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Classical 101

Give Me a Break! When Performers Step Out of the Spotlight

© Robert Workman/Virgin Classics 2007
Pianist Piotr Anderszewski

Where am I? What city is this? Let's see, it's Tuesday, right? Where am I supposed to be this afternoon?

I have heard these and many other similar questions asked by musicians I am interviewing. Some have landed at the airport and come straight to the studios, while others have been here since the night before, but flew in from London, or Berlin, or Tokyo, and have trouble reconnecting with their surroundings.

All of us have had similar experiences, albeit on a much smaller scale most of the time. We pack our days with shuttling kids, multiple appointments, deadlines, and drive-thru windows. We fuel ourselves with caffeine, sleep for a few hours, and begin again.

When one does that on the scale of an internationally known musician, however, that ups the ante.

Anne Midgette, writing in the Washington Post, recounts a conversation with pianist Yefim Bronfman, who told her that he found himself staying in the concert hall after recitals until the wee hours of the morning in an attempt to learn a piece of music. Seems this one composer was most always late delivering the finished composition, which put a huge burden on Bronfman. 

In her Washington Post article, Give me a break: classical musicians who step away,  Midgette tells the story of pianist PiotrAnderszewski, who quietly stepped out of the limelight with an announcement posted to the Facebook page of Humans of New York, where he told fans,

"I don’t want to become a two-hundred-concert-per-year performing machine. It requires too much efficiency. And the efficiency burns you out. There is a lot of pressure when you perform at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. People pay for those tickets and you must respect your audience."

All of us have more things we'd like to accomplish or experience than there are hours in the day. We add more and more gizmos to our bag so we can snatch a chapter or two from a book while waiting for an appointment, spend lunch polish up a script over lunch, and respond to new e-mails which add more to our schedule while trying to catch up on the things we already have on our plate.

When an eight-hour work day and a few chores around the house begins to feel like a vacation, instead of normal, maybe we need to take a cue from Piotr Anderszewski. Granted, a year sabbatical isn't possible for most of us, but maybe replacing some of the multitasking with 'monotasking' could help all of us recharge our batteries a bit.

For the moment, this is the only way you can see Piotr Anderszewski in recital. Here, he plays the Bach Partita No. 1.