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

I think that music is something that I could not imagine living without, it has been present in my life from a very early age. My mother and my auntie used to sing to each other through the balcony at home in Valencia Zarzuela arias (I used to know all of them); my father, who was an artist, was always playing vinyl records and I remember going to his studio and gluing my ear to the speakers because I wanted to hear what was inside. I especially remember listening that way to Wagner overtures and Dvorak New World Symphony.

Later on, I went to music school and Conservatoire in Valencia, but I was not sure that I would be able to live from music at that time, so I went to University to study Philosophy; I didn’t finish my studies, but it gave me something valuable.

What I think made my decision was to be part of the Spanish Youth Orchestra, where I found a fantastic positive atmosphere, great teachers and amazing colleagues. I got a scholarship to study abroad, with Walter Boeykens, who I met in a Summer course in Nice previously. It was then when I went into it full time. I was around 19 years old.

Your new recording celebrates the life and work of Joaquín Rodrigo. Has he been one of the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rodrigo was born just a few miles away form my birth place in Valencia. That has already something that makes you attached to somebody as important as him. One of the first pieces that I played as a substitute in the Valencia Municipal Orchestra, when I was 18, was his symphonic piece “Per la flor del lliri blau” (“to the blue lily flower”). I remember it vividly, and also seeing Rodrigo come onto the stage to take the applause. To see so near you such a famous person for a teenager was very impressive.

I met Rodrigo’s son in-law, Agustín León Ara, just a year later at the Spanish Youth Orchestra (JONDE). He was incredibly helpful, inspiring and encouraging. He told me lots of stories of the maestro, and just by chance I decided to study in Belgium with the scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Agustín was a teacher at Brussels Conservatory, so we met lots of times and I met then Cecilia Rodrigo, his wife and Rodrigo’s daughter. A really nice friendship has stayed during all these years, and I am thrilled that I can now contribute to promote Rodrigo’s music.

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

Well, this recording has been one of them. We had very little time for recording, the music was new to the orchestra and these pieces are extremely delicate. The Palau de les Arts Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra, where I belong, is an excellent group, and the musicians gave so much that all my worries went away after the first session. To assume the role of conductor to the orchestra where you are a member is wonderful but challenging and nerve-wracking as well.

Another challenge was the previous recording project, the C. M. von Weber concertos and symphonies. This happened just two weeks after the Rodrigo recording and concert, so I had to have 3 programmes to do in a short time (I did two different ones in Berlin) playing and conducting. It was my début in the Berlin Philharmonie Hall, so I felt a big responsibility. Also this recording has the most well known pieces of the clarinet repertoire, and I wanted to deliver something that needed to be of the highest quality and at the same time very personal. I think I achieved it, although when I listen to it I always find things I don’t like, but this is what happens when you make a recording: what you record belongs to that moment and even if you change your vision of some passages, you cannot change them anymore. Nevertheless, I am really happy with both recordings.

You have already recorded 3 CDs for IBS Classical. Which recordings are you most proud of?

Well, I think that you are always proud of your last recording, because all the memories, the big effort that means to record, the wonderful and the bad moments are all fresh in your mind. As I was saying the Weber CD was a big challenge and I am very proud of it, but the Rodrigo CD has a different meaning, and I am really happy and proud about it because I am helping to promote a part of his music that is much lesser known and that definitely needs to be heard. It is great to rediscover Rodrigo beyond the Aranjuez concerto. He was a very inspired composer, and a fantastic orchestrator. He wrote a vast catalogue of wonderful music, it has been a big responsibility and a very rewarding experience to make this happen. In the repertoire we present he uses a small orchestra with single winds and a reduced string section, he had such an ability as an orchestrator that with these forces he achieves in some moments the strength of a symphony orchestra and next to it the wonderful subtleties of chamber music.

I have to say that, talking about other recordings I am very proud of the ones where I have done something similar to the Rodrigo’s: to rediscover and unfold music that has been unjustly hidden. This is the case of my recordings of Spanish Music of exiled composers. The last one was with Moonwinds for IBS. These composers had to exile themselves for political reasons and to avoid being killed by the terrible time that Spain lived under Franco. We have discovered incredibly great music totally unknown to the musicians and, of course, to the public. I am very proud of having done them, now lots of clarinet players and other musicians write to me wanting to play this music, it is a very rewarding feeling. I hope the same happens with conductors and programmers with the pieces by Rodrigo that we present in this new CD.

