So much of our responsibility as classical musicians rests in our performing with energy, insight, and generosity of expression. It is these qualities that can convince even the first time listener that coming back to another performance is worthwhile, and even essential. In this way, the past and future of our art can be preserved and strengthened.
What does it take to do that? It takes playing with confidence and conviction that gets way past the notes and makes the points that composers took the time to imagine and write down. It means recommitting yourself to the powerful musical and communicative goals which you need to have for your own personal success and for the success of this art, which we so love.
To be a successful and happy classical musician, you have to love the process of making music itself. You have to love practicing and studying, and you have to love the idea that you’re going to be doing this your entire life. Through this process, in the same way that through the process of meditation or prayer, something important happens to you which will bring you insight and fulfillment.
Be absolutely sure about your commitment to being great orchestral musicians. No one respects more than I the incredible amount of heart, savvy, and virtuosity it takes to be a “large ensemble” player. You will be amazed to discover a real sense of individuality in the work that you’re doing, that a great orchestra can offer you opportunities to feel “this is my phrase, my moment” and to discover the kind of courage it takes to carry the full expressive weight of the message in the music. If you understand when those moments are, and can find in yourself the ease and generosity of spirit that says “I want to play this for people in a way that they’ve never heard before,” you’ll really be on the track to becoming great musicians and terrific people.
You yourselves have known veterans of music who were seemingly transfigured, energized, eternally made young by their relationship to the music that they play. That’s what your goal should be: to find the relationship right now that will carry you through your life. The real story in any art is “going the distance” and establishing the habits that will sustain you as your life unfolds. No matter what unexpected, sometimes thrilling, sometimes vexing things may happen, you will have that powerful inner core to find your own way and to find colleagues who believe as idealistically as you do in the real joy of music. With them you can reshape and form the greatest possible future for our wonderful art. To truly be for music and for your colleagues is the greatest responsibility and joy an artist can have.
Michael Tilson Thomas