The Importance of Stage Presence

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Welcome to Living Pianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about stage presence. How much should you move during your performance? How much emotion should you show during a performance? This is a deep subject. You would not believe how important stage presence is. I’m going to tell you a personal story first, then I’m going to talk about specific pianists and how they emote through the way they look on stage.

In high school I had an epiphany.

At my high school we had a student recital. There was one girl who sang and I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard in my life! I was so excited about it that I went to listen to the tape afterwards. But when I listened to it, I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t as great as I had thought it was. How could I have been so off on that? I thought it was a phenomenal performance. But I realized afterwards, the way she looked at the audience and the vibrancy in her whole presentation made it such an experience to watch her. That’s when I realized the significance of how you look on stage.

Your presence during a performance is part of your personal style.

Sometimes I will watch piano competitions on YouTube to see contest winners. It’s very interesting. But because they’re in a contest situation, oftentimes they’re very robotic. I have a video from years ago about extraneous motion in performance that you can see here. But the opposite of moving a lot is just being very still. I had an experience years ago hearing a great recital of Ivo Pogorelich, a phenomenal pianist. It was interesting how he dealt with the whole performance. Just before he came on stage the lights went out. You couldn’t see anything. The spotlight was on the piano. The hall was completely dark when he came out. Before the audience even stopped applauding, he just sat down and played. Straight ahead, business. He didn’t even look at the audience. I hadn’t seen that before. The playing was so superb though that it really didn’t matter, but it was an extreme style. If you’re on that level, maybe you can get away with that. Now, a polar opposite of that is someone like Lang Lang, who shows everything. For those people who are less sophisticated musically, there’s actually a lot of merit to that. You might not realize the mood of a piece, but when it’s shown with gestures, or even on the face of the performer, it can bring people in.

How do you know how much to emote on stage?

Watching concerts of Andre Watts, every single nuance of the music is interpreted through his body language, particularly his facial expressions. You don’t even have to hear the music to know what he’s emoting moment by moment. But how much is appropriate and how much becomes distracting? I think the most important thing about any kind of motion during a performance, or showing emotion on your face, is that it has to be genuine. If you really feel it and you’re showing it, there’s nothing wrong with that. And for those watching for whom the music is new, they’ll probably pay closer attention based upon the gestures or the facial expressions. It gives a clue to people as to what to listen for, which parts are surprising, which parts are sad. It can all be shown. It’s part of the performance.

Think of a great conductor.

The job of a conductor is to convey the feeling of the music, as well as the timing and many more aspects. Look at Leonard Bernstein conducting and you really get the sense of the music just watching him conduct. If you’ve never heard a Brahms symphony, or even if you have, and you watch him conduct it, you’ll understand it on a deeper level just from watching his face and his gestures. Well, the same is true of performers on the piano to some extent. It can be a very good thing to add to the whole experience of going to a concert. Otherwise you can stay home and just listen to the music and have a first class aural experience. But it’s the whole experience that makes the music greater than the sum of the parts. That’s my opinion. I’m Interested in hearing from you! You can leave comments at LivingPianos.com or on YouTube. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Stage Presence”

  1. I always wonder how genuine can be the emotion of a pianist during Is performance. Sometime I think it is really disturbing, an artefact. Can you really emote in the same way each time you play the same piece?

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