MTNA President Benjamin Caton introduced today’s masterclass teacher by saying, “I feel like I’m on hallowed ground with the master behind me.” The comment was followed by a hearty applause.
The first order of business was to present Menahem Pressler with the MTNA Achievement Award for 2012.
A very small excerpt of the first performance: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann, performed by Jiaxin Tian.
Menahem Pressler began by saying, “Beautiful playing, well taught, but…” Everyone laughed. He commented that she was too sensitive, like a new mother who loves her baby so much that she almost strangled it.
The first theme sounded like a variation. He was left listening the whole time for the next nuance. He had her start over by playing just the theme. They worked for a while on a more piano sound and a connected legato line. In particular, he had her listen to make sure that the second and third notes of the melody were not louder than the first. She could hear it, but had trouble getting the dynamic he wanted.
Mr. Pressler turned to the audience, “In my class we would not go on until she got it. But I don’t want you to have to hear that. She will struggle to get it at home.”
At the end of the theme is a crescendo. Why? Schumann is opening the door for the first variation. The final cadence creates a question mark.
When Jiaxin started the first variation, Mr. Pressler pointed out that the tempo change was marked un poco. He tapped her two tempi and asked, “Is that a little bit?” When she shook her head, he responded, “No. It’s very much bit.” The second Etude should be more intense, but not that much faster.
In the next one, he said what was wrong is that her sixteenth notes were uneven. She was instructed to try to control it. As the theme came in in the bass line, he encouraged her to play it more meaningfully, voicing every note.
At one point he asked her what could be more beautiful about her playing. Then he asked if she owned silk gloves and had her approach the keys as though she was wearing silk gloves. His primary focus continued to be on the voicing of each phrase so that no note sounded out of place in the line.
When she incorporated a ritardando that wasn’t in the music, he asked her why and then said, “you know if yous top like that when you are in a car, you’ll go right through the window.”
After congratulating her on a job well done, Jiaxin left the stage. Then Mr. Pressler turned to the audience and said that just for us he took it easy on her. In his studio the students have to work very hard. Then he added, “You never give up and you never give in.”
An excerpt from the beginning of the second masterclass student: 8 Pieces Vol. 1, Op. 76 Nos. 1, 3, and 8 by Johannes Brahms, performed by Reed Tetzloff.
“There are many nice things that you are doing. Very good piano playing…in principle. But… – and it’s a big but – the markings of Brahms don’t seem to play a big part in what you are doing.” Mr. Pressler went on to address the tempo marking of allegretto and the evenness and coordination between the hands of the accelerando at the beginning. After he incorporated the suggestions: “Fine. I think I can live with your tempo. It’s not a good life, but…” The audience laughed!
The un poco agitato should not be overdone. It’s more like it’s churning. Mr. Pressler used lots of vocalization of the rhythms to help Reed hear how to achieve the desired tempo and rhythmic flow. Being able to hear the melody in the 6/8 pulse was essential to maintaining the desired consistency.
To create the more intense feel, it was important to feel the emphasis more on the offbeat, bringing out the Hungarian influence. “Mr. Brahms says, ‘WashingTON’, not ‘WASHington’.”
The art of playing Brahms is in hearing and voicing the counterpoint. While the lyrical melody is singing in the right hand, the left hand counterpoint should be a short lively sound.
Piano Trio in B-flat Major “Archduke,” Op. 97, 1st Movement by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Sohyun Ahn (piano), Mikyung Kim (violin), and Yoni Etzion (cello).
Just to give you a little better taste of Mr. Pressler’s style, here’s a clip from his initial comments after the trio finished:
He went on to work individually with each of the musicians to help them understand the appropriate dynamic elements and rhythmic flow, very similarly to his work with the two previous pianists.
Their music was definitely much more alive by the end of his time working with them!