Master Class with Daniel Heifetz

May 31, 2015, 10:34 PM · Daniel Heifetz gets asked one particular question, quite often.

"Yes, I am related to Jascha, I'm a distant cousin," he said on Friday, before even being asked. In fact, Daniel once said to his famous cousin, "Do you know how hard it is to go on stage with a name like Heifetz?" Jascha responded, "Danny, don't tell me. That's your problem."

On Friday, Daniel Heifetz gave a master class at the 2015 Starling DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies. He was intensely enthusiastic and unrelenting about getting results. Like his 19-year-old Heifetz Institute summer program, he focused on the bigger idea of going beyond technique to play in an uninhibited way, with a focus on reaching every audience member.

The master class began with Elizabeth, 12, who played the Giga from Bach's Partita No. 3 in E, with beautifully flowing notes and accuracy. Heifetz wanted her to try something a little more stylistic. He explained that, in Baroque music, the up bow is a bit of a release from the down bow, "so that you don't have this feeling of every note being the same," Heifetz said. "That allows you to be a little more in touch with the voices that are going on. If you emphasize the down-bows, the voicing almost sparkles out on its own," he said.

He also wanted her to step outside herself a bit more and project the feeling of the music (they decided it was happy) to the audience.

"You have to project your 'happy' to the back of the room!" Heifetz said.

D. Heifetz and Elizabeth

In order for that to happen, you sometimes have to exaggerate how you practice it, kind of like the baseball player who warms up his swing, holding three bats. Then when he uses just one, it feels light and easy by comparison. He asked her to sing the music.

"Sometimes it's easier to play it than to sing it, but singing is where it all comes from," Heifetz said. "It's important to be able to sing, to be in touch with what you feel and project it out."

Elizabeth also played Paganini's Caprice No. 5, using Paganini's ricochet bowing (3 down, 1 up, though at first I thought she was doing 4 down, 4 up) and doing the rare job of pulling it off. Heifetz's comments reflected the general reaction: "We were dazzled," he told her. "We would all die to have your technique."

"If you have this kind of technique, though, you should look like you're having fun with it." He wanted her to think about what she now can do with it musically. He asked her to try the ricochet passage slow, without the ricochet bowing, "because I want you to think about what you can do musically here. I felt like a ricochet freight train going through here," he said. "I want you to think about, where are all the phrases going on here? Because if you can all that, with the Paganini bowing, you'll be the star of the world!"

Next was Alyssa, 20, who played Bloch's "Nigun" from Baal Shem Suite.

"Are you Jewish?" he asked her after she finished. No, she is not. "Have you been to a synagogue?" he said. She had not. He wanted her to listen to recordings of cantors and to go to a synagogue, "to make it more your own, in relationship to what that sound asks of you.

Heifetz explained that his mother had escaped Hitler and the Holocaust, while much of her family perished in it.

"If you are going to play Nigun, you must go to a synagogue, you must hear a cantor -- a good one," he said.

Heifetz said he does not believe that we are the humble servant of the composer, as some have described classical musicians. "The opening becomes my own personal statement," he said, then he played the whole opening with great expression.

"That's your homework, to go to a synagogue," he said. "You can even email me and tell me which synagogue you went to."

D. Heifetz and Alyssa

Absorbing that Jewish sound and the culture behind it is important, "because I don't want to hear violin playing," he said. "I want to hear a cantor singing. I don't want you to play the violin, I want you to become the music."

He even turned to pianist Evan Solomon, "change color there, inspire her!"

Her glissandos were posing a barrier to reaching this voice, he felt; the slides were muddied by an early and audible change of finger.

"I don't want to hear a preparatory note in the shift!" he said. That leaping to a higher note is a wail, an outcry, a "major screaming out! Ain't no preparatory note in that!"

And during a rest, "I don't want to hear a rest," he said, "I want to hear a gasp. There's magic in the silence." And an accent in a slurred scale, "I don't want to hear your problems, I want to hear the accent!"

The throbbing of the vibrato, the wail of the glissando, "every phrase has a story in this piece." The pathos of the gas chamber, the will of the survivor, "it's a prayer for the dead."

And finally the way she played in the end, "That was beautiful."

Next up was Ashley, who started with the Preludio from Bach's Partita No. 1.

D. Heifetz and Ashley

As he explained to Elizabeth before, he said that the down-bows are stronger than the up-bows in Bach. "If you release the up-bows, the voicing speaks without you having to try," he said.

He suggested going back to the urtext, Bach's original manuscript, for the bowings in the opening. (There was some confusion; she was already doing the bowing written in the manuscript: slurring five notes in the second measure. The Joachim and Moser version has three slurred, two separate. Of course, half of us were sitting in the audience, flipping pages in the Bach book on our laps, checking. Tough crowd!) At any rate, it is always good to be reminded that, when in doubt, the Galamian edition has the handwritten Bach manuscripts of the Sonatas and Partitas in the back. (Whether you like Galamian's editing, his edition is a good resource.)

He asked her to sing some of the opening, something that he acknowledged is quite difficult to do in public if you aren't a singer (and perhaps if you are!) Heifetz said that he has people take a week of singing lessons at his Heifetz Institute, "not so that they can learn to sing well, but so that they can get rid of inhibitions." Much of his work with the young artists on Friday was about losing inhibitions on stage.

Ashley also played Paganini Caprice No. 24.

