabbing my attention is to include some practice starting at odd places. Another is to continue to include, all the way up to the concert, slow deliberate practice with close attention on the “trees”, as long as there is still plenty of at-tempo practice with attention on the “forest”.

And one final suggestion.

Accept the nerves.

As in much of life, accepting “what is” is important, and sometimes that means being willing to feel uncomfortable. Accepting and acknowledging nerves doesn’t make them go away, but removes the compounded fear of the fear—the extra dose of nerves arising from resisting them.

Since my assessment of the performance nerves suggestions isn’t a methodical study with conditions set up perfectly, it’s of course imprecise. Each performance situation is different in terms of the music, the venue, other people involved, and general wellbeing at the time, as well as other life factors that can play in. Plus, if I’ve incorporated more than one suggestion, it’s hard to be sure which ones have helped and how much. It comes down to perception. Still, overall, in my personal experience with this ongoing process, although I’ve found nothing remotely close to a panacea, or with what I’d call a huge impact, I’ve come to believe there are additional measures that can help my chances, at least to some degree, against the stage fright beast who is likely to show up.

Resources:

Weil. Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/

New Yorker. I Can’t Go On! Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/03/i-cant-go-on


Madeline Salocks is a San Francisco Bay Area-based software and web developer who also enjoys playing chamber music and teaching piano.

 

 

 

Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?

I must say, I don’t know… My parents, although not musicians, are very musical. My father composed some songs for my mother to sing with his guitar accompaniment. There was always much music in the house, mostly classical and what in Russia is called ‘bard song’.

There also was an upright piano and I well remember I was fascinated, enchanted by the sound of major third.

But in the end it all might be even simpler and a bit embarrassing. I was about 6 years old and I went to a symphonic concert to hear a violinist playing. She was wearing a purple velvet dress, a rather unbelievable hue of purple. I thought I’d never seen a colour more sumptuous…and I decided I wanted to play violin. That’s how my path in music started – I am afraid, because of a velvet dress!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I am easily influenced in the sense that I am easily fascinated, easily enthused about things. In a way, this can be a disruptive quality sometimes – one needs, perhaps, some distance with the subject to get to the core of it. Inevitably, the list of musicians who left their imprint on my playing is long and eclectic.

My first great musical idol was Sviatoslav Richter. Of course, I heard his recordings very early on, but I “discovered” him in my teens. I then first understood what a word “musician” means, or should mean. A few years later I was struck by Theodor Currentzis who came to my home town in 2004 to start Musica Aeterna. I never knew before how hard one can work and how far one can go in carving ideas and reaching one’s vision. Yet later on I subsequently worshipped Mikhail Pletnev, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, then Maria João Pires with whom I studied, and Graham Johnson. During my years at the Moscow Conservatory I was very much under the spell of one of my mentors, Pavel Nersessian, a formidable personality and a very unique musician. Lately, however, I feel more and more that I am influenced, inspired or fuelled by things outside music, be it painting, photography, dance or fashion.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The challenge which perhaps is quite specific for the time we live in is to pace oneself and allow the music enough space and time to grow naturally. It is extremely important, but it takes quite some effort to avoid temptations and sometimes work hard against the flow.

Yet a greater challenge is to always try and see – artistically – things as they are, not what you expect them to be. It’s hard work overcoming your own knowledge and experience. It is a paradoxical but, I believe, a necessary task for any artist at some point.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps, the Louis Couperin disc was altogether the most ambitious and challenging recording project to date. In Russian we say: “To push a camel through an eye of a needle”. That’s what it was.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The ones that I am deeply in love with at the given moment.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

The repertoire choices are painful…. I have big appetite for repertoire, but a pianist has to set the priorities clear early enough as Alfred Brendel once said to me. You learn to live with the thought that you won’t be able to play everything you want, in a lifetime.

Usually, there emerges a certain theme, or a composer, or a piece which attracts me. I then start searching for a concept that would be strong enough to construct a program around it. It is curious that at a certain point there is always an element of surprise, a moment of spontaneity when you suddenly see the possibilities that you didn’t expect at all at first. It’s important not to miss that moment.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Perhaps I enjoy the most playing at places that are not regular concert venues. When they sound good, of course.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My most favourite musicians are those that are fearless, selfless and inquisitive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 years old I went to a music festival in Casalmaggiore. At one point with few friends we went on a day trip to Venice. As we were walking past La Fenice a friend from St Petersburg noticed that Grigory Sokolov was playing that very night. We went in and bought last tickets. I had not a slightest idea who he was. He went on stage and the instant before he started playing I knew I was about to hear something I’d never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is like food: the quantity and quality of it shapes you in a certain way over the time, whether you want it or not. Have too little or too much of it – and you will die, metaphorically speaking of course.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Funnily, my deep conviction is that no idea or concept of true artistic importance can be imparted or transferred. The real things are those that you grow yourself in your own garden, without anyone overseeing. In that sense art is the land of absolute sole responsibility. There is nothing that cannot be challenged, but in fact there is nothing that has to be challenged at all – quite simply, there really is nothing that is impossible, unless you’ve decided so.

