Day 28, Effortlessness

Practice: 3.5 (so close!!), Rehearsal: 3 (actual time spent playing, probably 2.5).  I also had the opportunity to hear the festival orchestral at Aspen perform Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony, conducted by Jaap van Zweden (from door to door this excursion cost me 3 hours btw).  I’d heard many different opinions about this conductor, all of them illustrating someone who was very opinionated.  Whatever he said to the orchestra resulted in an enormous, highly-romantic sound from all the strings.  I’ve never heard that orchestra sound so large.  For such an emotionally over-the-top piece of music, this couldn’t have been more appropriate.  I got waves of goosebumps at least every five minutes.

Between the woodwind soloists in the Rachmaninoff and the pianist of the Beethoven Concerto (also on the same program), I just kept marveling at that quality that separates the good players from the great ones.  I couldn’t put my finger out it at first.  “Naturalness”  “Purity” “Clarity of sound” all came to mind but what it really was is the illusion of effortlessness.

Rudolph Nureyev

To me effortlessness is only half-illusion.  For it to sound that way, you have to believe it.  But it can also mean that every seam is hidden.  Seamlessess.  Nothing is audible (expressed) except that which serves the music.  There’s no awareness of any one note or kind of note being more challenging than the others in terms of pitch, dynamics, color… In a way I guess it’s mastery of the instrument to the point that the instrument becomes almost invisible.  The musician/artist can speak directly without anything about their pipe/wooden box/metal tube getting in the way.

I can only imagine that the path to this is by prioritizing expression above the instrument’s own quirks.  It’s like what they (I don’t know who) say about becoming a master painter.  You spend more time looking at your subject than you do your own painting.  The student spends about half the time looking at the still life and half at their own art.  The professional spends 80% looking at the still life and the other 20% at their work.  These are all made-up statistics but I like the idea.  Or the more you read, the better your writing.  Here’s my own personal one: “If you can hear it, you can have it.”


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