When you were a very young student, the pianist that accompanied you at the recital was your partner. He/she was up there with you and gave you confidence, and added structure to the performance. The pianist made sure he/she had eye contact with you, and gave you an introduction after your were ready, not before. They even played a chord for you to tell you when to bow.
Now as you are working on sonatas and concertos, the pianist is no longer an accompanist, he/she is a collaborator; you are a team. Yes, the pianist wants to make
sure you sound good and that you play with correct rhythm, but more importantly your collaborator is an equal performer. They want to understand your phrasing/dynamics and be an equal member in the conviction of these in your performance. They want to thoroughly understand your tempo and the slight liberties you take. This is no longer a soloist with a pianist following obediently. The conversations that take place in rehearsal are at times clarification of your intentions, but could also be compromises if there is a difference of opinion between the two of you. Part of developing as a musician is to learn how to voice your musical opinion.
Rehearsals frequently take on a pedagogical perspective. Perhaps you are working on your intonation. The pianist can help keep your pitch with bass lines and drones. Or perhaps you need to work through at different tempos to clear up your articulation. Rehearsals can also be a rhythm boot camp.
Anne Epperson, a collaborative piano professor at University of Texas – Austin says: “Don’t wait until the last minute to give the pianist the music. Planning ahead and allowing your collaborative partner the same kind of preparation that you have will result in a mutually professional performance. And don’t just throw your pianist into one rehearsal. It makes it very challenging for the instrumentalist to then incorporate the piano part into the performance, and it won’t be integrated.”
Pianist Akira Eguchi says: “A musical collaboration is like a conversation. I say something, and then you say something. Often string players say lots of nice things but just by themselves. They don’t have ears to listen to what the other musician is saying. If they pay a tiny bit of attention to the pianists, they will soon realize that making music becomes so much easier.”
We are fortunate to have Melissa Zindel on our faculty. She is your partner in performance. Rehearse with her frequently, not only towards a performance. Practicing with piano with WHILE you are still learning the piece makes you more aware of the harmonies and rhythm of the other part. You will realize when you have the accompanying role and need to change your approach. It is also a wonderful time to secure rhythms and intonation. Playing with piano not only happens at recital time, it needs to happen on an on going basis.
At this point in your musical education, you should be seeing Melissa at least once every three weeks. DO NOT wait until a performance is imminent, it is too late. The more rehearsals you have, the stronger the performance and partnership will be. You will know it and more importantly, the audience will know it.
Thank you to Sally Gross for contributing this article!