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Laurie Niles

2009 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard: Paul Kantor Masterclass

May 27, 2009 at 6:12 AM

NEW YORK - The 2009 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies began Tuesday in New York at the Juilliard School, with Paul Kantor teaching a three-hour masterclass, Joan Kwuon and Joel Smirnoff in recital, and a fun surprise at the end of the day!

Appropriately, Juilliard President Joseph Polisi's opening words to the 200 participants at symposium were about Dorothy DeLay, one of Juilliard's greatest violin teachers and the inspiration for the five-day event.

"Dorothy was an exceedingly complex individual," Polisi said. "In some ways, she was maternal and benign, and in other ways, she was a crouching tiger, ready to pounce. To say teaching was her life is an understatement. She was passionate about preparing a next generation of teachers."

Cleveland Institute of Music Violin Professor Paul Kantor also spoke to Dorothy DeLay's passion for teaching, which is inextricably tied to learning:

Over the next five days, participants in the symposium will listen to lectures, masterclasses and recitals.

Kantor set the tone by giving each student in his masterclass his full focus, engaging each student in a discussion about ideas, then exploring ways to try them.

His first student, Marie Rossano, 15, originally from Osaka, Japan played the first movement of the Concerto in D Major by Korngold.

"From Vienna to Hollywood, that tells you a good amount about Korngold," Kantor said. "He was an enormous success in Hollywood."

The piece begins with a rather gentle entrance, and Kantor encouraged her to have a greater presence, not to just slip in.

"It's the sort of thing that is so different in the concert hall than it is in the practice room," he said. He also said to give the pianist (in this case, and through much of the masterclass, Pamela Viktoria Pyle) a breath, and not to think of it as a "cue."

"You will be astonished at how much the people you play with are in tune with your breath," Kantor said.

The Korngold includes all kinds of instructions in the music: squiggles, straight lines..."the number of instructions is prodigious," Kantor said. Nonetheless, it's important to think about when to slide between notes – and when not to do so.

"You could almost slide between every note in this piece," Kantor said. "When you slide, you are telling the audience that this is a note of emotional or musical importance." He suggested having a hierarchy of slides, with the more important places getting more slide, and super-important places getting an A+ slide. "A slide is great fun, but if you use it all the time, the audience will become immune to it."

Angela Wee, 12, of New York, played the E major Preludio from Bach's Partita No. 3, after which Kantor said, "when the playing is so good, the teaching is difficult!" He asked her about her experience with Bach, and after she explained that this was her first time studying solo Bach, he explained the solo Sonatas and Partitas in the following way, which I enjoyed quite a lot:

The Sonatas are fairly predictable; they all have four movements, all with a lengthy and difficult fugue. The Partitas, however, are longer. "The 'Partita' is a collection of dance music," Kantor said. "These partitas by Bach all have a particular weirdness about them."

For example, the movements of the B minor Partita all have "Doubles," imitation movements for each dance. The D minor Partita has a big, long Chaconne at the end. And the E major Partita is almost normal, except for the fact that the "Preludio," the piece Angela had just played, is actually not a dance. It's just an introduction; and that being the case, it shouldn't really be the longest piece in the collection.

"So which notes should you cut out?" he asked with a smile. The obvious answer was "none," so the only way to shorten it is to play it faster.

Angela tried it, but in reality she didn't play altogether very much faster.

"A good idea will survive exaggeration," Kantor explained. "A bad idea will not; it will seem ridiculous." Would this survive, perhaps, going really really super fast?

Angela tried it much faster.

"You didn't even break a sweat!" Kantor said when she finished. "And all the things you were trying for – dynamics, shape, line – all that seemed clearer to me, at the faster tempo."

Next, Meredith Riley, a student at the University of Texas in Austin, played the "Allegro non troppo" from Viextemps Concerto No. 5. Afterwards Kantor asked her what she wished had gone different, and she said that she wished that the things that went well in the practice room would go as consistently well in performance.

"Once someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas," Kantor said, "and I told them: frets! It's the bane of our existence that we have this black expanse of fingerboard," with no guidance. But our good days and bad days do not just happen by random chance. The good things in our playing happen for a reason, and the bad things happen for a reason.

