A short listening exercise

October 3, 2013 at 04:17 PM · Greetings,

on a whim I just read Laurie's now archived interview with Benjamin Beilman. Obviously an articulate and intelligent young artist, he made the following comment about his lesson`s with Tetzlaff:

`I worked on some Bach, and I worked on the Sibelius concerto. I already felt very comfortable with the Sibelius, but it was amazing because he took a piece that I felt like I knew very, very well and he completely turned it on its head for me. He opened up completely different avenues and ways of thinking. His biggest theme is about sound, and imagination with sound. That was fascinating.`

After reading this I thought I would give myself a little mental exercise so I took a very quick look at his Sibelius on You Tube. It`s very fine indeed, although the comments about it being the best performance on you tube shed a lot of light on the faculties of people who spend more time on face-book than in the practice room....

My idea was to listen to about five minutes of the first movement and then put myself in Tetzlaff`s shoes. Could I figure out anything of what Tetzlaff might have been saying or be completely wrong?

Having already noted that he really is remarkable I sort of came up with these points:

1) In my opinion he is -a little- over focused on using vibrato as the major expressive tool at the expense of the bow. This seems to cause some very slightly intrusive stop start effects in the vibrato that would have been more pleasing if the bowing had led the effect (if that was really what was intended) and the vibrato supported it. Practicing without vibrato is always useful...

2) He did not yet have absolutely perfect control of balancing the bow. This manifested itself in two ways. First he sometimes crunched a string when double-stopping and second he sometimes put too much weight on the brighter upper strings at the expense of the lower darkness which is crucial in the Sibelius. Even with global warming the North is not that sunny....

3) Related to the above, I feel he needed to expand his mental concept of the bass end of the violin. perhaps listening to those great Russian singers like Chaliapin or whatever his name is...

The bass end does not quite live up to the beauty of the soprano end and here the vibrato could be an interesting avenue.

4) He seems to have a slight gap in his technique in terms of playing harmonics at the nose bleed end of the fingerboard. I mean this in terms of using bow speed more effectively to help the note ring, but also not thinking of the issue as a technical one, but as an act of musical expression. From this perspective more thought could have gone into the speed of the shift and its relation to use of the bow.

These were the possibilities that flashed through my mind. I enjoy this kind of exercise and would be interested to see what people think of those comments.

Bet he`s a completely different player now though....;)



Replies (21)

October 3, 2013 at 05:16 PM · I love this exercise :)

1) Dare to bow closer to the bridge

2) Slow down the bow at times

3) Seems to like to push the tempo, but what about taking the back seat? There are more directions than forward.

4) Consonats.

5) Focusing the vibrato at doublestops, slowing down the bow and bowing closer to the bridge. Perhaps expermimenting a bit with preassure too.

A few pointers from me. Never the less an excellent performance!

October 3, 2013 at 06:15 PM · The recording I looked at was the Sibelius from the Montreal competition. That means that it was from a performance meant to be judged :)

October 3, 2013 at 09:56 PM · It was a competition, and he is well past it in terms of maturity (it still impresses me, though, and I enjoy this performance a lot). It's probably okay to mention the things you would never change that are really great about a performance as well.

But do tread carefully. People post things on the Internet but they are still people and not objects!

October 4, 2013 at 10:18 AM · Obviously, I wouldn't have a clue Buri - except perhaps to talk about the one thing I can claim to be an authority on: how the music affects me. But that would not be a lesson, just one little point of view.

And I'll comment on just the first part of the first movement. First this is spectacular playing and I'll never be a good critic because inside I always have a nagging feeling that I don't feel I have a right to judge someone that does something so so much better than I ever could. But this is Buri's exercise so forgive me gods of arrogance.

The piece starts with a short quiet passage but then develops an angst that gets more and more intense. T pulls this off well but IMO he does it too well. Angst without relief is for me at first unbearable and then my defense mechanisms kick in and I stop hearing it - the effort to create it starts to become a bit forced. That makes me start to react against the violinist. I had a similar feeling when I heard him play live here in Toronto (Tchaikovsky) but I think I'm only identifying it now after listening to much music.

Contrast this to two other versions I just listened to Oistrach and even more so Anne Sophie Mutter who, by giving us occasional and teasing relaxations and breaths, which only serve to build the tension and melancholy right through the movement.

Sibelius Oistrach

Sibelius ASMutter (my favorite thus far...)

But I think his bowing is just fine :) !

October 5, 2013 at 01:26 AM · He might be a terrific player but, give him a few more years and he'll become a master...

I have nothing negative to say as it would be greatly innapropriate for me to even say one thing...

