When you're preparing for a performance - solo, chamber or orchestral - how much background research into the composers and pieces do you do and does the contextual information you find change the way you prepare and perform? Thanks!
Dear fellow musician, thanks for your question.
I find that it is essential to know the background of the composer and also the historical context in which the piece was written.
This can (and should, time permitting) become an obsessive pursuit. In these times of Historically Informed Performance Practises - or the HIPP movement - we really can't afford to just play things "because I felt it that way", or because "my teacher told me to do it that way", or because "that was my instinct". There are just too many amazing resources out there, huge text books, articles, letters from composers talking about their works, letters from performers of the time, and also we have incredible access to facsimiles of original manuscripts. This kind of research takes some time, but it really is all out there in the ether. It has never been easier to source information about composers and their works, and where and how they were performed.
SO not only will this diligent approach help you with how to play the right ornaments for example, or with the correct length of note, but will also greatly assist a comfortable, middle-class first world Australian musician to be able to understand the oppression that for example Shostakovich felt living under the regimes under which he had to endure, or at least to have some empathy with the tortured state that he lived his entire life, and how this manifests in every one of his many great works, and how we as musicians (curators, storytellers) MUST approach this music with the greatest respect and gravity.
I have been writing and delivering a lot of pre-concert talks in the last three years, and this really does enhance my experience at MSO when I sit down to play the first rehearsal and know so much about the music already. It's not only a much more meaningful experience, but over time you start to see all the composers in their cultural, historical, and stylistic context, and an enormous network of understanding opens up before you, which better enables you to be a worthy interpreter of their works.
And don't worry, the more you research, the more addictive it gets, so it's not a chore but a joy. You'll wonder why it took you so long to make this part of your lifestyle!