Pavel Kolesnikov performs Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Britten Shostakovich Festival Orchestra who reach the UK next week for their inaugural UK tour from 17 to 25 September in Birmingham (17th September), Leeds (19th), Manchester (21st) and Cadogan Hall, London (25th September).

Pavel makes his debut at The Tetbury Music Festival on 5 October 2019. The festival runs between 28 September and 6 October – please visit www.tetburymusicfestival.org for more information and tickets


Since becoming Prize Laureate of the Honens Prize for Piano in 2012, Pavel Kolesnikov has performed around the world.  Significant recital and festival appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Konzerthaus, the Louvre (Paris), Vancouver Recital Society, La Jolla Music Society, Spoleto Festival USA, Canada’s Ottawa ChamberFest and Banff Summer Festival, Plush Music Festival, and the BBC Proms.  Recent and upcoming orchestral appearances include London Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Russia’s National Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Pavel is also a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists for 2014 to 2016 and RCM Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow for 2015 to 2016.

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(artist photo: Eva Vermandel)

Some years ago, when I was preparing for one of my performance diplomas, I received some mentoring from a concert pianist acquaintance. On placing my copy of Liszt’s Sonnetto del Petrarca no. 123 on the music desk of the piano, he commented that there was “an awful lot of writing on it” and that it might be better if I worked from a clean score. I replied that I found the notes, annotations and personal doodles helpful; he then told me an anecdote about A Very Famous Pianist who would work from a photocopy or second copy of the score and put the original away in a drawer. It was only when I was working towards my Fellowship diploma, for which Schubert’s Sonata D959 was the main work in the programme, that I recalled this anecdote and I invested in several copies of the Henle edition of the sonata – one was my “working score”, the other a clean score (I also had a Barenreiter edition of the score because I found the introductory notes useful). As you can see from the photo, the working score of the Schubert is really quite messy – and I suspect my concert pianist acquaintance would be appalled by the number of annotations scrawled upon it.

I recently revisited the Liszt Sonetto and was genuinely horrified by the mess I’d made of the score – so many annotations, directions to myself (such as “Head up!” to remind me not to dip my head into the keyboard to give the impression of profound emotion!) and sundry other scribblings, many of which I now found illegible or incomprehensible. I wanted to play the piece but the annotations were simply too distracting. And because it’s an inexpensive score, to rub out all the markings would make a mess of the paper….  A clean score would mark a clean start.

At the most practical level, annotations can help us find our way around the music. Fingerings in particular need to be marked up and are invaluable when returning to a previously-learnt piece, enabling one to (re-)negotiate tricky passages. But a clean score of a previously-learnt work can be very liberating – as I found when I returned to the Schubert sonata with a view to reviving it. With a brand-new score, I noticed new details in the music, so much so that at times I felt I was learning a different piece – and then the anecdote about the concert pianist who put his clean scores in a drawer really made sense to me. If you have spent weeks and months – years even – with the same score, the same familiar pages, now dog-eared and friable from so much use, you stop seeing all the notes and personal markings. A clean score is a useful wake-up and a chance to refresh the music.

Students may be reluctant to write on their scores, perhaps seeing the text as something inviolable. As a teacher, I encourage students to mark up their scores: the act of writing a note is an important part of the learning process, and besides, notes made in pencil can be rubbed out when no longer needed. Also, some editorial markings in scores, especially in exam pieces, can be confusing – fingerings may need to be changed or a bar or section might require some additional clarification. Because teaching is about respect (or at least it should be), I never write on a student’s score without their permission (though I have witnessed other less respectful teachers scrawling bossy notes across a student’s score without asking first).

Annotations and the other writings on our scores are also incredibly personal and significant and represent our own special relationship with the text, and a specific time in our musical development. Our notes and markings may be intimate and private, and, almost diary-like, chronicle an evolving relationship with the music.


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(Header image: part of Glenn Gould’s Goldberg variations score)

music.


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Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

I always loved to sing; in fact, I can’t imagine a life without being allowed to sing.

