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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

No, I won’t stand on my head

Things I do and don’t do on the day of a concert

Carlos in concert at the Lauro International Guitar Festival, Venezuela, 4th December 2001

Not long ago, a brilliant musician was spotted standing on his head in his dressing room, minutes before the start of a concert, feet up against the wall. “Everything OK, sir?” enquired the steward. “Just fine” came the calm reply from somewhere near the floor. It just goes to show that there are different ways to get into the right frame of mind, although this one is a bit hair-raising or lowering, depending which way up you are, especially when I tell you the name of the artist.

But first, I am going to write about what I like to do. By the time I have finished you may or may not think I am mad, but one thing I can assure you is this: you won’t find me standing on my head.

When I give a concert I prefer to travel the day before. Knowing I have the whole day in front of me to prepare is a lot more relaxing than driving to the airport at the crack of dawn having to play the same evening. So there I am on the day, waking up in the hotel bright and early, ready for action. After a breakfast of cut fruit and yoghurt and coffee I may go for a stroll through town until 10.30 or 11am followed by some practise. Unless the concert venue is walking distance, I prefer to practise in the hotel, rather than driving through traffic. Lunchtime beckons at 1 or 1.30pm. I avoid meats with sauces (too heavy), fish (might not be fresh), salad (what if it hasn’t been thoroughly washed?) and eggs (one step away from salmonella). I have to admit to an almost irrational fear of food-poisoning on the day. Pasta with tomato sauce, soups and desserts are all OK.

After lunch comes siesta-time – a habit I acquired from my Spanish relatives in Spain back in my teens. By 4pm I am up again feeling rested and pick up the guitar to do some really slow playing of tricky passages. At 5pm I get ready to leave for the venue. I like to arrive there a couple of hours before the start and make sure everything is OK.

I hope I sound pretty normal so far although I will admit to various tendencies. I like to be left alone, lunch alone, and avoid extended conversations. I like the lighting and sound engineers to be ready for my arrival in the hall.

Just a couple of other things: in the dressing room I want a warm apple pie with plenty of cream on the side and a coffee 30 minutes before starting time, as well as a full-length mirror so I can see and talk to myself. What do I talk to myself about? How I am feeling, how I want the music to sound, and more – all to psyche myself up. Do I get nervous? Yes, if my few simple requirements are not met – call me superstitious if you like.

Mind you, I am not saying I can’t be flexible. Once, an hour before a concert on the south coast of England, I shared a plate of oysters with violinist Levon Chilingirian. Sharing may not be quite the right word: he had nine, I had one. I am not sure that the fishy aroma wafting across the stage from his direction during the performance was helpful to my musical concentration.

On another occasion, in Germany, oboist Heinz Holliger continued telling me a long story backstage without losing a beat while audience applause for the previous item thundered through the dressing room – and he was the one on next, not me!

I have seen a brilliant horn player on the phone backstage at the Southbank, London, fixing a future engagement seconds before walking on to play a very difficult piece by Benjamin Britten.

The great violinist Jascha Heifetz stepped out of a cab, walked straight into the recording studio where an orchestra was waiting and still wearing his overcoat said “shall we start?”

Every artist is different and there are no rules as to what is best. If anything connects all these stories it is the self-confidence displayed by all the musicians.

So who was the artist who stood on his head before a concert? It was the immortal, yoga-practising deeply thoughtful Yehudi Menuhin.

Now don’t you go standing on your head hoping you will produce a great performance! You won’t. Remember it’s practise that makes perfect. The rest is personal.

January 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=323 .
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