"There are things we can do – simple, easy, tangible things – to increase the chance we are in control," Kantor said. Here are some of the things he suggested: Keeping the four fingers in a rational tetrachord. That means having a hand position to work from. Another: ask yourself, if you play out of tune: why? Possible reasons include: a fingering that doesn't work for your hand, thinking about too many notes when playing a chord ("For me two is too many, have one base note," he said.), and not giving yourself enough time to complete a shift.

"The practice room should not be the torture chamber of repetition, it should be the laboratory of discovery," he said.

And another thing you can do to increase your control is to analyze, when something works, why did it work?

Turkish violinist Aysen Ulucan played Brahms Sonata in A major with pianist Evan Solomon, and Kantor immediately took note that she played it without the music, a no-no. Why is it important that such sonatas be played with the music there on the stand?

"Every time your pianist plays from memory, then you can play from memory," he said, pointing out that the sonata is written for piano and violin equally. "At least put a menu from a Chinese restaurant on the stand – it's a symbolic thing. It says you respect the piano part and your respect its role."

He also made a good point about playing marcato: bow hair can physically be made to be flat, even when the bow is tipped, but it is stronger when the stick is straight over the hair. He describes that here:

Byol Kang of Germany played Wieniawski's "Polonaise," and Kantor said of her playing, "It's not only excellent playing, but I love the relationship you have with the audience." Throughout the masterclass Kantor generously praised things that went well.

From Byol, he wanted more intention in her articulations.

"When we talk about someone having 'personality' in their playing, a lot of that has to do with articulation, and the judicious use of noise," he said. He wanted to know which notes she intended to bring out and what her musical intentions were.

"If I'm guessing, you're not doing your job," he said. "You have to convince me."

The last student of the day was Marie-Christine Klettner, 16, who wowed everyone with an extremely fluid, easy, can I say it? flawless! performance of the first movement of the Paganini Concerto No. 1.

"Once you're playing 100 percent of the right notes and 100 percent of the right rhythms, that's finite, you can't improve on that," Kantor said." "For the remaining 98 years of your life, there has to be something else to work toward.

Kantor pointed out that Paganini wrote this concerto for himself, as a vehicle to show the world his technical wizardry and his artistry. He encouraged Marie-Christine to use Paganini's concerto in the same way for herself.

"It's not the sort of thing I would ask you to do if you were playing a Beethoven string quartet," Kantor said. "You need to use this to show off your technique, your artistry. You could go wild, you could add things that aren't even in the score. I have a feeling that Paganini would approve. I think you could get very improvisatory with this, and every time you played it, you could have a party with this."

She tried it, with great results. He just gave her permission, and it was all she needed.

Kantor with the students
Left to right: Marie-Christine Klettner, Meredith Riley, Brian Lewis, Paul Kantor and Marie Rossano

Later in the evening was a recital featuring violinists Joan Kwuon and Joel Smirnoff, who played works by Telemann, Mozart, Enesco, Prokofiev and Moszkowski.

After the recital, I was rather astonished to discover that the great Tony Bennett had been sitting behind me the entire time. And I was even more surprised when he walked up on stage with pianist Lee Musiker and sang for us, performing "Sophisticated Lady," with Kwuon and Smirnoff accompanying on violin.

Good night from New York!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 8:43 AM


isn`t Mr Kantor just the most brilliant muscian and teache r one could wish for? 

I would be interested in people`s opinions on one of the points he raised. I actually disagree rather strongly that the violin part should not be from memory in a piano violin sonata.I think the valid musical/philosophical point he is making is veyr much outweighted by the differnece in quality between playing form music and not  (except for a small minority of players). I belive ensemble is veyr much helped.  Just note in passing that te reat palyer sof yore did not use the music.  Also DeLay herself is cited in her biography as demanding her studnets prepare sonats from memory at leats for one Aspen .



Posted on May 27, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Laurie, this was outstanding....and this was only day numero  uno

Buri, I understand the typos due to fast typing and all that, but don't you read your finished product? Can't you use the "EDIT" switch?

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 12:11 PM



From David Rose
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 1:04 PM

There is a famous story regarding playing for memory in chamber music (although roles are reversed). 

