Becoming an Artist, Part 5: Channeling Yuja

I am continually amazed at Yuja Wang and her flawless live performances. How she can perform piece after piece on different pianos, without having a lapse in concentration, a memory slip, a slight miss on a jump, is incomprehensible to me. 

I have been working on Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-sharp Minor for months now. It has been fully memorized for quite a while, and I have worked out technical challenges, dealt with memory slips in different places, and grown in expressing my interpretation and style. I have recorded quite a few “takes” as I have experimented with different microphone set-ups. BUT…not once have I recorded a perfectly executed “take.” I’m close…so close! But I am still striving for that consistency that comes from mastering a piece and performing it often (and maybe practicing more deliberately, or thoughtfully, or frequently?). 

Horowitz and Cortot and Rubenstein and so many of the great pianists who have since passed away did not concern themselves so much with flawless performances. They were more interested in delivering a truthful and passionate interpretation. However, our standards have changed. We still want original interpretations delivered with passion, but we also want a flawless delivery. We are used to recordings where mistakes are edited out and instruments are technically enhanced by modern mixing so that we hear what we deem perfection. 

I read a great article recently titled “The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals.” A couple statements stood out to me: 

"Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning. 

Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10? 

Amateurs go faster. Professionals go further." 

I’m working on slowing down, evaluating my work more critically when I think it is “done,” and becoming more thoughtful at the keyboard. Instead of reacting to what my fingers play, I want to be deliberate and purposeful, thinking ahead of my fingers (while at the same time hearing and reacting to what they are doing) so that what results is not a mistake or a lucky performance, but a true representation of how I feel the music ought to be played. After all, I am an interpreter at the keyboard, trying to marry the composer’s intent with my God-given personality and passion. Yuja does it her way, Horowitz his, and now it’s my turn. 

Here is my “so close” interpretation from this morning’s practice session:


1 comment