To which particular works do you feel a strong connection on the new Joaquín Rodrigo recording?

From this recording, if I had to choose one, I feel quite attached to the “dance” of the “Two Miniatures”. It comes from Spanish popular music, it feels really close to me, it possess such rhythmical power that it transports you into a incredibly “earthy” feeling. In general Rodrigo uses a lot of old Spanish songs, sometimes from Valencia region, where we both come from, so it is very touching listening to them, both in form of lied or in orchestral music. In the piece I mentioned earlier, “Per la flor del lliri blau”, he uses Valencia traditional songs, some of them are part of my childhood, so having them “elevated” into the superior form of Classical Music, mastered by a composer like Rodrigo of course can be quite emotional.

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

It really changes form year to year. At some point you have an idea, you start to develop it until it has some kind of shape and then you start planning it. It is never easy, you have to act as a musician, producer, librarian….. But when you achieve it is an incredibly wonderful feeling.

When I did the recordings of exiled composers, I became very obsessed by the subject, so it took about three seasons to develop the repertoire, finding the music in archives, writing to people that you think might have a copy of the pieces you read about, and trying the music with my wonderful pianist, Juan Carlos Garvayo to get to now it.

For the Weber project I had it in my mind for years but I could not find the way to make it real until I found an agent in Geneva, where I spend a good part of the year, who put me in contact with an orchestra in Berlin that offered a very attractive project, the Berliner Camerata: two concerts, in Berlin and Frankfurt (oder), and 4 days of recording sessions. I started about one year before to prepare it, although I have been playing the Weber concertos since I was about 10 years old, like most clarinet players, you need to make decisions about your performance and try to master it. The Symphonies were more new to me, so I had to learn them well. I also became obsessed, it is the only way to give your best to the music you perform, it has to be part of you every day.

For the Rodrigo it was a bit different, because the people in charge of the Palau de les Arts at the time proposed me to conduct the project in Summer 2018, I was incredibly happy to accept the offer, of course, I thought, what an opportunity!! So I had about 8 months to prepare it together with Weber, it was a very intense and wonderful period, my day was divided in two: Weber and Rodrigo (it was like an actor that assumes two different roles).

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

I love playing in the Wigmore Hall in London. It really is the perfect hall for chamber music. I haven’t played there for a long time, but it was a regular venue when I lived in London. I hope to be back there at some point. I love other places too. I felt amazed by the acoustics and warmth of the Philharmonie Kammermusikzaal in Berlin, it is one of this halls where you feel at home. In Spain, the hall in Zaragoza is great, and I feel really good performing at the Palau de la Música both the one in Valencia and in Barcelona, not only because the acoustics and wonderful atmosphere, but also because I feel at home with the audiences there.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This is a very difficult question, but I will answer with at least two: one was when I conducted the 30th anniversary of the Cadaqués Orchestra at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, a project that has been a very important part of my live; another was my début in the Philharmonie in Berlin; and another one was when I played the Brahms and Mozart quintets with the Tokyo quartet at the City of London Festival.

There are many more, of course, concerts with the Alexander String Quartet in the USA, with the Brodsky around the world, with my group Moonwinds in Valencia and in the Cadogan hall in London…. Each concert leaves you a different kind of memory, I always try to give all of myself in every concert, every single one is the most important when you are doing it. So, luckily I have lots of memorable concerts to remember.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I would say that you succeed when you achieve your dreams, or at least part of your dreams (it would be impossible to achieve all of them), combined with the response from audiences and other factors in the music world.

My dream has always been to be able to perform music at my best to make people happy, or at least happier than they were before your concert. The best feeling I get is to hear from members of the public the words “thank you for your concert” (normally I feel thankful for being able to play!). Nothing can equal this feeling. When I play the clarinet I can see the audiences’ faces, when you spot a little smile, eyes that become alive, you feel they are with you. It is the best feeling in the world, that I can call success. When I conduct I see the musicians faces and eyes. The challenge is to keep them interested, keep them with you living Music intensely. Then you feel immediately the audience reaction from your back.

The other side of success is more complex, you have to be liked by people in charge of programming or writing in the press, and this can be more complicated. When they count on you or like your work it’s great, when not, some times it is disappointing, you can feel sad, etc, but you have to recover your dream next day and carry on with it.

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

One basic thing is to know inside yourself that you love music to a point of obsession. Then you are ready to go.

