Very often, people ask me if I am giving Solo Recital on top of my Chamber Music or Songs Concert as an Accompanist. The answer is no as keeping up with my busy teaching, practise and rehearsals schedule is already quite a big but pleasant challenge.
It seems like that according to the audience less familiar with the Music world, being an Accompanist for singers and playing in Chamber Music group it is something less prestigious and easier than being a Solo Recitalist.
Not to hide that, as an Accompanist I don`t have to learn by heart all my repertoire but I can have the score in front of me to follow my partners part too. I must admit that it is a big relief but there are many other things I need to pay attention too.
When I was training as an Accompanist at the Royal Academy of Music, the amount of music I had to learn in short time was huge for both songs and Chamber Music repertoire. The standard was really high and we had to be able to bring to our weekly lessons one or two movements of Sonatas and a set of songs well prepared and flawless in order for the Professor to talk about its style and our musical interpretation choices. It was very daunting as I never used to bring a piece at Concert level from the very first lesson and start working on interpretation at such an early stage.
Now, I understand that learning notes and thinking about interpretation and character belong to the same process. It took me two years to understand that but it is true.
Panicking wasn`t the solution so, I decided to play my game at my best. It was very hard at the beginning but that common teachers saying that “the more Music you read, the better and quicker you become” it is true. In order to keep up with the deadlines, I didn`t necessarily learn the entire piece but I was focusing on some challenging parts and practise them as much as I could, writing fingering while I was sitting on the train and yes, it might sound odd but it is possible to learn a piece of music just by analysing its structure and style and not playing, collecting as much information as possible about a composer, genre from the web, books, interviews, articles, listening to people better than me. One of my practise motto is: “make sure you do everything you know without the teacher telling you during the lesson. Take your lesson time as an opportunity to learn new things not for being told off about a wrong note or a dynamic which hasn`t been done. You already know how to deal with those things! Don`t waste time!”
Two years ago, I would have never dreamt to be able to learn an entire Violin Sonata in one week and now I can, so students doubting about their sight reading skills there is always rooms for improvement. Don`t give up! Sight reading exercises might sound horrible at the beginning but the more you come across new Music the better you become.
Some accompanists, might specialise in one field only like Songs or Lieder, rather than being an Opera Repetiteur or focusing on Chamber Music such as Violin, Cello Duo, Trio, Quartet or Quintet. As for me I decided to keep working on Songs, Lieder, Violin and Cello Duo because I love the immense repertoire and for organisation reasons. It is harder to organise rehearsals when the people involved are more than two: modern life make us all very busy.
Being an Accompanist involves also learning thoroughly the poetry of a Lieder or a Song. This mean that we night need to make translation if we are not familiar with the language (German, French, Italian, English, Russian); obviously Internet is a huge source of knowledge but it is vital for a good interpretation of the Song to perfectly know the meaning of each word as it can be strictly related to the music and the harmonies.
As an Accompanist, I need to have two brains (one focusing on my part and another one is aware on what`s happening in my partners part inside out), four ears with refined listening skills (two constantly focused on my playing and other two which needs to be constantly in touch with my partners sounds in order for me to support, sustain and respond to their voice or instrument tone and colour) and one big heart (the goal is to sound as one human being on stage; I believe songs are easier in that sense as the audience will carried away by the stories expressed by the words and the job of the pianist is to create that atmosphere and setting but in Chamber Music is entirely due to the musicians skills to bring the audience into the magic of the stories created by performers after hours and hours of rehearsals).
I am not that pretentious to describe the Accompanist job in few lines but, I will write more specifically in the next articles. Stay tuned!