Singing makes me feel free, and what is a life without freedom? I suppose there are many ways of expressing oneself, but for me, the most natural is to sing. I like the fact that my body is my instrument, and that I can use it to communicate with an audience. It’s such a direct transfer of emotion from my heart to other hearts. I never thought there would be another path for me. That’s my path.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My music teacher in high school, Tim Bruneau, had a big impact on the way I listen to and think about music. He taught the chamber choir at the girls’ school I attended in Los Angeles, and we rehearsed every day. He always shared the latest recordings with us. We listened to incredible singers (mostly women) every day: Jessye Norman, Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Cecilia Bartoli, Barbara Bonney… He taught us to listen for colour and tone, for style, to study how the singers used their breath – those were very formative years. I know my love for lieder and art song began then. In terms of career, the best advice I ever received was from my friend Frederic Alden, who is a businessman. He told me to “look at what everyone else is doing and do something different.”

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Producing my brand-new album ‘The Wild Song’ on my own has been particularly challenging. Several people told me to give the recording to a label and let them produce it, but I had invested so much of myself in its creation that I thought it would be better to produce the album myself. I wanted to make a very beautiful object, and I knew that record labels didn’t do that anymore. I’m thrilled the album has been so well received.

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Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of ‘The Wild Song’. I set out to make a recording that was very different from anything I had ever heard. I wanted to mix classical art song with spoken poetry and electronic music. Although I feared that an album like ‘The Wild Song’, which is rather non-traditional, would be rejected by the classical community, I have been delighted by the classical community’s embrace of it. To me, that means our community is evolving, which I think is very necessary in our intensely connected and computerised world. The biggest musical challenge in the project was ensuring the transitions between the different genres felt organic, and I think Mychael Danna’s electronic interludes work very effectively as bridges between Britten’s songs and W B Yeats’ poems.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have been a champion of women composers for a very long time, far before it was fashionable. Historically, there are so many who have not been given the attention they rightly deserve. I particularly love to sing Mel Bonis’ mélodies and Barbara Strozzi’s vocal music. However, Clara Schumann composed my favourite lieder, and I would say my favourite song of all is Liebst du um Schönheit. I love Rückert’s poem about loving for love’s sake. When it comes down to it, the only thing that truly matters, is love.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I love words. My repertoire choices are always made based on the poetry. If I can’t relate to the words or the poem, I can’t sing the song. Music always has to come from the heart, so I have to be able to relate to the poetry.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My dream is to perform ‘The Wild Song’ at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Somehow it would be going full circle— taking a dream I created in Europe back home with me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite living singers are Barbara Bonney and Thomas Hampson. I absolutely adore Barbara Bonney’s voice, both for its purity and force, and I find it very sad that she is not performing anymore. What fascinates me with Thomas Hampson is that he is able to create a very strong connection with the audience from the moment he sings the first note of a recital. I’ve never seen anyone else do that. It usually takes other singers an entire song or two. He is truly a master recitalist. As for singers ‘of old,’ I am a huge fan of Rita Streich. I don’t think there has ever been a more fabulous Zerbinetta. As for pianists of the “new generation,” I love listening to Víkingur Ólafsson. I’m also a big fan of Igor Levit.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I once gave a recital in the Royal Chapel in the Château de Versailles. It was such a glorious place to sing. Not only were acoustics incredible but the chapel itself is so incredibly beautiful. I very much like to sing in places with centuries of history; I like the idea of being part of that history.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is being able to do the next project that is blossoming in my imagination.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think the main thing is to never give up. That’s obviously challenging on a hard day, or during a hard year, but it’s really important. My yogi friends often use a hashtag that says #practiceandalliscoming. We musicians should use the same hashtag. Practice. Don’t give up. Trust your instinct.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think we all carry perfect happiness inside ourselves all of the time. The challenge is being able to tap into it. Unfortunately, I believe most people never learn to tap into their true selves and never experience this. My yoga practice has taught me that peace and happiness are always available to us. I have a deep sense of contentment.

The Wild Song is available now

Review of The Wild Song


American by birth and Parisian by inclination, Marci Meth has been celebrated for her performances “imbued with charm and elegance” (Classica magazine). Nominated for the most promising recording by a young classical singer at the Orphées d’Or in Paris in 2009, her performances have been lauded by audiences at the Château de Versailles, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. James Piccadilly, as well as at venues in Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Tokyo and Osaka. 

The creation of The Wild Song has occupied Marci for the past three years and has included the creation of a new record label, Modern Poetics. The Wild Song brings together Marci’s interests in poetry, music and film and is her vision of what the 19th century song recital looks and sounds like in the 21st century. 

Marci Meth earned her Postgraduate Diploma at the Royal College of Music in London and was awarded the Century Fund Prize for Early Music. She has studied singing with Ryland Davies, Jennifer Smith, Christine Barbaux and Marie-Claude Solanet. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Art History from Stanford University. 

marcimeth.com