Chicago Q Ensemble’s last Shostakovich rehearsal before our Cultural Center concert — which happened yesterday, and went wonderfully — was a pretty moving experience for me. As I rode the train to High Concept Labs, I was feeling slightly nervous about the concert, wondering if we’d rehearsed enough, sure I hadn’t practiced enough, and fervently wishing that I had fewer things on my plate so that I could focus better on the monumental task of quartet playing. (And of quartet development: we had a grant due the next day.) When I arrived and found out that beloved Dominic had gotten very little sleep the night before, I wondered if the rehearsal was going to be a bust.

Getting started — as it often is — was like turning the slightly stiff gears of an old machine. We discussed how we could approach the issues we’d noticed in our Classical Revolution performance and made a list, out loud, of the things we wanted to tackle. We debated a little where to begin. Dominic, sleep deprived, announced that he probably wouldn’t have many ideas tonight and was “about two steps above an inflatable violist.”

But rehearsal is an amazing process. As the machine starts to work, the gears move more smoothly. After ten minutes of rehearsal, we all sat up a little straighter in our chairs. As I played, I noticed not only the benefits of our months (and years) of work together, but also the endless possibilities for developing our interpretation. Before I knew it, Dominic was talking about the struggle, in the second movement, between the passionate music of individual desire and the imposing music of religious or political unity. As I reflected on my own meditation practice, it suddenly struck me that the Brahms quote in the second movement was the music of space, of calm, of effortless existence — of freedom from that constant back-and-forth. Later, Kate and I finally came to an agreement on a passage whose sense of time had, for me, felt like a constant struggle. “Before, I only knew what I wanted,” I said to her as if in a therapy session. “Now I understand what you want!” At moments during the rehearsal, I simply stared at my colleagues in amazement and gratitude. I felt, in a way that I haven’t felt before, the kind of balance and optimism that allowed me to do the work at hand — joyfully.

The concert went really well. But friends, I’ve got a long way to go. At the end of Marcos’ piece Vision Mantra — which felt fantastic to play in the space for which it was written — I realized that I’d been clenching my jaw with concentration and my teeth (!) were now sore. During the Shostakovich, I found myself trying to balance between huge waves of adrenaline and moments of calm. My meditation practice is definitely helping me to find a place of balance during performance — but, as I said to Dominic backstage afterwards, “I have a lot to learn about managing intensity.” The pathos and romance of the second movement, the moodiness of the third movement, the jaw-dropping, muscular fourth movement … well … just what exactly should I do with all these feelings?! 

As a performer, we’re not supposed to get swept away by the music. That’s the audience’s job. Slowly, I’m finding the part of me that can be just detached enough. But until I really achieve that, I’ll be struggling with my mind, covered in sweat, trying to remember to breathe. And having a blast.