I’m reading a fascinating book called Quartet: A Profile of the Guarneri Quartet by Helen Drees Ruttencutter.


Michael Tree

I’ve only got to page 32, and the following passage describing an experience by the Guarneri’s violist Michael Tree (son of the legendary string pedagogue Samuel Applebaum) gave me pause for thought:

“I was scheduled to play a duo for flute and viola with Jean-Pierre Rampal composed by Franz Hoffmeister, a contemporary of Mozart. I got the music from Jean-Pierre a day or two before the concert, and the first and only rehearsal with him was the day of the concert. There were a million notes in that piece, and at the rehearsal he took it much faster than I’d anticipated. He’s not known for his slow tempos. I remember practicing in the living room – with my daughter watching—in an absolute sweat, trying to learn it. I finally said to her, almost imploringly, ‘Do you realise that in less than three hours I have to play this for three thousand people, and I still have to learn it? There’s no way I can get these notes in my fingers between now and eight o’clock tonight.’ She looked at me sweetly and said, ‘Well, Papa, don’t worry. If you can’t play the piece, just don’t go to the concert.’

I’ve thought about that since. Maybe it’s the best musical advice I’ve ever received.”  

I looked at the line again:

‘If you can’t play the piece, just don’t go to the concert.’

It reminded me of a post I’d written a year ago.

We coast along too often on too little practice, and then use that as a get-out-of-jail-free card to explain away any glitches on the night:

“I had hardly any time to practice.”

“It wasn’t bad, considering we had only started practicing yesterday/last week/last month.”

Sorry. No more excuses. (And I say this to myself as much as to anyone else).

‘If you can’t play the piece, just don’t go to the concert.’