Another piece of advice: listen to music all the time, especially when you are young and have the time for it. You need to build up your references as far as performers, you need to admire performers and composers to get “inspiration” from them and make up slowly your own artistic personality. Listen to all kind of music, though.

And of course, practice practice and study study. You can have lots of fun aside of it, but being a musician takes a great part of your time. You have to be ready for it.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

First of all, in good health, and then I would love to carry on conducting and playing.

I would like to develop my star project, Moonwinds, into a pedagogic-orchestral project. I am working on it and have a team on my side, we will see…. we have potentially difficult times ahead, but Music should play an important role in overcoming them.

I have been thinking also of doing some kind of master or doctorate, there are several subjects that have interested me for now a long time. I just need to find how to fit it in.

Joan Enric Lluna’s new recording of works by Joaquín Rodrigo with the Orquesta de la Comunitat Valenciana will be released on IBS Classical in summer 2020.

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Joan Enric Lluna, one of Spain’s leading musicians, combines his work as a clarinettist with orchestral conducting and teaching.

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Wigmore Hall/BBC Radio 3 Special Broadcast series

JS Bach, arr. Busoni Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004 Schumann Fantasie in C, Op 17

Charles‐François Gounod – Meditation sur le 1er prelude de Bach (encore)

Stephen Hough, piano

Monday 1 June 2020


I admit I welled up as Stephen Hough played the opening measures of the Bach D minor Chaconne, transcribed for piano by Ferruccio Busoni. Yes, that opening has a spine-tingling authority, but the spontaneous tears were less for the music and more the effect of having beloved Wigmore Hall filled with music again – if not filled with an audience. Along with many other people, musicians and music lovers, I miss live music so much: I feel painfully bereft and in order to deal with this emptiness, I have avoided, until now, the many livestream performances and other music making which is going on online all the time now.

This was the first of a much-heralded and eagerly anticipated series of live concerts from Wigmore Hall, made possible by a collaboration with Radio 3, the hall and a generous benefactor. Why is this so significant, so tear-jerkingly meaningful? Because in the third week of March 2020, Wigmore Hall, along with the rest of London’s cultural life, closed its doors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. My last visit to WH was at the very end of February to hear, with a good friend, Jonathan Biss scorching his way through Beethoven, a concert which had an edge-of-the seat electricity and immediacy, and left us speechless. I didn’t know then that this would be my last visit to beloved Wigmore Hall for many months; I don’t know when I will be back there.

But, as Stephen Hough said in a conversation with Petroc Trelawny on Radio 3’s Breakfast show, the fact that live music has returned to WH, albeit bereft of an audience but for the Radio 3 presenter and hall director John Gilhooly, is a glimmer of hope, a sign that things may be making tiny, tentative steps to return to normal (I refuse to use phrases like “the new normal”!). Later, in an interview on Channel 4 News, Stephen said that not since the 16th century had we been “starved of” live music in this way; the concert halls remained open and the music played on even during wartime.

173441-bildschirmfoto-2020-06-01-um-13-35-56-kopie

The programme was, of course, exemplary in both its selection and execution. One can guarantee that Stephen Hough will always perform music which is so much more than notes on the page. Ferruccio Busoni was a regular performer at the Wigmore, then Bechstein Hall, in its early years, and indeed played at the hall’s inaugural concert. His transcription of the extraordinary Chaconne is a romantic tour de force, for both instrument and player, a fantasy of sorts, while remaining faithful to Bach’s original conception. Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op 17, is also a tour de force, of the myriad facets of love, originally conceived as a deep lament for his beloved Clara during a period of enforcement separation.

This music is profoundly moving at the best of times, and now, in what for the music industry is the worst of times, it had a special resonance, emotionally charged, brave yet never showy, authoritative and thoughtful and, in the Schumann, both extrovert and virtuosic and passionately tender. Inspiring, uplifting and painfully wonderful, there was Stephen Hough on stage, immaculate in his usual concert attire, playing beautifully to an empty hall.

As he said in his Channel 4 interview, the audience are a crucial part of the concert experience for the performer. Not only does a hall full of people have a different acoustic, but a living, breathing – and, yes, coughing – audience creates “a very active involvement in the music, and I think a performer senses this, the energy…and that quietness, when people are listening and attentive, and you feel an electricity there that you cannot replicate” (Stephen Hough).

An empty hall has a different kind of quietness, and in that strange solitude Busoni’s architecture seemed all the more monumental, while Schumann’s inner struggles had a greater poignancy.

