Pianist Stephen Hough on performance anxiety, its thrills and dangers

Posted on: August 22, 2014

Pianist and blogger Stephen Hough comments on performance anxiety in Wednesday’s (8/20) edition of The Telegraph (London). “Unlike a high-wire walker, I don’t think any musician strikes the wires of a piano or draws a bow across a violin’s strings primarily for the kick of an adrenalin fix. There is danger on stage, but dropped notes are not broken bones; a memory lapse is not a tumble to the ground. Nevertheless, anxiety is there…  For some, according to a [BBC] Channel 4 documentary, Addict’s Symphony, the effect is so intense that the only way to control it is with alcohol and pharmaceuticals. But there are other ways to manage the overwhelming panic that can set in.” Hough asks, “Might we actually be able to embrace our nervousness? Most performers need this form of excitement, this whiff of danger, to be at their best, and the risks that come with a live concert are also part of its allure.” As for combatting anxiety’s harmful effects, “physical tricks” like deep breathing and stretching can help, as can a philosophical attitude: “how loud is that wrong note in the cosmos?”

Posted August 22, 2014