Dear Zoom conductors,
The white sheets I received from you were uniformly constructive and positive, and full of insight. They moved me and buoyed me and gave me countless new ideas. So I want to thank you all for putting the time and heart energy into them.
It is also amazing and delightful that out of the isolation from the pandemic a new far -flung community has emerged, held together by mutual seekingfrom two hours of common experience. The appreciation you all articulated for my work may strike you as a little redundant as you browse through the letters, but each of you had an authentic experience that you wanted to share, and I’m grateful for that.
I have added some comments and stories that were inspired by what you wrote. We have undertaken something important. Let it move forward. BZ
I was very glad that I applied for this interpretation class. It was much more than interpretation, much more than “just music”, it was about making contact. That’s the most important thing in life but also the most important thing in conducting. Sounds very simple but, not so easy. I try to be in the moment when rehearsing but my mind get’s in the way sometimes. Sometimes we are so busy with all sort of things or feeling insecure or tensed with a new orchestra. But when you connect with the orchestra and the music in the moment the reward is huge, addictive. This is what I miss most these days. What I also found great is when you talked about optimism, being the most important thing to bring to the orchestra as conductor. I loved that you said that, I’m a very optimistic person but again I sometimes forget that, specially when I have the feeling that I have to prove myself and try too hard. Lucky I know that I do that so it’s a ongoing process and keep you in my mind will help for sure! Your enthusiasm talking about music and just being honest I found very inspiring. It helps me a lot working with these emotions. It would be great if I could see you work with your orchestra or somewhere around. Would it be a problem to attend one of your rehearsals sometime in the future? Or is there a live masterclass to go to?
Again thank you for willing to share your thoughts and love for music. I felt lucky that I could conduct for you, will work on the eyebrows more 🙂
Frans-Aert. (the Netherlands)
BZ Frans-Aert, you make a great point about human contact being at the heart of conducting. The “voice in the head” is very powerful and very devious. It’s no good pretending that it will go away, it won’t. It’s lurking in the dark and then it pounces when it is least welcome: “You’re not good enough!” “ Do you know how many conductors there are who are better than you are?” “You haven’t prepared enough.” The bad news is that the voice goes on and on, until you die.
The good news is you can get it to shut up by saying to the voice: “Thank you for sharing, I’m busy!” But then, of course, you have to have something so compelling to be busy with that it is more powerful than the negative voice.
“You connect with the orchestra and the music in the moment, the reward is huge, addictive.”
We are all missing that so much these days, but it will come back. My dream is that when we get back to making music, we will all be clearer about our purpose.
You remember the definition of leadership I read out to the class?
Leadership is identifying the purpose hidden in the chaos of the moment.
(My rehearsals are always open. When we get back to work, anyone can contact the BPO office for details. The interpretation classes happen once a month, usually at the Boston Public Library on Saturday morning 10 a.m. to 12 and then appear on YouTube).
Hi, Mr Zander and Simón,
I’m so grateful for participated in this online class, I’m Brazilian and I’ve never thought that someday I could see Benjamin Zander talking to me, even in a online Masterclass.
About the class, your beautiful words about music, love, passion truly spoke to my heart, I’ll take with me for my entire life!!
Maybe, it will be more useful if each student makes a different movement, so that aspects of difficulty, musicality of each work can be seen.
Practically everyone conducted the first movement of the 5th, and it was a little overwhelming.
That is the only suggested that I want to say.
Thank you again, Benjamin Zander you’re an inspiration to young conductors!
God bless you
BZ Thank you, Karen. It is amazing that the art that we serve causes us all to speak about love, passion and the language of the heart. Bankers do not talk to each other that way!
It is wonderful to know that, even though we were all so far from each other geographically, we experienced some powerful connections. This was our very first attempt to do something like this, (maybe it was the first anywhere), so I am sure we haven’t yet found the ideal way, but if we do another one we will think about the best way to make it work for everyone. With that many people it probably doesn’t work to make it random. In my London (and Aruba) class with 8 to 10 participants, I would announce beforehand all the pieces to be studied and then simply ask: “Who is next?” Instinctively they would know that it was their turn. It sort of worked in our Zoom class, even though there was no one playing actual music. Fortunately, everybody knew the opening of the Beethoven 5th!
My brother Luke, who was watching in England, remarked that he found it very moving when I said to Aristide Moari (Funeral March of Eroica) that I could hear the music that he was conducting. Luke said that he knew exactly what I meant and he is a Doctor, not a musician! Fascinating!
Thank you for sharing your incredible and important thoughts and ideas about the music. I love that with you, the actual music always comes first. Meaning you always inspire us to reach for something beyond technique to get to the real meaning of the music. While technique is important, it is just one part of this amazing journey. Thank you again, and I hope to participate in a another class online or in person with you again.
Thank you so much for setting this up for all of us. I think I speak for everyone when I say we appreciate it a lot!
Hope you both stay well. Looking forward to communicating with you again soon.
BZ: Thank you Geoff for emphasizing that technique is never an end in itself (except in pieces designed only to show off technical prowess). When I was a cellist practicing Etudes and scales endlessly, I kept persuading myself that building my technique was like building a fabulous hi-fi sound system in order to be able to play gorgeous music through it. That way I would sit for hours, patiently working like a craftsman or a mechanic, methodically making a machine. Then came the time to turn on the music. It was too late to think about fixing the machine, it was time to listen and pour out all the love and passion for the music.
