Starling-DeLay Day 3: Master Class with Paul Kantor

June 4, 2007, 11:34 PM · Another teacher who gave a marvelous master class at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard was Cleveland Institute of Music violin professor, Paul Kantor. I saw the first three (of five) students, and I enjoyed Kantor's incisive and level approach.

First was Nadja Nevolovitsch, who played the second and last movements of the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

The Canzonetta movement is lovely, but it has great potential to say... well, nothing, if one neglects to stamp it with musical will.

“This movement has the typical Tchaikovsky problem – he doesn't just say this once, he says it again and again,” Kantor said. Kantor spoke with her about possibilities for expression.

For example, the repeated D's and D trill at the very beginning: “There is great expressive potential in how we treat the repeated notes,” he said. He asked her which D was most important, to which she said the D trill. “Could you make it abundantly clear?” he said.

“I think you need a more complete plan,” he said of the musical decisions. “You could do a little more work in deciding your shapes.

How to decide? Well, “many of the hints to making your [expressive] choices are in the [orchestra] part,” Kantor said. Also, “there are certain choices we make at the very beginning that are very important.” Those choices include what tempo to take, and also a idea of where the high points are in the movement.

“Where is the high point?” Kantor asked. When Nadja went to show him in the music, he said, “I don't want you to show me there, show me with your sound!”

For each high point, “I need a balancing low point,” he said. All the high and low points require variety of articulation, he said.

For the strong opening of the third movement, he suggested a bow contact point closer to the bridge.

“Where you played, the string feels kind of flabby – it can't take your bow energy,” Kantor said. “What changes when you get close to the bridge is that the string feels stronger.”

As she started making it stronger, he asked for even more: “Can you give it more teeth?” he said, pointing to his own.

Next up was Thomas Huntington, 14, who played Saint-Saens Concerto No. 3, the third movement, rather fast. He seemed a bit disconnected from it, and I wondered if it was nerves. (Can you imagine getting nervous for an audience of 200 teachers, at Juilliard?)

Kantor first asked Thomas if there was a trend in what his teacher talks about in his lessons. Thomas said that his teacher focused on energy and expression.

“I think the energy is coming across very clearly,” Kantor said, “I have questions about how you are using your energy. In spite of the fact the composer has put in dozens and dozens of accents, you've added even more. My guess is you've been playing this without the music for a good long time... some of the detail things can fall by the wayside.”

He suggested that, even after having a piece memorized, it's a good idea to occasionally play it with the music.

Also, “the best thing you could do for your playing is not to play so fast,” Kantor said. He applied this to a series of 16th note runs in the midst of a rather lyrical passage at letter B. “What's the feeling of this harmony and these notes to you?”

“It's gentle,” Thomas said.

“The speed pulls it away from what you describe as gentle,” Kantor said. “I'm convinced you are playing it all, but I can't hear it all at that speed.”

He had Thomas play the passage with a stop between each note, using up-bow and down-bow staccato.

The exercise “is a subtle to reminder to your brain that every one of those notes needs energy,” Kantor said.

Miran Kim played next: the Ysaye Ballade (Sonata 3 in D minor). I hadn't heard this played live in a very long time, and to be honest, I just totally enjoyed hearing it. These are the notes I jotted down: “love this piece – so resonant and juicy and big and – just so note-y, so many delicious notes, a glut of them.”

But I was not allowed to enjoy it for long. Simon Fischer, sitting next to me, pointed to the triplet sixteenths in the Allegro and shook his head. This is one thing I kind of hate about the very highest level of analysis: having to snap out of some reverie and face the... sheet music. Having never played or taught this piece myself, I looked at the music for the first time, and saw what he meant.

“The recall of the rhythm is slightly suspicious,” Kantor said after she finished. While the “Lento” introduction is rather floaty, the Allegro provides contrast, and is in strict rhythm. “For me it has the feeling of a march.”