The late great Glenn Gould was playing a Beethoven trio with Zara Nelsova and Alexander Schneider.  He insisted on playing for memory, as he did with all music.  The others were playing with the music, and implored him to do the same.  He agreed to "use" the music.

At the concert, he brought the score on stage, placed it on the piano bench, and sat on it.

I'm inclined to agree with Kantor on this one.  If the music is a real impedent to being expressive and fluid, then a low stand with a score unlooked at can hardly interfere.

It does make a statement when one player, in chamber music, chooses not to use music while another does.  Beyond that, even the preferred standing point of many string players furthers obsures the pianists role in sonatas - standing directly in front of them (from the audience perspective).

I saw a great viola recital where the violist stood in the crook of the piano, and had excellent communication with the pianist, and didn't obscure her visually.  It did help that he had a big sound admittedly.


From Allan Chu
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 2:43 PM

yes, but where did you eat??? :)

Thanks for the recap - i would have loved to be there this week.

From Michael Avagliano
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 4:35 PM

Great job, as always, Laurie!

Mr. Kantor had great things to say, but I've forgotten them all in my jealousy that you got to hear an impromptu performance by America's greatest singer. Sorry, Frank, Bing, Nat, and everyone else -- Antonio Benedetto is the best there ever was or will be!


From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 4:45 PM

 Enjoyed, Laurie!

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 7:14 PM

Thank you for the great report. wish we could have heard the Paganini.

Good job.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 27, 2009 at 8:15 PM


David,  I started using the crook of the piano a while back after watching Menuhin and reading his comment that he actually uses the paino as an amplifier.  

I agree about chmaber music such as piano trios and quartets using music.  But as far as sonatas are cocnerned I am not at all convinced.



From Anthony Barletta
Posted on May 28, 2009 at 2:55 AM

Great job, Laurie - makes me wish I were there in the audience too!

From David Rose
Posted on May 31, 2009 at 4:19 AM

By the way, before further getting into the 'music or no music thing' , thanks a million Laurie for your chronicling of all this stuff.  I've enjoyed it passively over the years and never said thanks.  It has been really wonderful to read about, and instructive for me.

Hey Buri,

That is quite cool about using the open lid as a sounding board.  I had never heard of that before.  Gotta love Menuhin.

As for sonatas being set apart somehow from chamber music, I would think the line very thin.  The forms of almost all 4tets and trios are the same as duo sonatas (4 mvt. - and in most cases the piano providing at least one if not two equal lines to that of the violin/viola/cello etc. depending on the period).  And so, as far as partnership or prominence, the addition of a 3rd or 4th player does very little to change the formal elements of the sonata.

I wonder, and this is where my knowledge of Dorothy DeLay and her teaching motivation for memory work ends - might not she be considering an overarching strategy for her students in having them do Sonatas for memory?  I guess just another opportunity to hone the mental faculty and cut the chord from the music stand - which is the end goal for those who intend to be concerto soloists.  Or just to keep a consistent tone in forming the most comfortable and lucid performers - even if the risk is run of blurring the line b/w recital selections in which the pianist is clearly in the background with accompaniment, and those in which the pianist is equal, or should actually be predominant?

Honestly, I've yet to see even a single performance of a Mozart pno/vln sonata which I feel works (not on a violinistic level, or even a musical level), but on a 'who's more important when' level.  Same can kind of be said, in a way for Beethoven sometimes.

A great young cellist, Zuill Bailley just came through our school and did a masterclass with the cellists.  One of the students played a Beethoven sonata, and Zuill encouraged him to know when he should be wallpaper (in the room but not really noticed), and when he should be furniture - obvious.  I loved this class, and his point was so well taken that the 'wallpaper' moments are far more frequent than most string players would like to admit (myself included).

Anyhow, the choice to not use music, when your partner wishes to is I think coming close to pushing oneself into the forefront -before any sound is even made.

But on the other hand, one could likely make the 'for memory' thing work.  Playing for memory, yet standing in a way which doesn't completely obscure the pianist, accompanying the piano where appropriate, being willing to be invisible sometimes - both audibly and visibly.  I've just never seen this happen - still waiting (and if I'm honest, it rarely happens even if both parties use the music).


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