st. john’s passion and stage nerves

One of my teachers once gave a marvellous talk to his students about stage nerves. We all have them. There are ways to cope with them. Experience helps, too. Even he, he said, had been nervous before his first-time-St. John’s-Passion-continuo gig.

I would like to honor the tradition of encouraging remarks about this topic, and also for me, the St. John’s Passion provides a helpful story. Remembering said teacher’s words, I was well prepared before coming to my first “Johannes” rehearsal. Unfortunately, some quirk of destiny put me, on that first occasion, face to face (literally: small continuo organ in the middle of the stage…) with a very ambitious choir conductor, who knew the work extremely well and who had no time or niceties to spare to ease me into my new task. The rehearsal ended with the recitative session (the Evangelista was, fortunately, superb), during which the conductor, still vigorous after the long day, was all over the place with his instructions. In fact, he proceeded to systematically shake all my skeletons out of their closets. In the course of events, I began to play Jesus’s chords short and Petrus’s long, and I began to slip out of focus in places such as “und ging wieder hinein in das Richthaus” (granted, Pilatus keeps going in and out; it is actually a little hard to keep track): the pressure was very high.

The day ended in my hotel room with my realizing that something had to be done on top of my preparation in order to enable me to perform under these special circumstances. I read through the German recitative text twice. I rested and did some relaxation exercises. I read through the whole music twice, stopping at every single one of the hard spots and recapitulating the particular difficulty of text, timing or harmony. I marked out all the long Jesus chords with a marker pen. I slept. On the next day, I arrived two hours early for the general rehearsal, went up to the organ loft and did yoga exercises until the other musicians arrived.

The performance went well. I believe that three circumstances saved me: First, my preparation had in fact been decent. Second, as I read through the work, I took all the time needed for addressing the absolutely essential issues. Third, I was motivated by not letting the music be destroyed for me through adverse circumstances. There is more at stake at such an occasion than just ‘playing well’: this concert would imprint itself in my mind as my first “Johannes” and would put a stamp on all the performances to follow.



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