Friday 17 February
I wasn't working yesterday and only managed to play for half an hour or so in between sorting out the backlog of my life from the previous week! Consequently I made sure I did a decent warm up before playing in a Philharmonia education workshop this morning. On the train home I looked through the music to Sensemaya for the first time - I'll need a straight mute and there are a few awkward high passages to play. The main area to focus on though will be the rhythm.
Saturday 18 February
My best man and chief usher have come down from Staffordshire today as we have lots to sort out for my wedding in August. As this has taken most of the day there's little time for practice and I simply have to put next Thursday's concert to the back of my mind. I know I'll have to practice tomorrow afternoon but I still feel a bit more nervous about Thursday now than I will tomorrow after some proper practice. Given the busy lives we lead, musicians have to learn when to think about and when to 'forget' forthcoming performances. Like everything, this gets easier with practice; as a teenager I would spend the entire day of a concert nervous; now I can mentally go through how that performance will feel days before, like an actor summoning an emotion, and start to think how i'll deal with any problems that could arise well in advance.
Sunday 19 February
After my friends returned home, I went straight to the practice room and feel better for it- mental preparation for concerts is one thing, but we have to be at the top of our game physically as musicians too in order to gain an inner confidence when sitting on the stage. that tells us we can really 'do it'. I've listened to a CD of Sensemaya today; what an amazing piece of music! I feel a bit guilty for having never listened to it before, despite having the CD for years. As I suspected on Friday the rhythms in this music are very important and I'll need to follow my part with the CD a few times this week to get used to it.
Monday 20 February
In Croydon today we rehearsed the two programmes for the week ahead, all of which is music I have performed before, except for Sensemaya! As I live way north of the river there was plenty of time on the train to follow my part whilst listening to my CD. I noticed that a lot of the rhythms that the brass play towards the end of the piece differ from the rest of the orchestra and marked this point in my part as I know I'll find that passage difficult. I didn't feel too nervous rehearsing Sensemaya as I knew that quite a few of my colleagues hadn't seen it before either! There were still a few rhythmic surprises for me in rehearsal that felt different in performance to listening to a CD, but that's what a rehearsal is for!
Tuesday 21 February
Today we performed the first of this week's concerts with Maestro Dudamel and it was a real pleasure to perform the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto again. I felt pretty relaxed for the concert as a whole, and nervous before certain little solo passages I have to play. Most concerts feel like this to me once I've got to know the repertoire well, whilst occasionally pieces crop up which are less certain like Sensemaya. West Side Story has its fair share of awkward sections too and I have to work on this today. I always like to do some fairly light individual practice on a piece like the Bernstein and the next day having slept on it my brain is ready to work on it in more depth. We haven't played a big orchestral programme like tonight for a week and the concert goes really well, then it's a late trip back home and ready for a trip to Bedford tomorrow.
Wednesday 22nd February
We performed the same repertoire tonight (in Bedford) as we had done last night (in Leicester) and people frequently ask me if the quality of our music making suffers as we become bored of playing the same pieces. I've never felt that this happens in the Philharmonia, as no two performances are ever the same anyway (see my nerves article!) and the eminent conductors we work with often make subtle changes in their interpretation of the music from concert to concert. Tonight, for example, Maestro Dudamel directed us to play some sections of Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony slightly faster than last night; alterations like this seldom make me more nervous as they almost always suit the prevailing mood of the music on that evening. In preparation for tomorrow's concert, I've practiced the trickier sections of the Bernstein and Revueltas with a metronome (to mimic the conductor) and a practice mute (to minimise disruption to my resting colleagues!).
Thursday 23rd February
Some of you may be forgiven for thinking that today is the 'big day'
I've been aiming towards all week. It is and it isn't; certainly, tonight's performance is important, as it's the first time many of us have performed Sensemaya, and the programme as a whole is very demanding; that said, the orchestra and I cared just as much about the performances on Tuesday as Wednesday as we do tonight. Wherever we are performing, I feel the Philharmonia always demonstrates 100% commitment to the music. Practicing the Bernstein and Revueltas over the last few days can only have improved my playing as a whole; I felt more confident during the Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovitch as a result of my endeavours over the last few days. I was still nervous before the concert, and a little more so during the interval, but knowing I had laid the groundwork for a good performance in the practice room is a big physical and psychological boost for musicians. I thought the Revueltas went well as I was able to put most of my adrenaline to good use by really focusing in on the music and those tricky rhythms!
Nerves? A high of about 7/10 during Sensemaya!