February 2014

Lorenzo Gatto, when everything is possible

February 13, 2014 14:02

When we met, Lorenzo was in the middle of a project particularly dear to his heart: the recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. “I played it several times. I really want to record it because I feel I have something to say with this concerto, it feels good, it suits me well”, he explains. Moreover, with the musicians of the Pelleas Orchestra and their conductor Benjamin Levy, he has found people with whom he loves to work. Just after winning the second prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2009, the young man was swept up in a whirlwind of concerts and recordings, but none of that was really personal he now believes.

Lorenzo Gatto

For a Belgian, going through the Queen Elisabeth Competition is really a lot of pressure. You feel a constant expectation from the public: everyone is waiting for you in particular to make it to the next round. Yet Lorenzo can’t deny the marvelous sentiment of Belgian pride carrying him at every moment. Lorenzo had entered the competition 4 years earlier, knowing at the time that he was not ready. “When I showed up the first year I knew that I was missing some foundation and a solid background. I knew I wanted to redo the Queen Elisabeth Competition. I am born in Belgium and this competition means everything here!” To be prepared for it, the violinist thought he had to find a teacher who was hyper grounded and ruthless. He therefore went to study with Boris Kushnir in Vienna. “I catch on my “mechanical retardation” with him, he was my accelerator.”

Lorenzo confesses there was a time when he was thought of as being a little politically incorrect. In this world it's sometimes hard to know yourself and at first, when you start learning violin you have this heavy tradition and your teacher who both have a strong hold on you. “This upset me from the beginning”, admits Lorenzo. “I knew I needed to play the violin better and to work more but I also knew I didn’t want to be confined to another’s vision. Fortunately, there comes a time when you own your personal method and it’s the best one.”

We are told how to phrase, how to articulate and in the end we tend to forget that all of it is in fact convention. “Now, people are obsessed with the phrasing and articulation but it is not necessary. It's like if I told you that when you speak you must phrase or else you will not be understood.” A good theater actor never over-phrases, he always sounds natural. Obviously he knows what phrasing is; he knows but will not use it as a goal in itself. The complexity is in the music; there is no need to highlight it. The role of a performer is precisely to simplify things for the audience. More than simplifying, a good musician arrives to the perfect clearness that makes the piece completely obvious. Sometimes old masters give the impression of playing slower than we do today. It is in fact an impression: people who play very well, succeed in making you believe that they are taking their time. It’s surely not a question of tempo: it's a question of relaxing when they play, of savoring every note, of taking the time to understand.

That is why the technical aspects should be worked on and taken cared of by playing scales. Beethoven and Mozart are not the place to work on intonation and evenness of the bow; it hampers the work. “You should only approach a piece when you are warmed up, when you can just play, when everything is possible.” Of course you will have to pay attention to the sound and the composer’s will. You will need a little bit of imagination as well. Beethoven was quite specific in what he wanted, so you will not change things but Mozart indicated very little. Sometimes you are left on your own. In that case you have to rely on your good taste, sensitivity and honesty, and you must know how to play very good scales.

Now that he doesn’t take regular lesson anymore, Lorenzo plays scales every day. It’s something he was not used to doing before though. When his teachers asked him to do scales he would but that’s about it. “Playing scales feels really good actually”, confirms the violinist. “With scales, you don’t think too much, it’s all about feeling the sound and intonation. You try to be totally released muscularly and mentally, and to enjoy the pleasure it brings physically. It makes you more serene, it clears your head. After, playing anything else is much easier!” Scales are your basics, your alphabet to express yourself so when the time comes, you let the moment create magic.