Apparently, some 2000 people tuned in for the livestream performance, which was notable for the high quality of both sound and filming (for piano nerds like me, close ups of the pianist’s hands were a real treat – you just don’t get that close as an audience member). As a friend of mine, like me a regular at Wigmore Hall, remarked on Twitter:

Of course this makes us ache for performance with an audience again; but it’s also brought home to me that this is the only way some people can *ever* see/hear a Wigmore Hall concert. That so many of us are ‘together’ remotely for this adds something inexpressible to the stream. @Adrian_Specs

There was, via the social networks, indeed a shared experience. Not the same shared experience as one enjoys at a concert with friends, but nonetheless a very palpable togetherness. I knew I was listening with several of my regular concert companions, albeit remotely, and this brought a feeling of solidarity too. Because we will be back at Wigmore Hall. We will once again sink into its plush red velvet seats, open the programme to peruse the evening’s offering, enjoy conversation and wine during the interval, and experience the incomparable thrill of live music.

In the meantime, BBC Radio 3’s Special Broadcast series continues at Wigmore Hall every day until 19 June. Full details here

Watch Stephen Hough’s concert here

 

 

 

 

One of the most charismatic talents on the contemporary scene

Mail on Sunday

The Naked Pianist is the third album by entrepreneurial and charismatic pianist Emmanuel Vass, building on the success of his last album, Sonic Waves, which reached #1 in the UK classical charts through crowdfunding, and extensive national media coverage, including ClassicFM, BBC Radio 3, and the Mail on Sunday. You may have already seen Emmanuel stripping on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent and in his orange Speedos on Channel 4’s show, First Dates Hotel, both of which were broadcast in May/June 2020.

The Naked Pianist draws its inspiration and name from Emmanuel’s YouTube channel, which strips music bare to demystify classical music, and attract new audiences. As such, the disc seamlessly blends popular classics by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, whilst also demonstrating Vass’s flare, passion and virtuoso musicianship in the playing of works by Rachmaninov and Bach, and his original compositions.

The Naked Pianist is released on 19 June on Emmanuel Vass’s own record label.

2020-06-19T17:07:00

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The Naked Pianist is released

 

He really can play Beethoven

John Suchet, ClassicFM

The new classic

Attitude magazine

Very beautiful

Suzy Klein, BBC Radio 3

Extraordinary talent, curiosity, musical discovery, and very keenly developed entrepreneurial skills

Tony Woodcock, Huffington Post


emmanuelvass.co.uk

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

It was a long time coming. Though I had already played the piano for six years before entering the Curtis Institute of Music, it was the colleagues and friends I made there that really inspired me to see music as a way of life.

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

My teachers at Curtis and the Hannover Musikhochschule have shaped the way I see music. My family and friends give the life experiences I need to tell interesting stories. In an ever-changing environment, I’m grateful to have a stable network of people I can trust and count on for advice.

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

There are many difficult things about being a concert pianist, whether its learning a particularly tricky piece, getting over a defeat at a competition, but these are so minor in the grand scheme of things. It’s an ongoing challenge to give your all every time you step out on stage. Even if you’re tired or fatigued, it’s a musician’s responsibility to inspire and bring memorable moments to audiences. But this is a challenge that I cherish.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Certain concerts stick out in my memory. I had a wonderful experience performing a benefit concert for the Multiple Sclerosis society with Howard Griffiths and the Camerata Schweiz at the Tonhalle Maag. We performed the Beethoven violin concerto in the piano version and as an encore, Hallelujah, where the audience joined in the chorus. A moment of goosebumps, the good kind.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I can’t answer such a question, but I have lots of music I love to perform. At the moment, I’m particularly interested in the Viennese classics of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

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

It’s a given that I only perform works I feel I have something special to express. I’m very open to learning different repertoire, and I gather a lot of inspirations through regular trips to different opera houses and symphonic concerts, something Germany abounds with. Finding a central work is important in each program, then it’s a question of finding matches and themes.

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

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie kleiner Saal is fantastic, not least because of its prestige. The pianos there, the acoustic and an enthusiastic audience are unique.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Cecilia Bartoli, Kristian Zimerman and Sviatoslav Richter.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I performed in Beijing NCPA last year, and my three grandparents came, all over 90 years old. I was so proud and happy to share with them one of my favorite pieces, Chopin concerto No. 2.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Staying true to yourself and never wavering in your faith in music.

