The orchestra was accompanying well last week. I sensed it, the soloist felt it, and the orchestra knew it. We were in the zone. THE Zone. So, perhaps intentionally, but mayhap through instinct, our soloist hesitated ever so slightly at a cadence. Not much, just enough to set up a luscious resolution and transition to a second theme. This was not something we rehearsed. It was something that simply happened. And it was marvelous. She executed, the orchestra responded, and we entered a different realm of performance.
The instant the unexpected happened, the performance changed. The mold was reshaped and something magical occurred. Like a scene from The Matrix, time slowed down, almost stopped. My baton fluctuated ever so slightly and all 75 musicians responded by playing with the soloist. You could almost see the rosin dust suspended over the instruments. The eyes of each musician were more alert and full of life. The vibrations of the sound could be seen and felt as well as heard. I have no doubt the orchestra was following “me”, but, more importantly, they were acutely attuned to the musical flow. It was a WOW moment for the musicians and translated into a memorable event for the audience.
“The goal of life is rapture. Art is the way we experience it.” Joseph Campbell.
The Salt Lake Symphony was playing last week for the opening ceremonies of the Stradivarius International Violin Competition. Our soloist was Marié Rossano, winner of the 2010 competition. Marié is developing into a fine artist. She is studying at the Curtis Institute of Music for a reason: potential.
At some point we have the chance to turn that potential into action. For a seasoned musician, this may happen more often. But for a young musician it comes unexpectedly. It’s a quickening, an activation. It is cultivated by listening to great artists, implementing a teacher’s suggestions, and by paying attention. In the heat of a performance, the switch can be turned on. Intellectual understanding becomes an organic moment. And when it happens integrally, without striving, everyone knows it. The orchestra smiles; the audience is moved.
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”—Alan Watts
I’ve been lucky to experience this as a conductor and also as a viola player. One such event was a concert I played with Gil Shaham as soloist for the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Now, Gil is a soloist of the first rank, perhaps the number one violinist in the world, today. The performance was like one big suspended moment in time. We were one with Mr. Shaham. Every nuance was picked up and adjusted to, every inflection was answered by the orchestra. After the concert, the conductor saw me backstage and mentioned how amazing it was—how it was almost like he didn’t need to be there. In truth, he didn’t, at least not in the traditional role. The orchestra, conductor and soloist had merged into one experience.
“Life is like music for its own sake. We are living in an eternal now, and when we listen to music we are not listening to the past, we are not listening to the future, we are listening to an expanded present.”—Alan Watts
This WOW experience is present in every note we play—every practice session—every rehearsal—every concert. Most of the time we are too wrapped up in other issues to notice it. But I’ll posit that it always exists, if we would but notice it. Awareness of ourselves in the moment leads to unlimited possibility. This is the essence of the Zone. This is the essence of True Music.
Copyright, 2013. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.