On Fresh Air yesterday, conductor Lorin Maazel described his Zen-like approach at the podium, aimed at achieving “no tension … other than the intensity of one’s musical imperative”:
The first thing to do is learn how to breathe — very deep breaths, slow. Then you stand in one position if you’re going to conduct, or sing, or whatever, for about a minute, and you deliberately relax every muscle in your body. You become aware of the fact that quite a few muscles are tense, so you relax them, all the way down to the calves of your legs. Then you take one more very slow breath.
And then you say to yourself, what I do here is of no importance whatsoever. I am here as a servant. And if I’m nervous, it means that I think what I’m doing is important. That is an egocentricity which no interpreter can allow himself the luxury of. You’re there to serve the music, and you have to be in the best postiion, psychological and physiological, to do so. Which means no tension, no nerves. Yes, exhilaration. Yes, enthusiasm. Yes, focused energy. But no nervousness. Because that’s counterproductive.
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