April 19, 2012 at 3:29 PMHere are some of my notes from masterclasses that I attended at the 2012 Menuhin Competition in Beijing, including ones with Pamela Frank, Henning Kraggerud and Dong-Suk Kang.
Pamela Frank, Chair of the Jury who is also Professor of Violin at Curtis and the Peabody Institute, is dramatic and funny. She was full of praise, but also extremely quick and precise to correct. Two middle school girls played Sarasate’s Nevarra duet cleanly but not quite together. She told them to forget about the intonation and the beats because, in ensemble, you must feel the music together in order to be together. She made them play back- to-back. They sounded instantly better. She also advised them to do the following:
• When you see a lot of notes, play messy!
• When playing in three, the 2nd beat is the softest and should always come a little late, without being behind the beat; i.e., play placed beats.
• Dynamics are character markings, not volume markings.
• Always be free to shape a phrase. Any shape is better than no shape.
A competitor played Wieniawski’s Etude-Caprice very cleanly. Pamela told her to have some fun and to shape the phrase at all times, especially when it comes to “ff”. She said that:
• “f” means “friendly” rather than “ferocious”
• Don’t play short phrases; make long phrases.
• Don’t play arpeggio like an exercise, do something with it and play free.
• One’s imagination needs to be practiced.
• "I can’t tell you how to feel, but please react to harmony." When harmony changes, do something to suggest the change at the end of the old harmony.
Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud gave some very insightful advice:
• What has made you so good now is the same thing that prevents you from being better. To be better, you have to think of something new, then choose which way to play it afterwards.
• Your teacher is only your instructor -- YOU are your own teacher. You can learn something from your teacher, but what you learn is the consequence of something. How did your teacher arrive at that consequence? You need to explore that.
He also told the students:
• Don’t be afraid of change. Try to bring new inspiration to your work. Listen to singers and pianists. Sometimes you need to throw away the violin part and play the piano part.
• Dance to the music. Once your body knows what music you want, you know what to practice. This is a much more efficient way to practice.
• Practice an already well-polished phrase three times, and try something different each time. To avoid being bored, you need to invent something new, again and again.
• Fast notes should not sound like etudes, they should sound more like a dance.
• With a long, repetitive phrase, don’t reveal the important part too early. Keep it a secret at the beginning.
• Don’t play every line equally beautifully; give some lines priority, in order to make various shades.
With a Bach solo piece, he said there are many possibilities for further improvements and many ways to practice it, but it is impossible to experiment when one's hand is trying to play all the chords, multiple voices, etc. You must think ways to simplify it. This is how:
• With chords, play only the top voice. Since that is so much easier, you can pick which tempo to play, choose what style you like and try something unusual. Then play all the notes without worrying about the sound, just focusing on the rhythm like it's a dance -- imagining you are in 1700, wearing wigs, bowing to people, etc.
• Play the chords on the piano.
• Imagine how Bach wrote this piece for the orchestra, and then play the violin as though you are playing different instruments such as cello, oboes, etc.
• It sounds better when you move than when you stand still. You should sing Bach in shower.
• Playing too many scales and etudes can have bad side effect: it can make you forget to play musically.
With a Mozart violin concerto, he said that Mozart changes character all the time and it should be treated as though it’s an opera. You must find different characters and dance to the music. Also, work slowly with the piano to analyze the piece. Simplify it by omitting little notes and grace notes and playing long notes only. This way you can read the harmony, see what’s important and what’s not.
During a jury concert, South Korean violinist Dong-Suk Kang was incredibly emotional and endlessly intense. When conducting his masterclass, he had a completely different persona: a calm, introverted scholar. He spoke chiefly to the player, as though it was a private lesson. He went through the music line-by-line, with all the specific little details that, unless you’ve worked on the piece yourself, you probably wouldn’t know what he was talking about.
With the 1st movement of the Mendelssohn E minor, he told an 11-year-old to remember it is never too early to know something about the composer and what the piece is about. It’s a romantic piece but also like the classical era in a conservative sense, so the tempo should be steady. One needs to feel the pulse, even when doing rubato, and get back to tempo. All in all, the first page has a lot of different things going on. It's hard to get everything right because you don’t have the time to prepare all the changes, so you need to do a lot of thinking ahead.
With Bach, he said that he noticed that too many competitors had problems with Bach, due to lack of clear articulation. Without clear articulation, the sounds mush together in the echo of a large hall.
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