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

Live a full life, embrace multiple interests, because the more you know about the world, the more you can share.


Claire Huangci, the young American pianist of Chinese descent and 2018 Geza Anda Competition first prize and Mozart prize winner, has succeeded in establishing herself as a highly respected artist, captivating audiences with her “radiant virtuosity, artistic sensitivity, keen interactive sense and subtle auditory dramaturgy” (Salzburger Nachrichten). Her unusually diverse repertoire, in which she also takes up rarely performed works, is illustrative of her remarkable versatility.

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The Exhale, an online holistic mastercourse and retreat for musicians, created by violinist Gwendolyn Masin, is delighted to welcome leading music educationalist and clarinettist Paul Harris to its faculty. Creator of Simultaneous Learning and author of numerous books on music teaching, music theory, sight-reading and composing, Paul will be leading a series of workshops on Music Theory, starting on Tuesday 2 June with Does Theory Matter? He discusses “is theory dreary?” or can it become an engaging, helpful and practical part of music education for younger (and older) pupils? Paul will help course participants to find ways of making the inclusion of theory a meaningful part of their instrumental or singing lessons.

Renowned violinists Peter Sheppard-Skaerved and Pavlo Beznosiuk return to The Exhale to lead a range of classes on the Violinists’ Practice Desk, learning Corelli’s violin sonatas and the essentials of Baroque orchestral music. Cellist Ruth Phillips, creator of The Breathing Bow, leads a class on how to approach Bach’s Cello Suites through breath and kinesthetic learning. Gwendolyn Masin herself will be taking a class on teaching beginners.

After the success of the inaugural edition of The Exhale, which saw some 250 participants sign up for classes with leading international artists and teachers, including cellists Natalie Clein and Gary Hoffman and violinist Robert Gonzalez Monjas, Gwendolyn Masin has decided to continue The Exhale in a series of weekly events over the coming months.

The enthusiastic response to the first edition of The Exhale confirms the need musicians feel to come together, to learn, share insights and draw encouragement and inspiration from world-class artists, and also one another. The ethos of The Exhale is to create a strong sense of community and a supportive and inspiring learning experience, particularly at a time when so many of musicians are not able to engage in the concert hall or the classroom.

“Incredibly uplifting and inspiring”

“huge thanks for the wonderful opportunity over the last two weeks to immerse myself in this new learning environment. I have gained a lot of insight and it has helped shift my moments of uncertainty and fearful mindset into one of positivity and hope”

(participant feedback)

The next edition of The Exhale begins on 2 June. Classes are hosted via Zoom and booking can be made through Calendly

BOOK NOW

 

The Exhale website

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The Exhale was created by renowned violinist Gwendolyn Masin. Originally planned as a retreat for musicians in a beautiful location in Switzerland, the coronavirus pandemic forced a rethink and Gwendolyn decided to launch the event online, offering participants a series of courses with leading artists and practitioners, covering a wide range of subjects from Baroque violin to Bircher muesli.  Each day began and ended with a yoga session led by Clare Nicholls, while classes on technique, repertoire, teaching beginners, playing with freedom, improvisation and much more were interspersed with sessions on Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, meditation, career development, and even food and nutrition. Some 250 people signed up to take part in The Exhale and over 1000 tickets were sold. Leading musicians Natalie Clein, Gary Hoffman, Máté Szücs and Robert Gonzalez Monjas joined the faculty as guest speakers.

 

Do you ever get the feeling you are watching yourself playing, seeing yourself from a distance, as if sitting in the audience?

Sports people describe this quasi out-of-body sensation as being “in the zone”. It is related to “flow”, a psychological concept first proposed in 1969 by Hungarian psychologist and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in which the person performing the activity is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, deep involvement, and enjoyment in the process. In short, flow is a total absorption in what one is doing. It occurs when one is engaged in an activity regarded as highly self-rewarding and characterized by clear goals, unambiguous feedback, a loss of self-consciousness and a balance between the challenges and skills required to best perform it.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate in harnessing the emotions to perform and serve. The emotions are contained and channeled, energised and aligned to the task at hand; one may also experience a heightened sense of freedom, disengagement and lost time, as if everything is happening unconsciously. Flow can create a sense of confidence, enjoyment or even ecstasy, but fundamentally it is about absolute focus and intense concentration.

