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Stage fright: classical music's dark secret
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Sufferers in include Renee Fleming and Vladimir Horowitz

Few performers will admit to it, but stage fright is a very real problem for many classical musicians

5:00PM BST 26 Jun 2014

Stage fright is like madness; it comes without warning, out of a blue sky. That’s how it came to Scottish pianist Steven Osborne, one of the most intelligent and sensitive pianists around. About ten years ago, during a performance of Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto, he suddenly started worrying that he was about to forget the next note.

“The feeling got stronger and stronger,” he recalls now. “I didn’t actually forget anything but it felt like the water was rising and lapping just under my nose.” Osborne was so disturbed by this experience he sought help from a cognitive therapist. “I learned a few tricks, like imagining I was somewhere lovely and unthreatening before a performance, like a flowery meadow. It helped, but I never felt it was a long-term solution.”

Then, a few years later came the real bombshell, during a performance of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto. “This was like an earthquake because this time I really did have some memory lapses, and this made me think the whole performance was about to go off the rails. It was so disturbing, and it kept happening. I really began to wonder whether my career was over. Each time, before I went on stage, I began to think, ‘How can I go on playing the piano, if this is what it’s going to be like?’”


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