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On warming up

January 5, 2013

Warming up: it’s not something every pianist chooses to do, and it’s a personal decision. But I am one of those who loves to warm up at the keyboard. On a really good day I will have managed to wake up the bigger muscles with walking or swimming: physical exercise really gets the body and mind going.

Even without that, there is something deeply physically satisfying about connecting with the piano and feeling its shapes under my hands, and gradually “tuning in” to the way I am sitting and holding myself. That spatial awareness centres me, and then I start checking: how do my arms feel? Fingers? Hands?  Are they loose and open and warm? And then focusing on the really important big muscles in my shoulders, and that central space between the shoulder blades from which all playing originates. Which is also behind the heart – a fact which helps me centre my whole being so that I become one unit with my instrument. Then: balance. How I am sitting? How do my feet and legs feel? It’s important to feel that freedom and stability: moving from one’s sitting bones, being stable and flexible without ever being fixed and locked into place.

And the really happy part: listening to what I am doing. It’s like warming up my concentration “muscle” and reminding my ears just how fabulous the piano is. The sheer joy of listening to each note and relishing it….it’s hard to beat. It’s also it’s a happy discipline in taking care of every sound I make. The simple patterns make it easier to listen to the core of each note. And it’s a bonus for me, as a performer of new music, is that I am reminded of small groups of notes, and how to hear every single interval as beautiful or significant or interesting.

Last: warming up is a also a great space to practise the art of projection: how would I play these exercises in Carnegie Hall? (Not a likely event, I know!)  But it helps with the problem that pianists have: we practise in smaller spaces than we perform in, and we need constantly to be aware that we must play to the back of the room. No matter what size, we still need to think big!

So – roll on, daily meditation at the keyboard!


Charles Ives Concord sonata

May 3, 2012

The opening of this amazing work reminds me of the Kreutzer sonata for violin and piano. Get it right, and somehow the rest of the movement plays itself. Get it not quite right, and it becomes a struggle to get it going. It wants to become a wrestling match with the music tugging away from you.
And it’s no use taking the lion-tamer approach either – trying to make this piece cringe and cower means humiliation, not for Ives, but the pianist.
Back to those opening octaves to try and find the magic…

music in Munich

October 22, 2010

I heard the Munich Philharmonie last night… and felt totally exhilarated. Christian Thielemann conducted, with Renee Fleming as soloist in Mahler’s Rueckert lieder. She was wonderful, especially in the last three songs which had the intensity of great music making. Despite some fool’s phone ringing twice (!) in pianissmo passages. Argh.

The real treat was the Brahms 4th symphony – perfect playing (of course!), wonderful colours and dynamics and a musical energy that popped right off the stage. I could have sat there forever.

The first piece in the programme was by Shreker. The orchestra sounded wonderful, the work itself less so – it sounded like bad Richard Strauss.

A twinge of sadness too, when hearing this and looking at what’s coming up in Munich…. it would be so nice to have all this music in Joburg!

Munich October 2010

October 6, 2010

Two exciting concerts of works by German composer Jörg Schaeffer coming up this month. Both at the Echtzeithalle in Munich:

Sunday 17th Oct. at 11h00 – including Viroids
Monday 25th Oct at 20h00 – including the world premiere of Morsekurve

Please see for more details.