letter to RS, 8 January 2015

Glenn Gould recording the Goldberg Variations, 1955

I believe so much in the power of performance [that] I don't want to convince people.  I want them to experience it and come away convinced on their own.

Marina Abramović

Dear friend,

I've just finished a rehearsal with Scott Metlicka for our performance on Monday night.  My ears are buzzing with the Prokofiev sonata.  Thankfully, though, I can set aside that music for the next two days while I finish preparing, and finally perform, the Goldberg Variations.

Bach is good for winter.  There is such bright energy in all this snow, such a flurry of wind and nature, all belied by its delicacy and lightness.  I want to play variations like these snowflakes.  Surprising beauties. 

A few months ago, you said that a year might be too short a time to learn this music.  I agree.  For the last few days, I have looked forward to the moment when I can close this book for a while.  They're not done, of course, but I thought I might need a break from them.  Today I think that's not so.  When you carry something with you for long enough, it becomes a part of you.  I think I will keep returning for the rest of my life to this music that has been in my ears for more than a year now.  One day, finally, I'll have it in these fingers. 

I have wondered many times why I continue to pursue solo performance.  It doesn't feel like a choice that I make; suddenly an idea occurs to me and I wonder why I haven't been pursuing it all along.  That's how it was when I opened the Urtext edition of the Goldbergs.  Like finding something I didn't know I had lost.  Nevertheless, solo performance unnerves me.  I prefer the close collaboration of chamber ensembles.  If an audience happens to listen and watch, so be it.  In the last many days, though, I have come to realize that all performance is collaboration.  The relationship between a soloist and her audience is perhaps the most sacred.  Both fearless and vulnerable, as you said last weekend. 

Marina Abramovic, the Serbian performance artist, has said that the most important skill to cultivate as a performer is unconditional love.  That is what we do onstage.  We give of ourselves. 

I have tried to combat my habitual nerves by shutting myself off from the audience, but in light of performance's truly collaborative nature, this seems rather nonsensical.  Would a speaker ignore the energy, laughter, and commentary from the room?  Does he improve his oratory by forgetting the people to whom he speaks? 

A few months ago in rehearsal, I learned a lesson that stays strongly with me these days: this is not my music.  This is not about me.  I am here only to show others the marvel of the Goldberg Variations, in all their pathos and bathos.  Yes, I will breathe a sigh of great relief when this weekend has passed.  I will gratefully step away from the piano for a day or two, and I will attempt to discover who I am now, having done this.  Bach leaves his mark.  I am looking forward to knowing the person who has performed the Goldbergs, having been the one preparing them for so long. 

For me, 2015 begins at the end of the Aria da capo.  I have come to know this music in one of my more difficult and complex years of living, and having done so, I have built a solid companion for those similar times to come.  As I said, I don't know who I will be on the other side of this grand, perhaps rashly-undertaken, project, but already I am looking toward new things with Bach firmly planted in me.

Reflectively, as ever,