Leipzig, Germany

January 21, 2011

Dear Readers,

There is nothing like the feeling that your heart is going to pound its way out of your dress while you are playing the violin onstage in front of thousands of people. It is rather exhilarating. This happened to me the past two nights. A couple of times each night, I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to remind myself to breathe. Stage fright? No. It was a combination of “daytime” cold/flu medication and the hypersensitive adrenaline rush that naturally occurs when I am performing something somewhat unfamiliar. The piece in question is Vieuxtemps’s Concerto #4, a work I have known longer than most: I first learned it when I was nine. But I have not performed it often with orchestra, and in performance is when I get to know something inside and out. You can only practice to a certain point and then you have to begin garnering stage experience.

The famed Gewandhaus and its orchestra have undergone many transformations over the years. An earlier incarnation found Vieuxtemps himself performing this very concerto, about a century and a half ago. I am violinistically related to Vieuxtemps, and I found it significant that so many years after he died, one of his student’s student’s students (me) has the chance to come together with such a historical orchestra to play a work he wrote for himself and for violinists of his future. I wonder what he would have thought of modern concert life: the clothes, the advance planning, the programming, interpretations, and technique.

The Gewandhaus orchestra has a warm, recognizable tone. It was wonderful to be on stage with that group and to listen to them in surround sound. I don’t know if audience members realize how vivid and distinct an orchestra’s notes are from the inside. It is an experience completely different from the integrated wall of multicolored sound heard in the hall.

Next I return to Menotti. I practiced it this morning in a security-restricted area of the airport, and now I am in the airplane turning over the Higdon concerto in the back of my mind.