When I was about 20 years old, I had horrible problems with my nerves, bow shaking, sweaty fingers, the full monty. By taking myself out of the center of my attention rather consciously, I managed to overcome this difficult situation, but in special stress situation I still experienced bad nerves which made me play worse. The concerts I am doing right now kept me in suspense for a couple of days, could hardly think about something else: Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra of my dad, the orchestra I grew up with.
I don’t know if I was more nervous for playing with them or just afraid and nervous of my nerves themselves. What could I do to avoid a collapse? I prepared myself for the worst case scenario: everybody would be very hostile, the conductor, Christian Thielemann, would not agree with anything I am trying to do, I’d loose all my self-confidence and really play badly. Paint the mammoth to the wall before trying to fight it…
For a long time I didn’t have such a stage fright like before the first rehearsal, especially since I didn’t even have a two-minute talk about the piece with the conductor beforehand. Friday morning at 10:30 am was my call, I walked onto the stage in the big, beautiful Berliner Philharmonie (where I must have heard hundreds of concerts in my life), and Thielemann, after welcoming me, just started. How did it go? No recollection, I was just soooo relieved, when this first rehearsal was over, and people at least pretended to have liked me.
My father, who is leading for this concerts the 2nd violin group, gave me some good points afterwards (don’t force…), and I went home to play some basketball and soccer with Janos. This morning the dress rehearsal was already much less stressful, and the concert I just came back from, was not really a joy-ride, but I felt that my trembling nerves didn’t affect my playing in a negative way. I felt very free, at points too free for my taste, but Thielemann was incredibly supportive and constantly encouraging me to take time. We had a very close contact, and he and the orchestra carried me through this rather difficult piece.
To tell you the truth, it was for me a rather magical experience – when I looked to my left, I saw my father, who will retire next year, and it brought tears to my eye, since this will be the last chances I have to perform with him. As long as I could remember, he was a young member of Berlin Phil, and now he is the oldest! The performance was well received, the concertmaster Daniel Stabrawa even encouraged me to play an encore (played the Fuga of the 3rd Suite of Reger) which the audience liked even more.
But you have no idea how relieved and light I felt after coming off stage, receiving friends and family, having proved to myself that I wouldn’t collapse in the face of the biggest and most scary concert in my life. I even had the honour of Sir Simon Rattle with his wife Magdalena Kozena congratulating me afterwards – I was in heaven, because in retrospective I must admit, that the older I got, the more nervous I got playing in my hometown Berlin, and today I broke the spell of scared Berlin performances 🙂