Sep 10, 2013

The Joys of Life

Bank of America Classical Series

We all have joys of life – those people, occasions and activities that especially delight us. For me, one of the great joys is presenting the Bank of America Classical Overtures at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, something I have had the privilege of doing since the 2003-2004 season. The pleasures of speaking at an Overture are many.

If the only aspect of this activity were the opportunity to listen – in person – to conductors like Valery Gergiev lead the Mariinsky Orchestra in the magnificent concert setting that is Prudential Hall, believe me, that would be enough. But the chance to interact before the concert with 250 to 500 audience members, depending on whether the venue is the Chase Room or Victoria Theater, is a moment that I relish, as well as one that presents me with special challenges.

Being a fanatic about raising listening awareness in my audience, and knowing that “less is more,” I first have to limit the repertoire. I have to decide which one of the two or three compositions on the program will be featured in the Overture. I’m accustomed to having 60 to 90 minutes to spend exploring 5 to 10 minutes of music at one of my Discovery Concertså¨ presented by The Discovery Orchestraå¨. However, here I must select which tiny part of which single movement of the featured work we will reconnoiter in the 35 minutes allotted. This is a challenge.

Once I’ve passed that hurdle, choices need to be made about which elements to demonstrate on the piano and which to play on CDs; create a listening guide for the audience to follow during the Overture; think about what I’m going to say – and practice. Another component is to devise ways to make the Overture fun for those who attend! I’ve always believed it is important to have a good time while learning.

Everything in the two paragraphs above could be counted among the joys of my life. But the true joy associated with presenting the Bank of America Classical Overtures at NJPAC comes from observing the “aha’s” of the audience members! For some, the concept of listening – giving one’s undivided attention to music – compared to hearing music, as background “wallpaper” to other thoughts and activities, is a new one. By stressing that the more musical detail we perceive, the more pleasure we receive at concerts, it’s wonderful to see the look of recognition in someone’s eyes as they listen to the music: “Yes, I’m noticing what you just demonstrated!”

After setting the tone with admonitions “not to read the program notes, nor think about other things while the artists are playing,” I hope that the 35 minutes we spend in focused listening infuses the entire concert experience about to unfold for the Overtures attendees – and they tell me as much when they see me at intermission.

One thing for sure, I frequently notice concertgoers suddenly sitting up and coming to attention in Prudential Hall when we arrive at that tiny moment in the repertoire that was explored earlier during the Overture. These moments are among the true joys of this musician’s life!