The young man believes that his strength is that he never looks for effect. “When I take my violin I never seek to make the greatest effect on one note or another.” The violinist likes to keep things as they are, as they come. He likes to have a rather simple vision of things. “I suppose I have a lot of spontaneity so I can afford that”, he justifies. Even though he always studies every piece very well, he never really finishes the work completely. It goes without saying that this is both his strength and his weakness. Many violinists who succeed today look for the highest control and solidity. “But I can’t do that. It doesn’t suit me to play like that. It bores me. I just don’t conceive music to be that way.” And that is why Lorenzo put so much emphasis recently on doing scales. He knows that he has a pretty instinctive spirit when he plays and that everything will be fine as long as his technique is strong.

Also, since Lorenzo has been playing violin on his own, he has tried not to take everyone’s advice. First, because he would only end up not knowing which way to turn and second, people are not all well intentioned, as he reminds us. “In the music world, as it’s a world of ecstasy and beauty, people tend to think that there is not such thing as malice. But of course there is because the people who make music are human.” The world is anything but fair; the world is anything but equal, he reminds us. One of the things you can rely on, thinks the young man, is self-criticism. Self-criticism exists for everyone. “It's hard to put the world on a scale but at this level there is still certain equality. There are people who come from nowhere but eventually do great things. If people are critic with themselves, I think there is chance for everyone.”

For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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Don’t worry, be happy: the right spirit for school auditioning.

February 3, 2014 13:31

It’s a fact, school auditions make people freak out! Knowing that those little ten minutes in the audition room will decide whether or not you will be given the chance to keep doing what you love most can be pretty frightening. It is funny that an audition, which is in fact an opportunity, is often experienced as a punishment. Why not look at it positively instead of negatively? Are you auditioning for the Manhattan School of Music? Then look forward to this chance of “performing” in fabulous New York City. You prepared Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5? What great music, you love it! Be proud then, not many people will ever enjoy the experience of playing it.

The process will require an enormous amount of work. It can be as exhausting physically as mentally, if not more. Therefore start preparing yourself as far in advance as possible. Secure the deadlines as soon as you can. Be organized. Meticulously plan the whole process to get anything that can slow you down out of the way and to avoid any additional stress. But most of all enjoy this process and benefit from it. Surprisingly, at the end, most people wish they had had more time to prepare themselves, and not only for the sake of feeling more confident on the big day. “The excuse to receive some really great advice and feedback through different consultation lessons was so refreshing for my playing and musicianship and left me in a place where I really was sure that this is what I want to do with my life” recalled Annamarie Arai, an undergraduate student last year at UCLA. So learn from it! It is too much of a big deal just to go through it miserable.

On the day of your audition there is nothing else you can do but play. Leave the technique at home and bring the music on stage! “From experience things are not going to go better if you focus so much on technique. If people who are listening to you are bored they are going to hear much more of the mistakes than if they are carried away with the music” says Itamar Zorman, silver medalist at the Tchaikovsky Competition 2011. “People who sit on those panel they really want to enjoy what they listen to” he adds. The work has been done and if you have done it correctly there is really nothing to worry about. Now it’s time to show who you are. “The audition itself is simple: you wholeheartedly perform and live only in the present. If you find your attention wandering, focus on the innumerable details in the music that you've been practicing over and over -- it's familiar and even comforting in a stressful situation” suggests Katie Meyers, a graduate student at Mannes College of Music last year. Therefore it cannot be repeated enough that you should play what you know best. Play what you know and what you like; the jury panel wants to see sparkles and fireworks, if not from your bow, then from your heart. To make a good impression and to show the best of yourself, know really well the piece you are starting with. Moreover, know extremely well the beginning of all your pieces for the simple reason that it is the beginning that is most likely to be heard. It will give you confidence for the rest of the audition. In addition to that, visualize: visualize the hall in which you are going to play, the panel, yourself in the hall in front of the panel, visualize yourself feeling good and confident.

We tend to forget, but remember that you are auditioning to be a student so the jury is not looking for perfection but for someone with potential to grow. They are looking for someone who can overcome his fears and stress and let his instrument sing and communicate his passion. Don’t worry and be happy because you play best when you are happy.

?For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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