"I feel like everybody plays that caprice too fast," he said after she had finished. "I love that you played it at a tempo that you can make music with."

What, in her opinion, is the feeling of this piece? "Majestic," she said.

"Then fill up with majesty, if that's how you feel it," he said. "Take a majestic breath!" He suggested they walk majestically toward the audience, like the king and queen.

"Have fun!" he said, "Don't worry that everyone will think you're crazy, you're not going to be as crazy as me!"

Next, Elli, 13, played the first movement of the Sibelius -- very well.

"That was absolutely beautiful," Heifetz said after she finished. He then read from her music, which had many markings about mood, image and articulations, even in just the first six notes.

D. Heifetz and Ellie

"I'm afraid to say anything, because I don't want you to write it down!" he joked. It made sense (at least to me!) that for her, being from San Diego, Calif., her images of desolation were less about an icy Czech winterscape and more about the endless sand on a cold and empty beach.

He wanted her to make more of her vibrato, to use the pads of the fingers. "The gorgeous, warm sound is in the pads of your fingers," he said, recommending Kreutzer 9 to practice an exaggerated vibrato, way on the pads of the fingers, very flat.

He also mentioned one spot where the music says "veloce," where she was doing more of an accelerando instead. Looking at the music, "you wrote, 'not too fast'; Sibelius wrote, go fast."

Of course, he acknowledged that students get mixed messages from teachers and tradition, implying that if this was what her teacher had wanted, then it was right to do it.

"There's an art to being a student," he said. "You do everything the teacher tells you to, to show that you can." With his own teacher, Galamian, "I always showed that I could do what he asked." Get the most from your teacher by learning what your teacher knows and doing what your teacher asks; then explore the other possibilities. And truly get everything you can from your teacher's knowledge. Get your money's worth and "make your teacher show you," he said. "At the end of a Daniel Heifetz lesson, (Galamian) was exhausted!"

Enrique, 13, played Sarasate's "Introduction and Tarantella," Op. 43, a highly technical piece.

D. Heifetz and Enrique

"You're thinking about speed, when the excitement is in the articulation!" Heifetz said. He wanted a higher bounce on Enrique's spiccato and a little collé to "catch it, then it will pop to the balcony." Enrique tried it, with good results. Heifetz suggested Kreutzer 7, at the frog, the tip, the frog then tip, etc. to practice and perfect a collé bow stroke.

As with what he told the other students, "talk to your teacher about that," Heifetz said. "If he says Heifetz is crazy, he's right!"

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June 1, 2015 at 01:48 PM · Everything he said rings true. I feel I benefit from watching master classes even though I could never play the pieces that these kids are playing. There's a scary (gratifying!) amount of talent out there among our young people.

June 1, 2015 at 05:49 PM · Very nice. When I saw the first picture in the FB feed, I immediately thought it was really lovely photo. I then glanced at all of the other pictures here before reading the blog & got the impression that Mr Heifetz must have done a great job of sharing his enthusiasm because most of the kids (and the accompanist!) look like they're having a great time

June 2, 2015 at 02:46 AM · I believe Sibelius was Finnish, not Czech.

June 2, 2015 at 03:34 PM · Sibelius was indeed Finnish (although born in Sweden I believe.)

June 2, 2015 at 03:46 PM · Every NY Times article about Mr. Daniel Heifetz is clear to mention that there is no relation to the other Heifetz. Perhaps his camp should clarify?

June 2, 2015 at 05:21 PM · Thanks for the NYT link, Andrew. For those who can't see it, it's a January 1970 review of Daniel Heifetz' debut concert at age 21, a positive review, one sentence which reads "Daniel Heifetz, no relation to the other violinist, made his New York debut with a dashing, wholly idiomatic performance of the Tchaikovsky."

I would say that, in the context of this master class, calling Jascha a "distant cousin" is not exactly claiming close relation, but it would be good to clarify whether he meant that he has done some genealogical research and found a distant connection, or whether it's more generalized. It would seem from this NY article that, from early on, he was making it clear that he is not a close relation. I will ask him to clarify.

June 2, 2015 at 07:39 PM · Thanks very much. His comments are accessible even to someone whose skills can't approach those of the participants.

June 2, 2015 at 09:20 PM · I spoke to Daniel Heifetz, and this is what he said:

"Concerning my name, the clarification is that I decided to deny any relationship to Jascha Heifetz, as seen in the 1970 NYT article, in order to establish my own musical voice before the public at the beginning of my career. Jascha always respected me for that decision. Later, after the newspapers and magazines throughout the country and internationally stopped comparing me to him and accepted my artistry on its own merits, I felt that there was no longer any reason to deny the relationship. I have researched it. Our families came from the same town, and there is no question about it.

"I was once giving a live radio interview broadcast from the Kennedy Center the day before one of my performances there. The announcer had the nerve to insult me by asking me if my real name were Daniel Heifetz, or if I had changed it for publicity purposes. So, live, on the air, I answered, 'Well I guess I might as well admit right here on the radio that my original name was not Heifetz, but Daniel KREISLER.' He immediately apologized!"

June 2, 2015 at 09:46 PM · Yes of course, Sibelius was Finnish. The question is, what kind of landscape is that first movement of the violin concerto? And the answer is quite individual. The violinist who premiered it in 1904 was Victor Novácek, who was Hungarian, of Czech origin. From all reports, he did not paint the best picture. On the other hand, I was completely convinced by Elli's beachscape. :)

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