Tiffany Chang

conductor

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A compelling collaboration

Posted by tiffanychang on December 24, 2019 at 9:20 AM

I recently had a concert experience that is staying on my mind for an unusually long time. While I confess that I ruminate and obsess more than I should (especially for the most miniscule imperfections), I typically get over a performance (miracles or disasters) within a week or so; and I move on to my next projects.


This one, however, has lingered and continues to occupy attention in my mind—along with all the feelings that came with it. I need it to go away so I can focus on what’s coming up next. So, I wondered if I could write it away...


First, there is no doubt that this was a wonderful, positive performance experience and a definite highlight of my year. It was one of the most invigorating and smooth concerto collaborations I’ve had in a very long time.


So, why it’s still on my mind? Shouldn’t the buzz have worn off after several days? Definitely within a week. Was it such a rare positive experience that I subconsciously want to savor it as long as I could? Or is there something deeper to reflect upon?


I suspect that I can’t get over this because it prompted all these questions that I had no idea how to answer. It made me confused and doubtful in such a weird way.


Why was it so easy to collaborate with these soloists and why did it feel so real?


It was definitely not because we had copious amount of rehearsal time together. In fact, many circumstances went against us. 1) I was kicking myself for not having set up more than 15 minutes of “rehearsal” time right before our first time with orchestra. I dropped the ball and didn’t organize things sooner. Yet, the first rehearsal went smoothly and was productive. It was easy to react to the soloists even though I was hearing them play for the first time (I’d never allow myself to hear the soloist play a passage for the first time at a rehearsal – it’s so unprofessional, but alas it happened). 2) Then, due to travel complications, I was devastated to have missed our second orchestra rehearsal together—that’s another story altogether. I’ve lost another 45-minute opportunity to hear them play the concerto again. I got super stressed about how I was not going to do well and let them down. 3) So, I arrived at our dress rehearsal, and the last time I heard the soloists was over a week ago in our first rehearsal. Feeling wiped-out tired and still flustered with adrenaline from my recent 14-hour travel debacle, I was not able to bring my A-game. It was clear that this rehearsal felt like the one I was supposed to have had the day before (the one I missed). I felt terrible and at such a loss to how I was going to fully support my soloists in concert barely having spent time with them exploring things musically. I didn't want to just get through it. I wanted it to be meaningful for all parties involved.


I think we spent a total of 2 hours in rehearsal, 40 minutes in dress, and then 20 minutes in concert. That was only 3 hours in total, from hand-shaking hello to embracing goodbye, yet I could not have been more wrong about what to expect from this collaboration - it turned out to be the most musically connected and moving experience I’ve had recently with a soloist and it was so easy to collaborate. They were amazing and it was exhilarating to share the stage with them. It felt like true chamber music, like I was playing just another instrument. It felt good that we made music together.


As I ruminated over this for days, I just couldn’t let myself feel good about something, so doubt set in:


So, effective and deep collaboration is not only a result of hours spent in rehearsal?? What's that special sauce?


Again, that initial question surfaced – why was it so easy to collaborate with them? Followed by a long train of other questions – why didn’t we need to have rehearsed for a long time to feel this comfortable with each other? I didn’t know either of my soloists very well personally. Was the piece just easy? No, but no piece is easy. Why didn’t we need to talk about the tricky transitions or about how we were going to shape things and pacing; how did it just work out at the end? Was it because we were all listening and so connected? Did we just share a similar interpretation so it made it smooth? Or was it because they gave up trying to do their interpretation and ended up just giving in to me? Were they just such great artists that they could be flexible and still make the music make sense? They’ve played it a lot and rehearsed a bunch together, so that must be it? Wait, did I ruin their concerto?!?


On a larger scale, is this what true collaboration feels like? Does this happen all the time with musicians at that level? Are they used to this? Did it feel as specially connected to them as it did to me? Maybe it was just another day for them, and here I am ruminating. 


There were clearly issues that made the performance imperfect (the wrong notes, the annoying recurring mistakes in the orchestra, all the ways I could’ve been better artistically as a conductor, etc), but why was I not obsessing about them like I usually do? I mean, I did feel bad about them and still do, but the overall joy of how the performance felt overcame all those little imperfections. How come for this performance, I can be perfectly OK with letting go of those imperfections and feel good about the performance? (I never feel good about any performance!) Was it actually a good performance, or is my perception distorted because I had such terrible travel in the immediate days right before that I wasn’t expecting anything great?


Wow. I had so. many. questions. And I don’t have answers.


Perhaps this is the magical thing about collaboration. You can’t pinpoint the exact “thing” that makes the relationship work. At the same time, the strong feeling of connection was unmistakably there. I’m realizing that I have to trust that feeling and to seek it always—whenever I make music with anyone.


Asking these questions made me realize that I need to seek out people who collaborate at this level. I need to surround myself with these musicians in order for me to feel fulfilled with music-making that makes me feel, and for me to grow as a musician. I need to also embrace those imperfections that allow me to take risks and have meaningful, connected performances. I need to always be in the moment, with the music, touching the music deeply. I'm sure there will be other such compelling collaborations with other musicians in the future. And I have to recognize it when I feel it.


I am so fortunate to have had the pleasure of collaborating with these artists in this performance. I was certainly not worthy of it or its impact. But, this is that spark that I needed to motivate my work again. I think that is what made this so special; and it was truly a gift – I will never forget that.

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