Pianist Eric Zuber recently performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 (with piano accompaniment) and Liszt’s B minor Sonata in Baltimore. I caught up with him afterwards to ask a few questions.
How do you prepare for a performance?
There are many facets to preparation for a concert. First of course, you have to commit the music to memory and fully understand it. (Hopefully you are given enough time to do this. When
you have to play something in public without having been given adequate time, it's often doubly nerve-racking.) Then you have to try and play it for as many people as possible before the concert date. If you try a public performance of a work that you've only learned and
played for yourself, it's liable to be a huge disaster. Everything changes when there are other ears besides your own. On the performance day I try to avoid eating things with salt (which causes your heart to pump faster) or sugar (which can cause a rush of energy followed by drowsiness). Other than that I try to be as normal as possible, otherwise your brain starts to feel like it needs to get activated for a big event, and that can lead to unease. Some people don't like to touch the instrument on the day they play, or just enough to keep warm. I tend to practice a lot on the performance day, hopefully inundating my short-term memory with the music to avoid lapses.
How do you practice?
I practice around 5-6 hours a day these days, which seems to be about the maximum I'm capable of without hurting myself. I try to be very careful about listening to what my body is telling me so as to avoid injury. Practicing piano when you are playing difficult, tiring works such as the Liszt Sonata is extremely taxing on the ligaments of your arm. If you turn your arm upside down so that your palm is facing you, and place your left thumb over your right wrist (as if taking your pulse) and wave your fingers in the right hand up and down, you can see how much activity this causes in your arm muscles. This constant extension and contraction combined with the enormous amount of force that it takes to produce a loud sound can easily cause injury if you aren't careful about it. Piano playing at a high level is extremely athletic... more so than most people are aware of. Of course, if I could stand it I would practice 24 hours a day. The more refined your ears hear nuances in the music, the more you have to practice in order to refine your own playing. If I'm not satisfied with my playing, and I know I'm not giving it my all in preparation, I come off the stage feeling disappointed.
Can you offer any other tips to a performer working on pieces such as these?
For the Liszt Sonata, practice the fugue! But I'm sure if they are playing the piece, they probably already know that...