I have long been a fan of your Mahler recordings and online lectures. I often reference your ideas about music in my conducting classes. The session with you on Friday was a treat to hear you speak about a variety of topics and provide some feedback for young conductors. Though I have multiple degrees in conducting and teach these classes, I do agree with you that it’s hard to teach conducting because every person feels this artform in a way that works for them.
Hopefully there will be more of these sessions again soon. I would love the opportunity to work with you in person someday.
Michael (I was the one smiling on Friday!)
Dr. Michael S. Butler
Director of Bands | University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
Wisconsin State Chair | CBDNA
Isn’t it interesting that I noticed your smile, even though it was in amongst a hundred other postage-stamp-sized photos? A smile can convey trust, excitement, anticipation, fun, warmth, generosity, energy, reverence, engagement.
What a gift to the world!
(A useful note for would-be smilers: Don’t smile if you are not feeling any of the above racing through your body. it will look inauthentic and turn people (especially orchestra players) off. If you want to increase your smile quotient, just increase your love of life!
Thank you, Michael, for sharing the Mahler recordings and lectures with your students. All the lectures will be on my new website when it goes up in June. The Philharmonia recordings belong to the recording company, so they are not mine to give away.
I wonder if you have come accross the two commercial recordings that the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra has made.
BPYO Mahler 6th and 9th – Online Links
They were made at live performances in Symphony Hall, Boston. If you listen, keep in mind that youngest players in the orchestra are 12 and the oldest 21. The Mahler 6th was chosen by the Chicago Tribune as one of the Ten Best Recordings of 2015!
Dear Maestro Zander,
I would like to say an immense thank you for the invaluable experience that was your Beethoven Interpretation Masterclass – as I must admit, I came prepared for a ninety-minute discussion on the technicalities and the do’s and don’t’s of approaching a Beethoven score. Instead I left your class feeling it was incredibly valuable introduction to my personal understanding of the power of truthful leadership, and now I am constantly discovering boundless possibilities not only in my approach to Beethoven’s music, but to life, and for that I am eternally grateful for the example you have shown us through your leadership.
BZ: Antonio, what a beautiful way of describing what happened! Thank you.
As a student cellist/ambitious conductor, I found it particularly interesting how you mentioned the conductor’s role comes naturally to a string player as opposed to someone in brass or woodwind. Though I had never stopped to consider it (as the musicians around me ordinarily mentioned that pianists make the best conductors), I can now see how those two worlds collide in a unique fashion to other disciplines of performance.
BZ: I have always thought that pianists have an enormous advantage in conducting, because the piano is both nothing (a bunch of teeth, hit with hammers) and everything (the whole world of music). A piano can play all the lines and imitate every instrument in the orchestra, so it is the perfect place from which a conductor can emerge.
I was present in the hall when Daniel Barenboim conducted an orchestra for the first time. It was in Sienna, 1953, I was 16 and studying in Gaspar Cassadó’s cello class and Danny was a member of the conducting class of Franco Ferrara (along with another gifted young fellow called Zubin Mehta!). Danny stood in front of the Torino orchestra, aged 14 and conducted the opening of Egmont Overture. From the first note everybody was gobsmacked. But it wasn’t so surprising. He was already an experienced pianist and he was simply translating his extraordinarily accomplished piano playing to the podium. Conducting is very much like playing the piano, but it is even more like playing a string instrument. Just as the greatest pianists can make a piano sing like a string instrument, a conductor must be able to convey the sounds in his head into the hands and arms of 50-60 string players. I am aware of some great conductors who have been neither string players nor pianists – Colin Davis was a top-notch clarinetist; Simon Rattle a percussion player etc. Still, you cannot exaggerate the importance of the hands-on experience of a string player for orchestral musicians.
Since my internet connection went off for a short period of time during the masterclass (I was connecting from Sydney, and the National Broadband Network in Australia is not an efficient service at times…), I am uncertain if my underlying question was answered during the class: As the role of a conductor, is it our job to bring our colleagues closer to the composer’s true intention of the work, or to our own interpretation? And if they are two separate ideals, is it possible to converge them into the one?
BZ: This is a huge question and I would love to explore it more fully as we move along. I like to think that ideally the interpreter is like a clear glass window through which the players (and therefore the audience) can “see” the composer’s intention, but like any actor, one’s own personality and perspective are bound to be part of the mix.
Dear Simon and Ben,
First and foremost I wanted to thank both of you for the amazing masterclass! Truly inspiring!
I want to start by thanking you for the marvelous masterclass yesterday.
During the whole discussion, I sat there eagerly listening and absorbing your wisdom, kind and fascinating insights about Beethoven’s work.
My name is Lior Balachness; I am 19 years old and study orchestral conducting in the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv.
We met for the first time 5 years ago; I was a percussionist in the Israeli Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, the same orchestra you were invited to conduct that summer.
You conducted the Firebird-suite and Beethoven’s 5th symphony.
I remember this summer camp vividly as it had been such an insightful and eye-opening experience for me.
Although I did not play in Beethoven’s 5th I remembered I stayed in the room while you were rehearsing listening and absorbing every small detail you shared with the orchestra.
I was so amazed by all of your knowledge and research about Beethoven’s work.
I was mesmerized and absolutely amazed when you were rehearsing the 2nd movement, revealing the seven-part counterpoint in the middle section to the orchestra.