In equestrian show jumping, they tell great riders are at their top in their 40s...

Experience kicks in and they are still able to do something physically. Not to mention the confidence level that is always higher later on than as a young adult who has everything to prove in a stressful competition...

I beleive it's the same with great players... Elise mentioned Oistrakh (per example) and many agree he became better and had a "peak" in his 40s-50s before declining a little (a tad, a hair perhaps...) in his late sixties as he was secretely battling against heart problems.

When I hear masterclasses of people ranging from 15 to 25, I often find they play magnificient but not yet "full bodied" or full range.

Beilman is already very talented and I'm sure he'll become even better, so we should leave him a chance...

Our society expects the 20yo to play as if they were the mid age Heifetz/Oistrakh/Milstein etc.

Those who have the most to say will always blossom even more later!


October 5, 2013 at 01:55 AM · Greetings,

please note that the original idea was not to criticize this wonderful player in anyway. It was about -you- as a teacher. How would you respond , what would you say if for some reason you had to er, give a lesson to him? Is there actually anything worth saying? Do you have an idea that we can discuss and perhaps ultimately dismiss out of hand? If someone disagreed with my initial hasty thoughts I would review them slowly and then concede I was wrong. I naively thought the meaning of this exercise was clear, I guess.

I am completely at a loss as to why anyone would think he is being pulled apart in a destructive way or having his career damaged in anyway. respect for him as a musician and player was stated right at the beginning. Nobody is using him as an object. They are talking about his playing. Nobody expects anyone to be perfect but there is absolutely no reason not to discuss peoples playing in an honest way. This is one way we can improve our teachinh and artists like this one might well be quite interested to hear what people have to say. I have to confess this site`s fear of being seen to criticize anything, even in a sensible and constructive way sure cuts down on interesting debate.

October 5, 2013 at 04:19 PM · Dear Buri,

I was not necessarely talking about your ideas but about the general attitude of expecting very very much from young artists. Perhaps I was slightly off topic so sorry for this...

I know that your posts are always respectful! But even with all the respect of the world, I tried to imagine if I was Beilman how I would feel having my playing analysed online.

I'm sure he's already used to this and is not naive ennough to think listeners don't judge his performances. In that sense, he would maybe not be destroyed but it still doesn't mean he would like it. We have now a wonderful blog talking about rejection (the word is a bit strong and not at all applying to this thread) but the poster tells she asked her student to criticize (positivly) the work of other students of same the class (in an anonym way) and the students admit they do not always like to be there and hear the debate over their work.

Just saying, but your thread is not wrong and, even though these topics can be risky, it is done in a respectful way (that I agree 100%) much better than on youtube or such place!

So congratulations for this,


October 5, 2013 at 05:17 PM · Not to start an argument, or to leave Buri's excellent discussion, but if it said "Review" at the top, would it be ok then? The Strad wrote in a review of the Mozart 5'th played by Joshua Bell that he aught to go back to his study room and practice scales. Is that ok for them?

My impression is that neither Buri nor I wrote in this thread do put Benjamin down, but rather to use the oppertunity that Benjamnin himself put forth and train ourself to be better listeners and teachers.

And honestly, could we really put Benjamin down? I mean he is definitly not a struggeling student that need all the encourage he can get. He is an incredible fiddler with the world at his feets and we all appreciate that.

October 5, 2013 at 05:17 PM · Not to start an argument, or to leave Buri's excellent discussion, but if it said "Review" at the top, would it be ok then? The Strad wrote in a review of the Mozart 5'th played by Joshua Bell that he aught to go back to his study room and practice scales. Is that ok for them?

My impression is that neither Buri nor I wrote in this thread do put Benjamin down, but rather to use the oppertunity that Benjamnin himself put forth and train ourself to be better listeners and teachers.

And honestly, could we really put Benjamin down? I mean he is definitly not a struggeling student that need all the encourage he can get. He is an incredible fiddler with the world at his feets and we all appreciate that.

October 5, 2013 at 07:46 PM · RED FACE!

And I thought we were commenting on Tetzlaff! Pretty dumb in retrospect...

Go to the back of the class, ee... :p

October 5, 2013 at 10:24 PM · I'd imagine that gratuitous playing advice given in internet forums is about as welcome as receiving free unasked-for parenting advice at the park.

I suppose that if the young soloist in question wanted feedback he'd ask us.

October 5, 2013 at 10:27 PM · How about this analysis: He no longer needs a lesson. I would add, humbly, that it is also a teachers job to know when this is the case--- so often overlooked, IMO. I suppose I've been bothered by this for quite some time. I was bothered by it in NY at the Starling festival, and apparently I'm still bothered by it now. I would really like to see the great teachers at the Starling festival actually teach someone who needs a lesson. That would be a welcomed change.

