Recitals Right Now Are...Different
Violist Amy Hess with pianist Paul Hauer
Bowing at the start of applause. Turning with a grateful smile to acknowledge your pianist. These elements are natural and beloved elements of performing for an audience...but what should you do when playing music to an empty room?
Several Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians have played recitals this fall, confronting this very issue. Violist Amy Hess and I performed in separate recitals for the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts series, and violinist Heather Wittels performed a series of recitals at three different churches downtown. Many musicians have also performed onstage or at outdoor concerts over the course of the pandemic and we have all been thankful to perform during this time.
Preparation has been similar for these concerts as it is for any live performance: carefully planned practice sessions, strategic rehearsals, and mock performances. Heather felt that “the performance experience itself to be really similar to an in-person concert...I knew that people were watching live online, so it had that same sense for me of being in the moment, just as if they were all there.”
Amy and I found that a major difference was playing for a team of recording artists (Dame Myra Hess concerts are produced with International Music Foundation in partnership with WFMT). The pressure of knowing that a live performance can be accessed later (and often) added an interesting twist to the onstage environment. “I'm used to performing live and feeling comfortable in the moment knowing that if something doesn't go exactly the way I want it to, it won't be on permanent record.” Amy says. “But there were no do-overs for this recital!”
My recital was also live broadcast, so I envisioned my family in Oregon watching me perform for the first time in several years and relished the time to share music with my pianist. The staff and recording engineers helped to provide that live connection. Amy says, “Luckily there were a few people from WFMT and IMF working in the "audience", and I also visualized family members who I haven't seen in many months sitting in front of their computers tuning in”. Heather, who impressively coordinated her own recording production, adds “Dealing with microphones and video and all things tech was so unfamiliar and made me so nervous that actually playing the concert was a relief!” Yes, the varying arenas of preparation can be so exhausting that the actual moment of performance becomes a time to relax!
As an introvert, I found it pretty easy to adjust to having fewer people in the room, but there were some awkward moments of course. I certainly had some situations (Eyeglasses slipping off my face! Water in a key!) that I would have been able to adjust with a laugh for a live audience, but had to play through for the radio broadcast. When the performance is done, bowing for nobody can be an interesting concept; Amy says, “The end of the recital felt really awkward. It was bizarre to take a bow with no audience, but I feel like it would have been even weirder not to!”
However, the ability of family members, friends, and our public audiences to enjoy music from the comfort of their own homes has been a unique gift. “I had friends and family tune in from Hawaii to London, across all those time zones, including people who have never seen me play live before,” says Heather. “The thrill of playing for a live audience was all there for me. I think the key is the simultaneous connection.”
Thank you Heather and Amy for sharing your experiences, and to our audiences for your support!
Violinist Heather Wittels
Flautist Mimi Tachouet with pianist Beilin Han