Keeping watching your work and learning from you through the videos on youtube, you never stopped to amaze me with your sheer passion and capability to understand everything Beethoven’s given us.
Yesterday’s online discussion was so insightful and passionate.
I would have loved to keep discussing with you about your views of Beethoven, conducting in general and even to hear your thoughts about the current era of the Covid-19, if and when possible.
I know that during these new exciting times you must be rather busy, even from home, But I would really love and appreciate if you find some time for us to talk, even chatting here on Facebook or e-mail.
Thank you for your time and sheer passion and joy you bring to the world.
Keep smiling and stay safe!
BZ: Lior, that time in Israel was truly memorable. I have rarely found such a passionate and committed group of young people. Do you remember that when we performed Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet I told the audience that they would probably relate to the music in a more intense way than in any other place in the world, because of the immediacy of the feud between the Palestinians and Jews. It was one of the most electrifying performances I had ever experienced. I think it was because every person in that hall in Jerusalem – the parents and friends in the audience, and the young people on stage – were united in their total focus on the tragic love story unfolding in the music. How often does that happen in a concert? 100 percent participation.
The passage you are referring to in the Beethoven is bar 107-114 in the second movement, where 7 voices are heard together. In The Art of Possibility there is a story where I revealed that passage with the Philharmonia voice by voice for 1,500 kids in a “failing school” in one of the poorest areas in London. When I added the first violins – the seventh voice – and turned around to ask how many of them could hear all 7 voices, about half the kids held up their hands. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.
My thought about Covid 19 is that though it may be the worst catastrophe since the Second World War, yet, because of the existence of these astonishing new means of communication, it may open up new avenues and pathways that could lead to new ways for human beings to live together and take care of each other and our planet.
Dear Maestro Zander, dear Simón,
Thank you so much for this inspirational masterclass!!! I definitely had shiny eyes throughout!!! So much so that when you mentioned about picking up a stringed instrument (something I’ve been wanting to do for years and have been told by many famous conductors), I was so inspired by you that I actually called my friend while still in the masterclass and had a violin the very next morning and practiced on it 5x that day!!! I also gained so much more perspective on Beethoven’s music and now have many more angles to approach it from which is exactly what will bring me to an interpretation that works!
Writing from a ‘one-buttock’ position, I thank you so much again and I hope I’ll have a chance to meet you one day!
All the very best and greetings from the Czech Republic!!!
BZ: Ondrej, getting a violin immediately and practicing it is an example of the Possibility way of Being. It’s not about hope, good intentions or planning. It’s about clear thinking, finding a pathway and taking action. Bravo!
I made a similar decision when I got a Peloton bike on December 18th. At my age, it is tempting to take it easy. But I go on that bike almost every day. I did 7 miles this morning. The alternative is disintergration! It’s worth it.
Dear Maestro Zander and Mr. Zerpa,
I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us this opportunity during these difficult times.
Firstly, I would just like to say that it really brightened my day and motivated me to work even harder towards achieving my goal as an aspiring conductor. Secondly, it was an amazing experience and it opened up a whole new world of looking at the scores for me and looking at the other conductors, I saw my own mistakes and took the comments towards them as towards me. I thank you sincerely, Maestro Zander for the workshop and Mr. Zerpa for the organisation of the workshop, and would be more than thrilled to attend your workshops in person if given the opportunity in the future.
BZ: Magdalena, your enthusiasm is infectious. You also have understood the concept of How Fascinating! We are ALL students, always learning new things and noticing when things don’t work.
Dear Maestro Zander,
I want to thank you so much for organizing this! The timing was perfect. On this day, I was supposed to give my Conducting Diploma exams and I was feeling blue. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it is not important if we compare it with what the whole world is going through,but I couldn’t help it! So, when I saw all these happy people discussing music and Beethoven,and the shiny eyes like Maestro said, I felt so blessed!
Maestro, you are so inspiring and true! Congratulations on working with the youth orchestra, people really need an exaple like you.
Also, you made me feel proud of myself, because although I am a pianist, I felt I must learn a string instrument in order to really understand the orchestra and also be a member of an ensemble. So, I started cello lessons and now I am preparing my Diploma! And you strongly believe that a conductor must know a string instrument! That’s amazing! Teachers in conservatories don’t point that out.
Your knowledge,your honesty,your joy is fantastic. Thank you a lot for sharing them with us! I am sorry if i I talked too much,I am still so excited! You are brilliant!
Kind regards from Greece!
BZ: I do not think you talked too much. You had good points to make.
1) You celebrated the joy and solace that music can offer in troubled times. Shining eyes trump Diploma blues.
2) You described how you had put the loss of your important Diploma exam in perspective
3) You noted that being a pianist wasn’t enough for a conductor, so you took the challenging step of taking up a string instrument and playing in an ensemble.
4) You observed that playing a string instrument should be part of the training of any conductor.
5) You conveyed more love, energy, enthusiasm and joie de vivre than is found in any 10 dating sites!
So, all in all, a good post. Thank you
I hope this email finds you well. I spoke with Mei-Ann after your masterclass yesterday and told her how wonderful an experience it was. She speaks so highly of you and wanted me to send her regards. I also wanted to thank you and asked if she would share your email with me.