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990

A flow state also includes physical attributes, such as a feeling of synergy between mind and body, and the sense of everything working smoothly: the joints feel well-oiled, the muscles are warm and super-responsive, movement feels effortless.

Csikszentmihalyi defines the eight characteristics of flow as:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding
  5. Effortlessness and ease
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task

Flow state, in musical practice and performance, is hard won, however, and while Csikszentmihalyi believes that music and flow are closely linked – mainly because music is a positive, pleasurable activity that can sustain intrinsic motivation, one of the chief features of flow experience – people with particular personality traits are more likely to experience flow than others. Such people have what is called an “autotelic” personality, characterised by curiosity with a predilection for doing things for their own sake rather than chasing an external goal, persistence, conscientiousness and the ability to successfully manage a rewarding, positive balance between the challenge and one’s skill level. Research has shown that people with a tendency to anxiety, neuroticism and self-criticism are less likely to experience flow.

For the musician, flow is a significant intrinsic motivator because a flow state can induce positive emotions and pleasurable sensations, and achieving flow in practising, for example, will encourage one to stick to the task. In this respect, flow is related to self-determination, self-esteem, autonomy and resilience – all imperatives for the musician – and the ability to find joy in challenges and the motivation for mastery is essential to one’s personal musical development.

flow+imaggeee

Csikszentmihalyi’s nine dimensions of flow:

1. Challenge-skills balance: If the challenge is too great, we grow frustrated; too easy and we get bored. In the flow experience, an equal balance between the challenge and our skill ensures we are engaged by the task, not overwhelmed by it.

2. Action-awareness merging: Merging results in a feeling of body/mind unity and unity between musician and music.

3. Clear Goals: in a flow experience, when musicians have clear goals, they know what needs to happen, engage with the task, and let go of irrelevant stimuli and distractions that may interfere with their performance.

4. Unambiguous Feedback: Direct, immediate feedback is constantly present so that we can remain connected to the activity and adjust our reactions accordingly to meet current demands.

5. Concentration on the task at hand: intense concentration narrows our attention to exclude unnecessary distractions. When absorbed in the activity, we are only aware of what is relevant to the task at hand.

6. Sense of control/no fear of failure: Control helps us overcome anxiety. When in flow, musicians often report feeling they give their best performances.

7. Time transformation: When in flow we experience a distorted sense of time – it speeds up, slows down or stops. This can occur during practising or in performance, when one is intently absorbed in the task.

8. Autotelic experience: Flow is an intrinsically rewarding experience: the activity is done for its own sake, an end in itself, and produces feelings of satisfaction, fulfilment and pleasure.

9. Loss of self-consciousness: When in a flow state, we experience a reduced self-awareness, including a transcendence of the self. Lack of self-consciousness results in an pleasurable experience because we no longer experience anxiety, fear, or self-doubt, and the inner critic is silenced.

The unselfconscious musician is unconcerned with criticism, real or imagined. There is no fear of failure, no consideration of an unsuccessful performance. These moments of unselfconscious action allow one’s potential to be fully realised, without the limiting influence of anxiety. Musicians treasure such moments, as they bring physical and emotional freedom, and a sense of conviction and natural artistry to their performance.

The paradox is that when one is performing in a flow state, the music will appear effortless, spontaneous, created “in the moment”, yet is the result of many thousands of hours of concentrated, focussed practising, the intense honing of one’s skills and the acquisition of mastery. The British pianist Stephen Hough has a good description for this, that one must be “a bohemian on stage” and “a perfectionist in the practice room”; in effect, that artistic freedom is achieved through intense discipline.

We can create the right circumstances in the practice room to achieve flow. These include:

  • a heightened awareness of touch (for the pianist, the pads of the fingers)
  • tension-free whole-body movements to create a sense of oneness with the instrument and the music
  • quality of sound and constant self-feedback (“do I like this sound?”, “what can I hear?”)
  • avoid over-thinking and replace negative self-talk with positive affirmation
  • appreciate and transmit the meaning of the music and be alert to its imagery and narratives
  • always play with expression, even when practising scales or exercises
  • remain “in the moment” when playing

Practising with this mindful awareness increases our ability to bring joyful and absorbing feelings of flow into performance, resulting in greater expression, conviction and emotional engagement, physical freedom, quality of sound, and reduced anxiety.

For the audience too the experience may be equally absorbing, a sense of being at one with performer and music, a state of relaxed concentration, and, literally, “going with the flow”…..