In just a few days, I’ll begin recording the six Bach Partitas. I spent the last three days focused on a completely different project—a recording with Clavier Trio of Brahms, Haydn, and Schoenfield piano trios. We worked in the beautiful acoustics of Ed Landreth Auditorium at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where our cellist, Jesus Castro-Balbi, is a professor. Recording chamber music is challenging because all three players have to be satisfied with their performances at the same time—in tune, musical, with the right articulations, and together.
Before I can sit down and record the Bach, I still have a weekend ahead of performing the Rachmaninoff Paganini Rhapsody with the Fort Collins Symphony in Colorado with Wes Kenney. And after the Bach recordings, I’ll be rapidly shifting gears once again in order to focus on Brahms with my colleagues Geraldine Walther and Andras Fejer.
Somehow, this kind of variety helps me focus on my work. I’ve never been particularly content to work on one thing at a time. And, since I’ve been preparing for the Bach recording project for over a year now, I’ve had ample time to let the music settle in. This morning, I went over the Sixth Partita, thinking about pacing, ornamentation, sound, and security. I’ve memorized all of this music, although I will have scores close at hand throughout the sessions. I find that I can listen better when I’m not having to look at the score. (In fact, I was surprised during the trio recordings this week at how many times I was not looking at the score while we recorded, even though I had a page turner present and could have been reading from the music the whole time.) With Bach, the fugal Gigues are particularly challenging to perform from memory, and I sometimes find myself second-guessing my own knowledge of the score while playing. It will be interesting to see what balance I end up striking in the recording sessions between using score and not using score—it’s hard to predict, in fact.
Another factor that is hard to predict is how I will respond in the moment to the piano and the hall. Although I’m recording in a very familiar locale for me, Grusin Music Hall at the University of Colorado, I know that I listen differently in recording sessions than at any other time. Recordings bring on a hyper-awareness of sound and silence, an intensified sense of the length and endings of notes, along with a sense of responsibility and finality about the interpretation that can be both inspiring and inhibiting.
My colleague Patrick Mason gave a wonderful commencement address at the University of Colorado College of Music last week. He talked about education, life, and professional situations in terms of hurdles to be leapt. And he finished with a wonderful narration of what it’s like to see the next hurdle—to accelerate, to run, to prepare to jump. I’m looking forward to my leaping this inspiring hurdle of Bach next week. I can’t quite see what lies on the other side yet!