I was honored (and extremely surprised) to conduct a bit of Beethoven 5 during yesterday’s class. I do hope our paths will cross again in the future as I would love to continue working with you.
As a side note, I used to work at the Loomis Chaffee school in Windsor, CT and some of my orchestra students played in BPYO. You may still have Prairwaa Madden who is a violinist and great kid.
My very best to you. Please be well and safe.
BZ: It’s amazing how the kids in our youth orchestras light up all our lives. It’s because we take them seriously and give them the richest experiences we possibly can. For any of you who are privileged to conduct youth orchestras, remember that it will be one of the most life-enhancing experiences in their lives. Most professional orchestral players went into music because of a great experience in a youth orchestra.
If they become cynical later on, it’s because it didn’t end up quite as exciting and rewarding as their experience in their youth orchestra. I say “a cynical person is a passionate person who doesn’t want to be disappointed again”. Don’t get caught up like a fish on a hook, in what you perceive to be their cynicism, speak to their passion. It’s there! They didn’t go into music for the money!
(Kalena, I don’t think anyone will forget your smile.)
Dear Maestro Zander,
Thank you so much for the Friday night Beethoven session the other day; I enjoyed it immensely and learned many things!
Please allow me to write a little bit on how I know you; almost twenty years ago I was driving in heavy traffic in downtown Toronto and I heard a Mahler 5 on the radio. It was riveting because I had never heard so many details that that had escaped me previously even though I had played it many times at that point. I had to pull over and listen to the whole thing and was convinced I was listening to the greatest recording of Mahler 5 I had ever heard. I also figured it must be the new one with the Concertgebouw and Chailly because it had just come out and I had never heard it. Wrong, it was you!
Just a few years later, my wife and I were enjoying a nice lazy afternoon on the lake in North Hatley Quebec, when she got a phone call saying they needed a cellist immediately at the Auberge right there in town. I told her to forget it, until she asked if I had ever heard of a conductor named Zander and I told her absolutely to accept and we would be there in a few minutes! You had her play J.S. Bach 3rd Suite Bourees and you completely animated the crowd there with your message and it had a lasting effect on me too. We have both read the “Art of Possibility” and I still give everyone an A – excellent advice!! (I look forward to reading “Pathways to Possibility”
Since that time then I am a regular YouTube visitor to your master classes which I think are unsurpassed and entertaining and I try to emulate them as best I can.
The conducting I do is only within sectionals of lower strings and in lessons, but I came to realize a couple of years ago that I can actually do it and I was at least OK; I have never had a lesson but I think I communicate with whatever it is I am doing. Most importantly for me is not caring if I look or sound like a jackass. (I would rather not)
I tried to contact you some years ago because I wanted your opinion about the metronome markings for the recits of Beethoven 9; your excellent recording has since answered my questions there, but I still wrestle with the tempi throughout the work especially the Turkish March. I do believe the faster tempi are the correct ones for the most part but I still have trouble reconciling all of them.
I also have a question for you about how to train young bass and cello players for auditions where Beethoven 9 is an excerpt; what tempo should they present the recits/march/slow mvt. at? (fast/slow) I would love to have the occasion to hear what you have to say on this subject at some length and about auditions in general…
Lastly if you look me up you would see I have been principal bass of many orchestras (including Gergiev’s LSO) but if you wanted to know anymore about me I would love it if you gave a listen to this YouTube video I made of Bach Suite #6;
I would like to thank Simón for organizing these events and including me on this list and thank you again from the bottom of my heart for being the incredibly inspiring person you are!
PS I forgot to mention that both Nicky Schwartz and Peter Marck from the IPO are good friends of mine!
Principal Bass, Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra
Professor, Conservatoire de musique de Montréal
Visiting Artist, Royal Academy of Music, London, U.K.
BZ: Dear Joel,
I just listened to your 6th Suite! What a great artist you are! The moment I saw the video of course I recognized you. I remember you walking into that room in Quebec. Was it 15 years ago?
It is amazing that this lockdown is causing all sorts of connections that otherwise might have been lost, so thank you for writing such a beautiful letter. And thank you for telling me the story about your experience with the Philharmonia Mahler 5th!
I have dug up the recording you were listening to in the car. Here it is. (Shhh!)
I recently taught the B9 recitative in one of my Interpretation classes. I’ll see if I can find it. After we had worked on realizing Beethoven’s instructions I said to the young Bass player: “if you played it this way in an audition, you’d probably be turned down. On the other hand, who would want to play in an orchestra where the conductor was not open to Beethoven’s vision?” I meant it half facetiously, but only half. Many years ago I coached a cellist to play the passage Selon le charactere d’un Recitativ mais in tempo (i.e. Presto). He not only got the job, but the conductor got so excited that he moved him up into the associate principal position! The Beethoven tempi feel comfortable and “right” for me now, so I can’t imagine why anyone would want to falsify them. But I understand that not everybody feels that way. Gradually, I think these tempi are becoming more accepted amongst thoughtful musicians, and I predict it won’t be long before they are not only accepted but expected!
I look forward to having further discussions with you (and perhaps the whole group) about these matters on Zoom soon.
A film crew from Denmark has been following me for several years, making a documentary of my journey with the Ninth. They have filmed in Boston several times and they came to London to film all the rehearsals and recording sessions (5) with the Philharmonia. They are hoping to get the final shots for the documentary when the BPO plays the Ninth (Covid willing) in Boston (October 16th) and Carnegie Hall (October 21st).
