Jan. 17, 2021
Hi Maestro Zander,
I greatly enjoyed our rehearsal today! I felt connected to the music in a way that only ever happens in concerts for me, where I’m more invested in the music precisely because it’s coming into existence before my very eyes. Though all recordings are in the past, following your interpretation of the score gave me that feeling of excitement, of not necessarily knowing what will come next. It was refreshing!
I appreciated what you mentioned today about performing from memory—memory is in the past, but the sheet music keeps you in the present. I generally perform solo pieces from memory because I feel like it better allows me to connect with the audience. But this doesn’t work for every piece, or context. For the Pappoutsakis competition, I’ll play Bach’s Partita from memory and the other two pieces with music. What’s interesting to me is that the narrative I have in mind for the Bach is of an old woman looking back on her past, and specifically on a night as a young woman at a ball. Unintentionally, I’ve set the piece without music to a narrative about one’s memories, in contrast to the very in-the-present feeling second and third pieces.
Preparation for the Pappoutsakis competition has been going well! The pressure of it all has gotten to me at times, but at the very least it’s helped me focus on the music and on telling the story above everything else. I’ve had a bit of information overload with 3 lessons and a masterclass this week, but I feel like I’ve implemented advice well. In the past month and a bit since we worked on the Allemande I’ve read and reread your email, and come up with what feels like an entirely rejuvenated interpretation of the piece. For strategic reasons, I’ve decided to go at a quicker tempo than we worked on, what with the competition only involving other flutist applicants and primarily flutists as judges. If it were a more common decision, or if this was for a recital, it might be a different situation. Even so, I’ve found a whole lot of value in implementing your ideas–especially about phrasing, breathing and pacing–in my performance.
I wanted to send over the Allemande from what I recorded this evening. Since I’ll be moving back to school on Monday and there’s a possibility of me running into complications with that process, I wanted to make a backup, usable recording just in case I couldn’t be there on the 22nd. If you have the chance to take a listen, I hope you enjoy! And of course, any feedback you have would be very welcome and appreciated!
Jan. 12, 2021
I received an “A” because I was enthusiastic and inspiring. I could tell that my mentee was engaged and eager to learn. Whenever we were together, there was a shared excitement. The shining eyes of my mentee showed that he/she liked what they were doing.
Before it began, I wasn’t sure what the experience would be like. Would my student love their instrument as much as I love the cello? Would they feel it is a time of freedom and joy, or just a lesson?
I had a dream that I would be able to pass on knowledge, my love of music, and joy to my mentee. As this dream came true, I felt I was learning as much as the student in this process.
Jan. 17, 2020
Hello Mr. Zander,
I just wanted to tell you a quick story that happened to me yesterday. A couple of weeks ago my aunt sent me a small package for my birthday. She told me she’d gotten the notification that it had arrived but no matter where I looked I couldn’t find the package. I looked on the neighbor’s porches and we even contacted FedEx, but to no avail. We sort of gave up on it, assuming it had been lost or stolen. But she never told me what was inside.
Yesterday, before our meeting, I walk outside and I see a package on my steps. I looked down and it was none other than the missing package. I opened
it up and inside was a small figurine of St. Cecilia! My aunt had send it to me as a reference to my musical life of course. As we were working on the Mahler yesterday I thought how strange it was that of all days the missing package with a miniature St. Cecilia decided to turn up right before our meeting about Mahler 4. I thought that would interest you. I included a little picture below of the figurine next to my computer during the lesson. I thought it went fantastically well, and I can’t wait to dive into the other movements!
Jan. 18, 2021
Hi Mr. Zander,
I just wanted to quickly let you know how excited I am for this new journey exploring Mahler’s works! I have never looked so closely at any orchestral pieces before except when I was preparing for an audition (but even then, I was only looking at my own part). I think starting our journey with his last movement was perfect. Everything, from learning about how E major is the key of heaven to finding the perfect singer and how important that is, was an interesting way for me to take my first step into the world of Mahler. I’ve got to say, I was fairly shocked when you told me that the singer in the first recording sang it incorrectly because I thought it was one of the most beautiful singing I have ever heard. However, I enjoyed comparing the two different recordings we listened to and felt like I could hear the differences a bit even though I feel like as though I need more ear training. There were just so many thoughts and emotions that went through my head after that session and I still don’t seem to be able to completely process them, but! I do know that what I felt listening to that recording was something unforgettable. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to listen to it live.
Here is a bit about the mentorship program:
I’m not expecting anything too much especially since it is virtual, I hope by the end of this program, I will have seen a pair of shining eyes looking back at me at least once because of something I said or did. Even though you haven’t seen me watch your interpretation classes, I definitely was watching your videos with shining eyes. I know how special it was for me to experience something that left me with shining eyes.
See you Saturday!
Response from Ben:
Such a special letter!
It makes all the hard work seem worthwhile.