Then Kantor asked her about the very beginning, which soars very high and lands on an A, way in the stratosphere. On most performances I've heard, the violinist takes a bit of time getting up to the top of that peak. In fact, the one time I climbed a 14,000-foot mountain, my leaden and oxygen-deprived body slowed like a barge near the top, but I digress.

Kantor held up the music, “Where does the ritard start?” he inquired of that passage. She looked for where the slowdown begins, and...! It says “poco stringendo”! (That would be getting a bit faster, not slower).

“In being a responsible musician, you have to be true to what the old man says,” Kantor said. “It becomes a somewhat different piece if you follow all the composer's instructions.” The composer's wishes should always be the starting point for an artist's interpretation.

And indeed when one attends to these details, the result is even more satisfying.


June 5, 2007 at 12:25 PM · Hi Laurie,

Thanks for that! About the Ballade - It's funny that Ysaÿe actually says the exact same thing as Mr. Kantor in the preface page to the sonatas!

June 5, 2007 at 02:01 PM · Thank you for your expert reporting of this week at Juilliard. I just wish all the master classes were on a video so we could all "be there."

June 5, 2007 at 03:16 PM · Everything Mr. Kantor said to all participants in his class should really have occurred to each student much before he/she showed up for the session. Makes for shorter/fewer Master Classes, of course, but good students --not necessarily good violinists-- should intrinsically show signs of promise way before they show signs of virtuosity. Kind of like "the chicken and the egg" conundrum. Or is it "the egg and the chicken" ............

June 5, 2007 at 06:13 PM · Georgeous view from a fourteener! Which one is it?


June 5, 2007 at 06:18 PM · It's Mt. Bierstadt, in Colorado, right near Georgetown. Robert and I climbed it with some friends back in '95, on a day just as sunny and clear as the one in the picture. I'll never forget that gorgeous summit.

June 5, 2007 at 06:30 PM · Christian, which edition has that preface, or do all editions have it? I've only got the music for the Ballade, not for all the sonatas. Certainly a student should read what's in the cover, and it's good that Kantor points it out.

But Vincent, do kids (or all students, really) intrinsically know how to interpret a piece of music, written perhaps in a different century, by someone in a different country, in a genre other than the one that surrounds them in their society? I feel that a good teacher gives them guidance on this, and that it's OKAY to give them guidance on interpretation. "You should have known that" is a bit of a cheat in teaching, don't you think? Unless the student is really in bad faith, not doing the things the teacher has requested.

June 5, 2007 at 07:58 PM · I think V. is just saying it sounds like they had to brush up on some fundamentals there before they could proceed with the master class.

When I first read this blog it occurred to me that SF was illustrating the defining point of jazz, and that a satisfying result comes from attention to detail as you described, or the same kind of attention to detail, -but- absent a composer and sheet music. Incidently I learned the other day that Dave Brubeck couldn't read a note. Even though he graduated from a conservatory. His energy went into hiding the fact he couldn't read, instead of learning to read. Not hearsay. I bought a taped interview and he says it with his own mouth :)

June 5, 2007 at 08:57 PM · Mr. Kantor is a phenomenal teacher. My teacher was a long time student of his and not a week goes by that I don't hear her utter some of his words of wisdom... that and how often he used to change his strings (once every 2 weeks for awhile if I remember correctly)

June 5, 2007 at 09:05 PM · One of the things I like about reading this series of blogs is comparing the approaches of the master teachers. I like Kantor and Perlman because they ask the student the right questions to find out how the student personally hears or feels the music or to induce the student to find his own interpretation. Thanks, again, Laurie, for giving us this wealth of information.

June 5, 2007 at 11:05 PM · My wife and I climbed a few mountains when we lived in Colorado. I agree with Laurie on breathing up that high. Around 13 to 14 thousand feet it's step, pant, step, pant and wheeze, etc.

June 6, 2007 at 12:27 AM · Add wind, thin air, and headaches. But it's worth it. Beautiful views, meadows with wild flowers, and precious solitude.


June 6, 2007 at 01:44 AM · All hail Paul Kantor!!!

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