Would you consider to come and join the Bass section? Nicky Schwartz (Concertgebouw and formerly 1st Bass in my youth orchestra) and Peter Marck (1st Bass in the israel Philharmonic) have both subbed with us.
One other thing……Anybody who plays the Bass the way you do in the Bach 6th suite is bound to be a convincing and effective conductor! Do you think Koussevitsky had to learn to conduct? I don’t think so.
The link to the Beethoven Bass recit. section with Aidan Phipps has just been posted:
Hello everyone, across the world who attended Maestro Zander’s class in the last weekend.
It’s taken me a good while to recover from the shock of being there- I’ve played for ‘Ben’ (as we call him in London) , many times in my career as a violinist and did not expect to find myself online, watching late at night, someone I know so well on the podium doing exactly the same stuff for those at home watching on tiny screens.
In short, I want to say to you, from my experience, the other side – the greatest thing about Ben on a podium is that he is himself and true to himself and the thing for which he strives and the best thing about the weekend, beyond my fascination with what he had to say about Beethoven, is that he was exactly the same in the different context.
This must surely be the absolute right way to be on a podium. Ben is a shining example to get rid of any inhibition up there- to live and embody one’s musical life there the same as everywhere.
God bless you and may live music making thrive again after this terrible but unintentional onslaught of nature upon It.
It is a joy to read this “white sheet”. You have been part of almost all my concerts and recordings with the Philharmonia, over the past 20 plus years. You are always there, outside second stand of the second violins, nailing every note and keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings. I feel I know you well, and yet we have never really spoken. Probably you were reluctant to step outside the “box” of being a member of a world-class orchestra, before you could share your feelings and observations with a guest conductor and I probably thought “the players prefer to stay separate!” Here’s another wonderful outcome of this zoom event. Maybe we will all communicate more with each other. Everyone is always so busy. The moment the rehearsal is over, we rush away. Now suddenly we have time. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could break down those barriers and share thoughts easily and naturally between colleagues. That is the design of the “white sheets” which I put on the stand of every musician in every orchestra that I conduct. It’s an invitation to share anything that could enhance the experience. Sadly not all that many professionals take up the offer – except in Israel! There I was always inundated with white sheets. I remember at my very first rehearsal (Mahler 5th) the first cellist Michael Haran wrote 5 (!) pages: “I love everything you are doing. Here are a few suggestions.“ They were great suggestions, so I took them all on board. Why wouldn’t I? The members of our great orchestras are great musicians and they and we conductors are equal partners. We just have different roles. I would have loved to have heard from you when I was over conducting the Philharmonia. I will make more of an effort to break through the wall in future and I will keep putting out those white sheets in the hope that more musicians will respond.
Incidentally the most moving white sheets often come from the members of the BPYO. These kids have no inhibitions and they write exquisitely from the depths of their curiosity and their passion. Here is one that I just received from a graduating senior who has been in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra since she was 14. I treasure it because it recognizes that one of my goals in life is to create a possibility-minded youth:
Dear Mr. Zander,
As we played the final chords of Berlioz for our close friends and family in Symphony Hall, it had not yet hit me that this may have been the last time I would play with BPYO. However, as we began Nimrod, I suddenly realized the position I was in. I have played this piece under you over a dozen times: In our many concerts at Symphony Hall, our 2017 South America Tour, across Europe, and eight times in Brazil this past summer. It has become a piece I associate with hesitant farewells. Every time we have performed Nimrod, we are saying goodbye, even though we so desperately want to stay. I had not expected to return to Nimrod last Thursday, nor was I prepared to say goodbye in this way. I remain hopeful that BPYO will meet again this year, but playing Nimrod one last time in Symphony Hall allowed me to say my hesitant goodbye to the orchestra, as well as to you.
I remember the first time I met you. Bruce had set up a meeting at your house, and I think I played the first movement of Bruch Concerto. I was beyond nervous; in Minnesota I had watched many of your Interpretation Classes (the first being one on Schubert Cello Quintet), and you had become some kind of phenomenon to me. Of course, ten minutes into our “lesson”, the nerves washed away and I spent an hour completely amazed by what I was learning from you. I walked away from that meeting completely overjoyed and determined to get into the BPYO the following year.
Saturday rehearsals quickly became the highlight of my week; I met my closest friends, challenged myself with the difficult but rewarding repertoire, and, most importantly, learned priceless musical and life lessons from you. The three tours I have been lucky enough to go on have allowed for moments that are by far my favorite memories. It was because of these lessons that I went from a shy 14-year-old violinist into the determined and passionate musician I strive to be today. You gave me the musical knowledge and everyday confidence I needed to grow as a musician, and I will forever be grateful to have known you and been able to learn from you these past four years.
If our concert in Symphony Hall was indeed my last with the BPYO and with you, I want you to know that the past four years with the orchestra have been the most musically and personally transformative years of my life. I will miss the joy and dedication that comes with Saturday rehearsals and June tours, and will take all that I have learned from you during this time to the rest of my musical career, as well as my personal life. I loved every minute of learning from you, and I am hopeful that I will work again with you in the near future.
All my love,
So, Thank you, Samantha! You have very valuable advice to your conducting colleagues. If there is one thing orchestra players cherish more than anything it is authenticity. What you are saying is that it is enough to bring to the podium exactly who you are!
