It takes a lot of energy to be an orchestral musician. It also takes a lot of energy to be a mother, or a father, or a doctor, or a teacher, or anything else. And likely it is the same for any profession or task, but one of the things that is quite consuming for a musician is the amount of focus and criticism that occur at any given second. There are a thousand ways to make a mistake. One must constantly assess what one's peers are doing and what information the conductor is giving in many dimensions: time, duration, quality of attack and decay, pitch, dynamic, sound color, and how all of these things work together to connect notes and create shapes and phrases.
The work happens in real time. In a performance there is constant evaluation of oneself and how one is doing. Are my eighth notes too long? Am I playing sharp or flat? Does my vibrato match? One really has to work with oneself, to take one's own criticism and be willing to listen to it and change immediately. And in rehearsal one has to constantly be tailoring one's playing to what others want. There is a lot of input, and to be a good musician is not just to be a good musician, but to be flexible to what the situation demands, and to do it cordially.
And in orchestra, you can't take a break whenever you want. You can't go have a minute to yourself, get a snack, use the bathroom. You are on another person's time and must act as they wish. They dictate your music. It takes a lot of self control to give over the reigns so completely to another person. And a lot of energy to be constantly adjusting yourself at the slightest suggestion for three hours. As we follow these singers in their arias, they need constant support and attention for the lengthening of the bars and even of every beat. Following the sound as completely as possible. Allowing another voice to enter and change your own.
I don't know what kind of energy it takes to be other things. I imagine each one has a unique set of skills and challenges. But when I think of orchestral musicians and all the strengths and weaknesses that we have, all the insecurities and frustrations and hypersensitivities, the nature of our job seems to make it all make sense. We are so skilled at what we do. So well trained. And we hand it over to another person.
And this is why chamber music is so valuable. It takes a lot of energy to be a chamber musician. After opera yesterday, my quartet wanted to do a score reading session, something that we never do in America. When we sat and looked through the whole quartet together and talked about the form and the way the piece worked in various regards, individually and collectively we thought about the piece, something allocated to another person in orchestra. And then we rehearsed it today, and asked one another to change things, to do things differently, asked ourselves to do the same, were asked to change. It takes a lot to change oneself. But somehow having it come from oneself is a little different. It still takes a lot of energy, but we determine to give it.