Jan. 21, 2021
I learned so much from last week’s class. Thank you so much to you and to so many for buying and sending the Mahler scores. This will always be a very special score to me.
Studying the score with you allowed me to see so much. It was interesting how all of the different elements came together so nicely in the fourth movement. The bells and the harp were noticeably resonant. It was also nice to hear the famous melody of the first theme at the end. This was my first time really listening to this symphony but I do remember when I attended one of your interpretation classes in Boston and a young woman sang this.
The recordings were also so beneficial to me in understanding this piece. The comparing and contrasting of recordings showed how even among the greatest orchestras, elements of a performance may not be appropriate to what Mahler wanted to convey. During one recording, the singer had a great voice but her vibrato sounded monotonous. I was really able to think about how Mahler wanted his music to be played through the eyes of a conductor.
On a side note, we own your Telarc recording of this symphony but I had not wanted to listen to it until we went over it together. Then, on the following morning, we played the fourth movement while eating a hashbrown. Hashbrowns are one of my favorite breakfast foods and we don’t have them often so I imagined the young boy singing of hashbrowns in heaven too.
Jan. 24, 2021
Dear Mr. Zander,
I just wanted to reach out to let you know how much I enjoyed last week’s rehearsal on Mahler’s 4th. It was an amazing experience to go through the score in depth, and it was so exciting to hear all your anecdotes about each section of the piece. The full score of Mahler’s 3rd and 4th symphonies is the first full orchestral score I have ever owned, and your signature on the first page made it even more meaningful to me. Thank you so much for leading BPYO through the journey of studying Mahler even through the barriers of Zoom. I am really looking forward to studying more works by Mahler in the coming weeks.
Jan. 25, 2021
Thank you so much for never ceasing to be a fountain of opportunity, inspiration, love, and encouragement. I cannot even begin to thank you enough for the impact you have made in my life and in my education here in Boston. It is absolutely certain that without you or BPYO, I could not have imagined what has become part of my story or what I have gained in the world of possibility I have been so generously brought into.
Jan. 27, 2021
Good evening Mr. Zander,
It was lovely to see you and the group for the past two weeks and I was especially glad to see you on your feet. What a remarkable recovery, thanks to your consistently high spirits lighting up everyone around you as well as the medical staff taking care of you.
I am reaching out to express my gratitude for this past Saturday’s BPYO meeting. I loved getting to watch friends make music together in your living room and I almost felt like I was right there in person with everyone else. Both the Brahms and Mahler were a joy to dissect and I also wanted to congratulate Elias, Leonard, and Ms. Vainstein on their performances and collaboration. I’m not sure who was in control of the cameras and audio, but that was a really fantastic aspect as well which I feel gave all the attendees an authentic feeling of being present.
I especially enjoyed the brief discussion at the end about performing authentically and what that really means to everyone. We frequently have these types of “sharing advice/thoughts/experience” conversations regarding performing in my studio class with Mrs. Ninomiya, but that is just with a bunch of college-age violinists. Imagine the vast amounts of insight we could share by hearing from those who play different instruments, are of different ages, and even have experience in other genres of music. For example, how to apply wind/brass breathing techniques and epiphanies to a string player, or percussionist/conductor explaining their following and leading body movements to a usually more sedentary tuba player, for example. Let me know what you think about this idea or if you’ve found it to be effective or not in the past.
A brief update about me… This past winter season has not been very kind to family, as we lost my very young (65-year-old) and healthy (kept herself in good shape with no pre-existing conditions) aunt to the covid virus. It was a very unlucky turn of events, especially in terms of timing. She originally caught the virus on Thanksgiving week and took two covid tests, both of which yielded negative results so we all thought it was a bad flu. Anyway, things kept getting worse, and her breathing was so bad that she couldn’t stay home alone. We called 911 and they refused to take her to the hospital. Even her doctor’s office was also not answering until we went in person to let them know what was going on. At that point, the doctor said she should have gone to the hospital long ago and so this time 911 took her. By the time she was there, her lungs were so damaged and she had already contracted pneumonia on top of the covid. She ended up being on the ventilator for 30 days while we meticulously kept up to date every day with any help we could provide to the hospital for her case. In the end, she couldn’t fight any longer and the doctors said that the best thing would be to let her go peacefully. She passed away on New Year’s Eve. There was a very small funeral so that we could keep the social distancing, but I was able to live-stream the event to almost 400 of her loving family and friends across the US and the world. My family was devastated… it was really the first time I took control of planning these big events and taking care of some of the legal matters of the family since no one else was up to the job. My aunt was the closest woman in my life after my mother. We would spend lots of time together and she was as supportive of my musical journey (coming to all my concerts and keeping up with my work) as could be. I still don’t understand or register completely that she is gone… but somehow I’m able to block these terrorizing emotions out of my brain until I sit down and really try to think about it.
