The Armenian-American violist used to get ‘terribly nervous’ when performing as a teenager. Here she shares her tips on preparing psychologically for a concert
1. Visualise performing
As the performer you need to understand and imagine in a visceral way what is different when you’re actually on stage from practising in an isolated space. Some people do well to practise actually making themselves nervous. That way you have a good handle on what you need to prepare for and how you need to practise.
2. Concentrate on intention
A great artist by the name of Leon Fleisher once shared a secret with me when I was 18. My bow was shaking while I was playing in a masterclass for him and he said something that in the moment did not seem very sympathetic: that if I had enough ideas in my mind of what I needed to communicate, then I wouldn’t have room to be nervous. I have lived with that piece of advice for forty years.
3. Take things in stages
When I think I’m ready to perform, there has to be at least a month left before the actual performance. I put an imaginary flower in the corner of my practice space and I say ‘I am making you bloom, I will not let you wither.’ Then I invite home a friend who might be judgemental, and play to them with the same energy, then to a group of people who might be judgmental. It’s all about nurturing that impulse to communicate.
4. Eat the right kind of meal for you
One of my best friends and colleagues needs to eat steak and potatoes before she walks on stage. But I want to feel light, and not like my digestive system is working while I’m performing! So at most I’ll eat a yoghurt, but I’ve seen people try all kinds of things. My advice is to experiment and see what works for your metabolism.
5. Get some exercise
This is the most important thing I can do for my emotional state: it makes me feel at once energised and calm and I would not skip it unless it were an emergency. I’ll go for a run the morning of the concert, and right before the performance I’ll do some Kung Fu or Tai Chi exercises, which helps with circulation. It’s quite meditative exercise but I don’t actually meditate: I’ve never been good at sitting still.
Read our review of Kim Kashkashian’s new disc of Bach suites on the viola.