Hello Simón and Maestro Zander,
First of all, thanks so much for this initiative during this hard time. I would like to present myself. I am originally from Costa Rica, started studying music when I was 14 years old, playing piano, violin, and viola. In a small town between the mountains, I started to conduct and that passion and love for music brought me five years ago to the U.S. Without speaking a word in English, I came a bit scared but decided to start this adventure. Right now, I am finishing my doctoral degree in orchestral conducting at the University of Georgia and I just know one thing… I am not done! I feel that I am just starting.
BZ: Beethoven said on his death-bed, as he realized his time had come: “Now….Now…. just when I am learning to compose!” We are never done!
One of the main objectives during my time studying conducting is to bring that human part, the connection, and the shiny eyes, as you maestro say to the podium. I have been a follower during many years of your masterclasses and several videos that you can find on YouTube and I always admired the humanistic part that you bring to the music. I was thrilled when I saw the opportunity to connect with you via Zoom and I didn’t hesitate to subscribe. I felt so fortunate to have that time sharing with you and just listening and observing how you irradiate love and enthusiasm with the music that you make. I still feel very identify with many things that you said as the connection with the conductors and that you just need 5 seconds to know one and feel if it is false or unnatural and your thoughts about the interpretation of Beethoven.
BZ: It was a member of the Philharmonia who said that about the 5 seconds, in answer to my question “How long does it take before you know that you are going to like working with a conductor?” “5 seconds and before he conducts”.
You are right when you said that you can’t teach conducting. I always feel that it is so personal and it comes from the inside. As I mention before, I am still in that search for human connection through music, I still get unhappy when I see conductor that don’t know or forget that they have people in front of them and that they don’t care about this charismatic connection, they forget the power of the smile and the feeling that all the players are enjoying and giving 110%.
BZ: Jean, you have put your finger on an essential element of conducting, perhaps THE essential element. By coincidence, last night I was watching a video from my interpretation class. It deals exactly with this issue head on. Would you watch it?
It shows a wonderful young cellist transforming her relationship to the audience and therefore to the world.
I hope I can meet you in person in the future and absorb and share with you the music-making but more important the love for people and for our craft. I know it was hard to teach using Zoom and with such a short time, I wish it could go forever but I think you all did a great job trying out this platform and also bringing together many conductors from around the world.
Thank you. It is very exciting.
I wish you the best during this time and once again, thanks for sharing with us your knowledge and passion.
Graduate Student Orchestral Conducting
Hugh Hodgson School of Music
University of Georgia
In these times, so many can’t be near their teachers (“maestros” in Spanish). But we feel so blessed to have had those precious hours with you. Originally we had planned to take the drive up from NJ to Boston to be at your interpretation classes so thank you so much for doing this because we left your class, this virtual class, truly inspired, similar to how we felt last year after leaving your presence.
We wrote a poem:
“Mi maestro“, my teacher
Inspirational, humble and kind
A model for us
Teaching us that the only thing
we can control
is who we are being.
Because who we are being
affects those around us
“Mi maestro“ smiles, we smile…
then others smile around us.
Like gentle ripples
on the surface of the lake.
and a willingness to share.
To be generous
To be of service
“What can I do for you?”
Emanate a spirit of optimism
Have reverence for just being
in this beautiful world.
Always find your path for victory.
One buttock playing means …
one buttock living.
Allow the music of the spheres
to come to you.
Then bring it back out in return.
And when we play,
oh when we play,
we must go to another place
we have never been to before.
Then take those around us
to this place.
Bliss, grief, joy, defiance, sense of awe.
Have the courage to go
to the extremes
of such experiences.
Be brave and expand!!!
Open your hearts, mind, and soul!
because the rewards are tremendous!
And keep those eyes shining.
For we are truly lucky
members of the healing profession
Con mucho amor,
Asela Zamorano and Alex
BZ: Thank you both for this beautiful poem, which manages to capture the essence of the class! Alex is 13 and drove up with his mother from New Jersey last year, setting off at 6 a.m. to be in time for the Interpretation class at 10. He sat totally absorbed in the front row for 2 hours and then sat studying the scores all the way through the 4 hour rehearsal of the youth orchestra in the afternoon. Then they drove the 5 hours back to New Jersey! Who would a mother have to be to be that supportive of a 13 year old? Meet Asela! I never forget that behind each gifted and accomplished kid there is an outrageously devoted (usually) mother.
BZ: An interesting observation from a Leadership Coach who observed our class:
Dear Maestro Zander,
Here goes my White Sheet. Thank you for allowing me to join as a non-conductor!
Long lost form
Even if I don’t
If I will or if I won’t
Lest I forget
I own this
I am at the heft
As I poor out
My soul bare
No caution left
No hesitance to spare
Putting it all to the test.
As you state it: it lights up my eyes.
And I love how empathic and ‘real’ you are with the people you teach, or coach. You don’t shy away from pointing to very personal elements they could be working on.
In a way, as a leadership coach (I’m an organisation pychologist) I try to do the same things you do. Reconnecting people with their inner beings, allowing what is to flow through them.
The workshop reconnected me with my own soul, being, love for life. Which will make it far easier to continue my quest to allow people to connect To the world around them.
Thank you for inspiring the world. If I may, I will try to ‘pay it forward’ as much as I can.
