Sunday 22 April 2012

Wild tiger

Now that the last performance of Winterreise is over and that I have left the theatre, the past month of rehearsing, practicing and performing now seems to be vanishing from 'reality'. Reality is a concept that escapes me more and more. We were in a Japanese restaurant (excellent) with XiaoXiong, ChingYao, ChienWei and also CJ who surprised me by coming to see the last performance. I was very touched by her presence. I may have posted the information on Facebook, but I knew that not many people would bother to come. Ulysses was there during the last week of rehearsals, so his input and advice on my piano playing were precious as well as comforting. I had not played classical music on stage for so long, I felt nervous. The couple of hours preceding each performance were always quite excruciating for me, but that allowed me to battle that old demon of mine. And I laughed when I realised one thing: I had never been able to play exactly all the notes during the run-through and performances. The piano was like a wild tiger I had to tame. It usually takes me a couple of sessions to feel the keyboard and know how to produce the sounds I want. Not with this one. That piano had a life of its own and wouldn't let itself be played on so easily. Each time was different (and surprising). 
"You didn't play the same music on Lindenbaum... Did you add something?" XiaoXiong said at the restaurant.
"Add something? No... I played what was on the score... I think!" They laughed.
"No really, I have the feeling that you added something because it sounded different from the music I know", XiaoXiong insisted.
"Perhaps... Because each time is different for me. I discover something new, or my fingers react differently, or I play it more slowly or quickly, so what comes out is different. I don't know.... Was it that different??? I may hit an 'extra' note at time, but not like you said..."
"We can watch the video to find out! I have all the evidences!" XiaoXiong said with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Oh dear, I'm in trouble!!! We all laughed merrily.
So I realised that I would never be able to play classical music exactly as it is written, even if I put all my focus on it. I attempted to (had to) when I was at the music conservatory. But I don't think I was a good musician then. Now that playing music is connected to my human experience, I can't play the score exactly as it is written, not that I improvise or change anything. It's just that each time I play it, the piece becomes alive and I cannot predict what is going to happen. It's exciting and elating, but I never feel very sure of myself, somehow.

Ulysses was in Taipei for a couple of weeks so I took advantage of his presence to ask him to be my external ear. This had been a good help for me. Ulysses has got a keen ear for details so he gave me his precious input. What I may lack in technical skill, I now largely compensate with my experience and understanding of music. Of course I wish I could do wonders like Ivo Pogorelich or Yundi Li. But I can't deny that I was very happy when I received all these of positive praises about my playing. I can make peace with myself now!

The experience with the dancers was not as fulfilling as I was hoping. They didn't have enough time to work on the details, and especially have some session where I could guide them in deciphering the musical text and  apply that to their dancing. Ulysses said that he didn't see the connection between the choreography and the music. In the beginning, I must admit that I was paying more attention to my playing and also to ChingYao's singing. He had the tendency to speed up, so I decided to watch the dancers as I would play (and get a wrung neck in the process). That paid off, and the result was much more effective and poignant.
Winterreise was actually a post-graduation show for two students. XiaoXiong wanted to show them off to their best advantage in spite of their limits and flaws. He succeeded brilliantly, for both of them received excellent grades from all the teachers. And having live musicians was a big asset, I should say!

XiaoXiong wishes to rework on the piece (which was already reworked from the original version he created last year in Australia). I guess it would be a great opportunity for ChingYao. Toward the end, he started to break his shell and let out the fine musician he potentially can be.
"It may be simple to say" Ulysses commented during one of our long conversations, "But he only has to connect his singing to his emotion. Because everything else is there."
Our friendship has been totally rekindled thanks to that project. As Madonna would sing it: "Music makes the people come together!"

Photo by XiaoXiong Zhang

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