Thursday, January 22, 2009

The importance of excellent accompanists

It is a topic rarely discussed and often overlooked, but an accompanist can often times make or break a performance.  Sometimes the piano part is merely an accompaniment to what the soloist plays, but it can also be a whole other part, turning a solo piece into a duet.

I'm preparing for my senior performance recital and today had my first rehearsal with my accompanist.  She is a full-time staff accompanist at the school, and assigned to me by the piano professor.  I've heard her play before, but never actually worked with her before.  Due to some confusion last semester, this is the soonest we could rehearse.  As my hearing is in less than a week, I have been stressing about how everything will fit together.  My rep consists of Two Pieces for Solo Oboe by Ross Edwards, Concerto in G Major by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Omaggio a Bellini by Antonio Pasculli and Scena by Colin Brumby.  The latter two are for English horn.  The rep is not impossible, but what you would expect on a music performance major's senior recital.  None of them are "fluff" pieces.

When playing with other people, whether a chamber ensemble or just a duet, there is the initial introductions of "My name is..." and what have you.  Still, there is another aspect of introduction - that first time you actually get work and start playing together.  The first notes are the initial "This is me," which is followed by the other person answering "And this is me."  You must quickly learn how they move and how to read their body language.  I was blessed as a young oboist to work with great musicians who not only technically played the pieces well, but also reacted to the musical stylings I presented.  As I got older, I was able to react to their musical ideas as well.  Chamber music is not just about playing your notes, but also listening to those around you.  This must take place in a larger ensemble setting, but there is a conductor who becomes the point person for the musical conversation taking place.

I've been in both positions, as the soloist and as the accompanist.  I know the importance of being able to follow as well as being able to lead.  It is a skill that I find is often missed in the education of young musicians, even in the collegiate levels.  Still, I do my part to encourage others to learn the skill and understand its importance.

Because of my accompanist's amazing ability to perform this skill, my stress leveling has dropped considerably.  I am actually enjoying the rep and looking forward to the recital.

Finding the perfect dress over Christmas break didn't hurt either!


Jill Cathey said...

Hi, found your blog on oboeinsight. So weird to think it has been almost 20 years since I was planning my senior oboe recital! Sounds like you have a great accompanist - I love that feeling when you're playing with someone and you are really communicating. If you're interested you can check out my rather mundane and boring blog - mostly rating about my lack of decent reeds...

Ren said...

Great accompanists are a wonderful thing. One of the truly amazing things we have at my school is regular accompaniment session that are covered by tuition. It is amazing to develop a relationship with someone so that when you play it is more a duet than solo + accompaniment.

(Also my accompanist is skilled at covering my flubs.)

Best of luck with your recital! Or, if it already happened, how did it go?