soloists walking the tightrope

This week we’ve been fortunate to have the wonderful violinist Chee-Yun in town (replacing the ailing Arabella Steinbacher) to play the Dvorak Violin Concerto.  She’s playing so well – a great combination of clean playing and grab-you-by-the-throat intensity that’s often lacking in the newer generations of violinists (you often get either clean playing, or passionate playing, but seldom both at the same time).

As the member of a string section, I’m fairly constantly in awe of soloists – either those who play out in front of the orchestra, or who play from within.  There is such an added level of concentration that is demanded when you’ve got the spotlight entirely on you, and often the most exposed passages are also the most treacherous ones.  If you screw up as a principal wind player (or even a non-principal), it’s usually pretty obvious, whereas in a string section you’ve got a bit more cover (unless you totally blow a rest or some other catastrophic failure).  So when I see an assistant principal player like OSO flutist Alicia DiDonato-Paulsen step up and play some really fine solos (especially in the Rossini/Respighi ballet score), I very much have to tip my hat to them – they’re coming out of their comfort zone just to the right of their principal, and having to step up their concentration and game a notch or two.

This stuff is very much on my mind right now, as I find myself struggling through my usual January/February doldrums which usually culminate in a major crisis of my worth as a player (and by extension, as a person).  This week’s concert was made up of three pieces that I’d never played before, two of which I’d never even heard before, and that always causes me to put more pressure on myself to try to learn my parts even more thoroughly that I usually do, and to be hyper-critical of myself when I fall short of my objectives.  So as someone who is working mightily to try to keep my A-game these days, it’s humbling and inspiring to see both a soloist from outside the orchestra, and those from inside the orchestra playing so wonderfully.  It’s too easy to start taking these stellar performers for granted.

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