Sierdjan Westen: Facilitator / Coach / Interventionist
Polluxstraat 45 | 1223 GA | Hilversum | The Netherlands
firstname.lastname@example.org | +31 6 188 196 18
Dear Benjamin Zander!
My Name ist Christian Schubert, I am a very young (18 years) Conducter (well, perhabs about to become one) from Bremen in Germany (sorry, my English!).
First of all, I am a big fan of your incredibly informative Masterclasses, as of your recording of the 9th! I love the Tempi!!
Now I stumbled upon your masterclass with a young pianist on the 1st mvt. of the 14th Beethoven Sonata. I, again, like your Idea, of the melody in the bass quite a lot, however, when I saw the Metronome marking quarter = 60 on the score, I started some research, and found the following Table, were all of these quite close people to Beethoven apperantly suggest almost the same (slow) Tempo. So I came to doubt your interesting Idea. Is there any explanation?
Please don’t get this wrong, I am not trying to offend you for this Idea, I would just love to know, whether this might be a reliable evidence to know more about this piece, and Beethoven’s Idea behind it.
Thank you so much!
The attached file is from the 2nd Volume of Stewart Gordon Edition of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas:
I could never be offended by such a question, especially from someone called Schubert! On the contrary! After all, life is an enquiry and then you die.
The matter of the metronome marks is endlessly fascinating. So let’s continue the enquiry!
To begin with it is important to know for which pieces Beethoven gave metronome marks, and which were added by other people.
The only piano sonata that has Beethoven’s own MM is the Hammerklavier op 106. The symphonies and the quartets, plus the septet and a few songs also have Beethoven’s own metronome marks, That’s it. Everything else is conjecture. So, of course, none of the metronome marks in your chart are Beethoven’s. But that doesn’t mean they are of no interest. Czerny’s are always interesting since he studied with Beethoven and possibly heard him playing this sonata. Schnabel is interesting because he is one of the most responsible and serious interpreters of the German classics. He is one of our teachers (study his edition of the piano sonatas for clarity about heavy/light, and bar structure).
The slow movement of B9 is MM= 60, which is the same as Czerny’s 2nd listing MM for op 27/2 (The Moonlight) (and, incidentally also the slow movement String Quartet op 59 no 2 – coincidence?). The Italian marking for all three is almost identical: Adagio molto e cantabile for the Ninth Symphony and Adagio sostenuto for the sonata. So MM = 30 would be fine for op 27/2. However, the fact that op 27/2 is marked in cut time (i.e. two impulses to the bar rather than 4) might suggest a slightly more moving tempo, so that the feeling of 2 can be readily perceived. by the listener. Schnabel’s MM = 63 is better, because we can naturally feel the 2. Barenboim at MM = 44, (twenty notches slower!) is in a different category and thereforen in no sense in 2. Barenboim is ignoring Beethoven’s instruction. In my rendition (I wouldn’t call it a performance), I was drawn to the designation quasi una fantasia – a little faster (at MM = 69) and it readily becomes freer, like a fantasy. That is a matter of judgement.
it liberates the triplets.
(It is interesting that some editors have actually changed the meter of the Moonlight Sonata to 4/4 in the printed score not believing Beethoven’s cut time, thereby distorting its “meaning”.)
I meant to ask Beethoven about this when I met him, but it slipped my mind.
And then he was gone and I missed the chance.
The subject needs more time than I have right now, but I will return to it.
Here is the Discussion Disc that accompanies my recording of B5 in which I explain and try to play the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata. Please ignore my shortcomings as a pianist!
Dear Simón and Maestro Zander,
I wanted to thank you both for putting together this wonderful masterclass. It was such a fantastic experience, and I learned a lot from it. Thank you for keeping me inspired and motivated in such an uncertain time.
I do have two questions for you:
In regards to the idea of interpreting strong and weak bars in Beethoven’s music, what other composers use this same method? This is a convention limited to the classical era or other musical periods as well?
Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my questions
Thank you again for your time and for everything. I hope to have the opportunity to work with both of you in the near future.
Conductor – Composer – Educator
BZ: Tim, this is a huge subject, but let’s get started.
Sing: THREE BLIND MICE
You probably will give an emphasis to THREE and then fall away; and then another one on SEE how they run
That is heavy/light. It is natural because the music falls.
Now march round the room and say:
LEFT, LEFT, LEFT, RIGHT LEFT
That is heavy/light. Try marching and make both feet equally strong. That isn’t marching, that is stamping.
Now speak the words of the Ode to Joy:
FREUDE SCHOENER GÖTTERFUNKEN TOCHTER AUS ELYSIUM
Heavy/light is built into the Germanic languages.
Start singing it in 4/4 with emphasis on beat 1 and 3. Then, instead of emphasizing every other note, progressively reduce the impulses and sing it in a faster tempo. Eventually you will realize that you have created a 4 bar phrase, instead of a 4 beat bar. They function the same way.
I realize this needs another Zoom class on the organization (and disorganization) of the 4 bar phrase. I am looking forward! We’ll start with ROW, ROW ROW YOUR BOAT. Watch this space.