This further reinforced my decision to stay home this semester. Family is the most important part of my life, and I think I have made that pretty clear at this point since I keep telling you about them. Tying this back to our discussion, this occurrence was a reminder to live for the present, just as we should perform music in the present. It is the most authentic and positive way to live and create art and last week was such a great reminder of this. I have a recording today of the 1st movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Rather than focusing on what is about to come in the music only play strategically, I am going to allow myself to react to the music in the present and play the way my heart desires at that moment. I will just try to have fun and see how it all goes. I would love to play the opening or exposition of the movement for you at some point. I am really trying to study the score the same way we do during BPYO for hints about how I can add more and different characters.
I have some good news! I recently applied to be a scholar at the Virtu Foundation (https://www.virtufound.org) and was accepted and offered an instrument on loan from them for two years! It is by Alceste Bulfari of Castellione, 1995. I hadn’t heard of the maker, but the violin they sent me has a bright and tone with very quick responsiveness whilst still maintaining sensitivity when I need it to. I also feel like I am adjusting to it more and more every day. I’m very pleased with how this turned out and thankful to the foundation and its donors for making these opportunities possible for young musicians, as I am also to BPYO.
Wishing you a great week,
(edit: I meant to send this email last night but I forgot to hit the “send” button. Recording was alright. I liked specific aspects of it but found that my stamina wasn’t there as it should have been for this 18-minute movement. I am going to run through the movement more often this week and try again on Saturday after BPYO.)
Jan. 27, 2021
Dear Mr. Zander,
I finally understand what you did!!! It took me a bit of time – I read it over a couple of times as I watched youtube videos with scores, but I think I get the main point. Just to clarify, in stage 3, by moving the tempo forward, did you mean that you moved it up to Andante but conducted it in two? You said “an Adagio in 2,” so I’m wondering if you meant that the tempo was moved up to Andante or just slightly faster than Adagio.
I just have a couple of questions/thoughts:
1) When the first A was lengthened, were the rest of the three notes in the bar each played the same length throughout the remaining time in that bar?
2) I tried conducting in two while listening to this recording (because it had a score!), but it felt rather strange because it was very slow. Then thinking about what you did at our session, it made sense as I could imagine the freedom the oboist would have. Then I wanted to look at how other conductors conducted. The performances that came up first when I looked it up on Google were these: Itzhak Perlman’s and Hilary Hahn’s – both of the oboists seemed to be playing very metronomically, especially the oboist from Hilary Hahn’s performance. Also, correct me if I am wrong, but I think the conductors in these recordings were conducting in four, not two, and the tempo was much faster than the first recording that I have listened to (the one with the score). I don’t exactly remember how fast or slow the tempo was during our session, but I thought it was an interesting thing to compare these different performances.
3) I’m not sure if this question makes sense, but to what extent can one apply rubato to his or her playing so that it doesn’t seem like he or she is playing out of time? I’m learning and seeing more and more that rubato isn’t only applied when it is written in the score, and that players have the freedom to apply it where they seem to feel as needed. By musicians speaking a common language, did you mean knowing when to use rubato and how much to use it? And does that come from natural music instincts?
Thank you so much for taking your time to help me understand all of this.
I really appreciate it!
Response from Ben:
You are a joy to communicate irate with. And you are so smart, so it is a real pleasure.
“Players have the freedom to apply it where they seem to feel as needed. By musicians speaking a common language, did you mean knowing when to use rubato and how much to use it? And does that come from natural music instincts?” YES!
I will deal with the rest of your letter later
Much love (as in kindred spirit)
Jan. 29, 2021
I hope that you are having a good week. You looked really good last Saturday as it was nice to see you walking around your beautiful room. I really liked it when you told us about some of the special items in your music space.
In the room where I practice and where you see me every week, I also have special musical items that inspire me and encourage me to be my best. I have photos of my favorite cellist, teachers, and mentors. One of my favorites is the photo of you and I when we first met at one of your interpretation classes. My mom also framed the program that BPYO was to play soon after that. Along these photos I also have some composer busts like Beethoven, Mozart, and one of my most recent ones is of Mahler. Somehow, my mom found a local sculptor that just happened to have Mahler in his studio.
Thank you for inviting the amazing musicians last Saturday. I couldn’t believe that they had never played together and yet they sounded very connected to one another. I loved watching how you conducted them and how they followed all of the small and large indications that you suggested.
Seeing you at your desk with the Mahler score was very inspirational. I loved watching how you explained your ideas with us. Using different colored pencils for various types of notations seems to make a lot of sense to me. I think that I am feeling much more comfortable with my score reading skills now.
These next two weeks are very important for me as I am preparing audition videos for a fully funded summer program that is sponsored by Sphinx. So I am preparing the Kol Nidrei and the Popper Tarantelle and have tried to incorporate many of the ideas that you have taught us so thank you so much for this. Wish me luck.
Take care and I look forward to seeing you soon.
With admiration as always,