On coming into the Gare du Nord, I was suddenly struck by a flutter of nerves. I am always anxious when I start to work with a new teacher. I wonder what they will think of my playing, which gremlins I’ve failed to expunge, and which imaginative possibilities I’ve been utterly oblivious to. To embark upon a relationship with a mentor is different still. I was planning to play to Anne so knew that my usual anxieties in a teaching situation would apply, but I wasn’t at all sure how to negotiate the other aspects of a mentoring relationship. I had been looking forward to this for so long and was very keen that the first meeting set a positive note for the rest of the year.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried. After battling my way across Paris, I arrived at a beautiful house near to Maisons-Laffitte, an area which feels almost rural despite its proximity to the city. Anne welcomed me to her studio; a bright room, lined with books, with views into the garden. I immediately felt relaxed and at home.
I had prepared Chopin’s 12 Études, Op. 25. These are pieces that I’ve grown up with and that have been subjected to various indignities as my technique has developed. I now know them well and have performed them at numerous venues over the past year, including most recently (and most nerve-rackingly) at the ‘Chopin and his Europe Festival’ in Warsaw. Anne is well known for her interpretations of Chopin and I hoped that she would be able to throw fresh light on familiar territory.
After hearing the set, she immediately leapt into action and started to suggest new ways that I might approach various passages. None of the concepts that she proposed were unfamiliar to me, but the sheer detail, intensity, and perspective of her listening was startling. After a little time, I began to hear how diffuse my sound was, how inconsistent my tone, and how illogical and irrational my phrasing. There followed a period of mild embarrassment as I tried, unsuccessfully, to find on-the-spot remedies, my ears now attuned to the atrocities I was committing.
Our second session was less unnerving. After a night’s sleep, I felt better equipped to experiment and was grateful for a few incremental breakthroughs. We discussed at length the unique capacity the piano has to imitate other instruments, including the human voice, and what a gift this is for the imagination. Several études, and a couple of espressos later, I was ushered to the door with plans to return in February. As I made my way back to the metro, another opportunity presented itself. A prodigiously well-stocked cheese shop whose wares looked as if they might walk out of the door themselves. I decided not to risk it this time, but intend to return equipped with a capacious and well-sealed icebox.
As I leave the Gare du Nord, unexpectedly exhausted despite the fine espressos, I am profoundly grateful that I have this opportunity to learn from such an inspirational artist and excited to see what else my first year as a mentee might hold.
3 November 2014