October 6, 2013 at 01:16 AM · See, William gets it; I like the above post.

He's 22 years old, he should be figuring things out on his own, and this will make him a stronger more confident player. The only advice I would give is to record most of your concerts and evaluate them afterwards. He doesn't need to pay someone for something he can probably fix himself.

People need to hear something new, not something trained.

October 6, 2013 at 03:27 AM · There is also always the risk on any forum of having different levels of teachers and students commenting on an artist's playing and other people beleiving this...

While it can be very helpful to hear about what the great teachers have to say, it can also be weird to hear about let's say me (lol) talking about some things that, to my ear, lacked or not in the performance.

By respect, I did not play the game here since I think Benjamin Beilman would perhaps not appreciate to have amateurs telling things "to improve" about his technique or playing.

But this is with any topic though... even the heated SR issue!

October 6, 2013 at 03:52 AM · William, Not being able to teach and not needing a teacher is 2 totally different things, as I am sure that you know.

I believe that the general increase in the level that violinist can play today is because of the general increase of the abillity of the teachers.

And... If a perfect violinst makes a mistake, lets say that Szeryng missed a shift in a live concert, any good student or amateur would benefit of knowing the reason and solution to that mistake and work on not having to make the same mistake themself. No matter if Szeryng needs a teacher or not.

If we want to develop as violinist, teachers or even humans we need to analyse the world around us and try not to repeat the same mistages.

A clarification here. Benjamin doesn't make any mistakes in the 5 minutes I watched in that video. He is an enormous talent develops all the time and that is why he is interesting to watch.

October 6, 2013 at 04:43 AM · I think that when a violinist reaches a certain level, and perhaps when a person of any profession reaches a certain level, they don't need a teacher so much as they need a mentor. Who really stops needing a mentor? And who can be your mentor is a really personal thing; it makes sense and shows a rare kind of good mental health that he would seek that out in someone like Christian Tetzlaff. And it's a wonderful thing that Tetzlaff does this for artists younger than himself. It's not the same thing as having a "teacher" who would, say, show you how to improve your spiccato. It's more like having someone to help keep you seeking inspiration, keep you looking at things in new ways, keep you striving for more. Even if your performance is musically satisfying to your audience and technically wonderful, I think the artist still needs his own inspiration.

October 7, 2013 at 11:42 AM · 5 minutes? I'd probably offer a quick overview of how to turn a log into a wooden bowl. There's not much that this duffer could teach him about playing violin.

Maybe sit down and give encouragement from someone with a PhD from HKU (Hard Knocks University)?

October 7, 2013 at 12:26 PM · I'd tell Heifetz to take the last movement of the Beethoven A major sonata as serious music and come off the phrases with a bit of grace, rather than treating it as a complete joke with his bang bangs.

October 7, 2013 at 06:49 PM · Laurie Niles Said:

"I think that when a violinist reaches a certain level, and perhaps when a person of any profession reaches a certain level, they don't need a teacher so much as they need a mentor."

Well spoken Laurie!

I remember reading a book that mentioned Arnold Palmer well into his career taking a golf lesson. Why would HE need a golf lesson?

The truth is there are levels to these types of relationships.





October 7, 2013 at 08:55 PM · Look, Buri doesn't need my defence and Laurie’s point is excellent, but let's not forget Buri wasn't trying to teach any one particular violinist in his initial posting. He started a discussion, as a violin teacher from whom many of us have benefited tremendously over the years and still have. And he did so by putting himself “in Tetzlaff`s shoes”, as he clearly puts it. It is a hypothetical thought experiment that is quite commonly done in other academic fields.

The 5 minutes video is merely a piece of historical material to be brought in for intellectual and technical discussions. Such discussion benefits all that care to listen and think.

Bravo Buri!



October 7, 2013 at 11:05 PM · On the radio I heard Piatigorsky tell a story, which doesn't seem to have made it on to the internet, so I must endeavour to tell it as well as my memory and nearly non-existent communication skills will permit me. Once he was asked by a world famous cellist how to play the opening of the Locatelli so as to get the silky tone it required. He replied, demonstrating, "Well, I've always played it like this". Later, the world famous cellist gave him a ticket or tickets to the first concert in which he would perform this sonata. He didn't do what Piatigorsky did, he found his own way, but the result, said Piatigorsky, was absolutely exquisite. He finished the story by telling us the name of the world famous cellist, one Pablo something or other (There are other stories on the internet that Piatigorsky tells about himself and this Pablo). Moral self evident, I think.

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