Is performing about more than just musicianship?
In the often all too slender sliver of silence squashed up between the final notes of a piece and the start of the ensuing applause, musicians have to engage in a somewhat hasty transition from the role of player to that of purely performer. It is a journey that can be hard to achieve smoothly by those who find it a long way to travel. Of course the whole concert has been a performance, but one through the cloak of the composer’s music, and the nudity of engaging with the audience without that shield can be psychologically problematic.
Most people don’t start learning an instrument because they want to perform. As musicians have to begin far too young for this aspect of their character to be fully realised, the original impulse is rarely about sharing music with others. Talent and passion lead towards the profession rather than any particularly outgoing personality. There are exceptions, but classical musicians tend to go into music first and performance second whilst in pop music it’s the other way around. To watch Lady Gaga is to be aware of extraordinary efforts affecting the nature of performance. Whatever you think about her music, (I confess that I don’t), you cannot help but be impressed by her commitment to sharing it.
The Suzuki method of teaching starts each lesson with a bow. It seems bowing comes before bowing! This may appear merely charming, but to be able to accept applause with grace and gratitude, avoiding false modesty or hubris, is an important part of 'performing', and for those for whom this might not come naturally, disregarding its significance can easily be misinterpreted. What arises out of shyness can in fact come across as diffidence - especially to audiences who might be surprised to witness a performer’s change in personality once the music has stopped. But it’s perfectly possible to be uninhibited for as long as the music sounds, yet feel a need to retreat into a shell when it’s over. The charisma that can express extremely private emotions within music is not necessarily the same as that which can deal with the public reality of an audience. For conductors, an added complication is that they accept applause on behalf of everyone. Though most orchestras now turn to face the auditorium when they stand, it’s still only the conductor who actually bows, and it is not always straightforward to want to share the approbation without appearing overly self-deprecating.
Some musicians thrill audiences simply by walking on stage. This is not normally disingenuous showmanship but a sincere and infectious love of performing. A composer’s genius needs no salesmanship as advocate. Nevertheless most pieces are supposed to be played in public and the practicalities of that are more than formal bookends to the music itself. In today's crowded entertainment market, it would be a shame if musicians who find it challenging to perform in the fullest sense of the word alienate themselves from the opportunity of doing so at all.
Leading conductor Mark Wigglesworth is equally at home in the opera house as in the concert hall – and, indeed, the studio, where his acclaimed Shostakovich symphony cycle for BIS is nearing completion. In 'Shaping the invisible' Mark shares his passion for music and his fascination with the philosophies and psychologies that lie behind it. (Photo: Ben Ealovega)