White Sheet Ben Weishaupt (who was a member of the Artuba class):
Dear Mr. Zander,
I loved the session Friday! So good to be with such a big group together to celebrate our beautiful ‘job’ even in these uncertain times! All your beautiful anecdotes, eventhough it’s not the first time I hear them, still were as inspiring as always! I even came back the next day to the livestream, to hear it once more and see how it every time can be different! Also watching the other colleagues conduct, was again very interesting to learn from. Having said that, and here it comes…. I would have wanted to see more of that latter and dig into the tempi of Beethoven! I know this was the first session and maybe was kind of like an introduction, but I can’t wait to have more sessions digging deeper into the subjects!
Warm hugs from the Netherlands!
BZ: I agree that a celebration of our “job” is in order during this horrible hiatus. Clearly there is a request for us to continue with the Zoom meetings.
I was about to send this off, when I received this beautiful communication:
Dear Benjamin, (I would really love to write Maestro but you’ve instructed us otherwise)
BZ: I actually love the term Maestro, if it is used in the true sense of “teacher”. I feel honored to be a teacher. It is a sacred task.
My students in Boston all call me Mr. Zander (even sometimes long after they are no longer students); grown-up orchestra players usually Ben. That is good because of the importance of “flattening the curve” when it comes to hierarchy.
My new community of Zoom conductors can choose whatever feels natural and appropriate.
I would like to share with you two separate thoughts I had regarding our zoom masterclass.
The first one is about the concept of conducting without having musicians responding to your movements.
Watching the different conductors in the class conveying their interpretation with no immediate musical feedback was very eye-opening for me. It made me realize how much one can learn and judge about a conductor just by watching him on mute. As a cellist I could instantly relate to your story about the “Charades” game you played with your first wife and I could easily see in my mind the exact pose any cellist would assume before the Schumann concerto or the Haydn. It also reminded me of a game I once played with my cello professor Micha Haran, where he asked me to conduct something without telling him what it was and without singing and to my amazement he very quickly recognized both Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Brahms’ violin concerto. This concept brought me to wonder whether we could consider adding this platform as an alternative pre-screening video audition to allow talented aspiring conductors, who are not fortunate enough to have easy access to an orchestra, the opportunity to compete against those who are. If conducting is first and foremost about knowing the score to it’s core and knowing exactly what you want and how to convey it, wouldn’t it be interesting to test the ability of an aspiring conductor to convey under the extreme terms of having only his imagination and internal hearing to rely on? Furthermore, wouldn’t it level the plain field between countries and populations that have more limited resources?
BZ: This is brilliant. Of course it should be instituted immediately.
The first time I met the great conducting teacher Gustav Meier, we were sitting in the waiting room at the Chicago airport. He asked me to conduct. Just like that. Sitting in a chair, I conducted some Beethoven, a phrase or two of Brahms – small gestures, like a conversation. That was enough. We became close colleagues and fast friends. When I arrived in the Pensione in Florence, as a 15 year old beginning my studies with Gaspar Cassadó, before even going to my room, I had to take out my cello and play
to the staff. In reply, the head waiter sang a Donizetti aria and his wife, the chamber maid, sang, I seem to remember, something from the Barber of Seville! Maybe, in this Covid age, as hand-shaking disappears, perhaps it will be replaced with conducting!
Imagine my amusement (and amazement) when you told the story of Micha Haran, since an hour ago I had written a story about him in answer to another member of the group! It is a great tribute to both of you that he was able to recognize the Brahms violin concerto and not be confused with the second symphony! What a Mensch he is!
Second thought I had was regarding your mention of optimism and leadership in harsh times and the conductor’s role as the orchestra’s spiritual leader. For that I have a very heart worming story that happened to me last November and that has changed the very essence of how I look at the meaning of being a conductor and what sort of leader I aspire to become.
A year ago I had a crazy idea. I decided to organize a tribute concert to my parents who were both at a very advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. A concert seemed to me as the best way to express my appreciation and admiration to them, to display my father’s amazing work as a comedian and filmmaker and to show to my mother how much impact she has had on her colleagues from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra by inviting them to participate. The concert mostly chamber music but there was one piece that combined all the players together into a big ensemble- the Mahler 4th Finale.
The reason I am telling you about this concert is that throughout the planing I was all the time concerned with not imposing too much on the already extremely busy musicians. To me it seemed as though everyone was working only for my parents’ sake, for their happiness and I didn’t realize the incredible affect the concert would eventually have on them as well.
A day after the concert one of the violinists called to thank me, saying that she had never in her life experienced such a concert in which every note was played out of pure love. That the atmosphere in the hall was so moving and beautifully inspiring. The pianist wrote to me quoting the clarinetist “thank you Shiri for a lesson about love”. Their reaction was extremely inspiring and I started to wonder- Could all concerts be filled with such love? and how can I as a conductor lead towards such an important goal?
A month and a half after the concert my mother passed away and I suddenly realized the amazing gift I had given her friends. I had given them a chance to reconnect with her after so many years of separation and to say goodbye. This Idea gave me a lot of comfort.
Thank you for listening to my thoughts now and also 18 years ago when my dear Mother Ruthy the double-bassist introduced me as her young daughter aspiring to become a conductor. I vividly remember your enthusiasm and encouragement. Thank you.
All the best,
Shiri (Amir) Meerson
BZ: Shiri, I find this story extremely moving. What makes it so compelling is THAT YOU ARE NOT AT ALL ABSORBED WITH YOURSELF IN THE ACTIONS YOU DESCRIBE. YOUR STORY IS AN EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE ACTING PURELY AS A CONTRIBUTION. We MUSICIANS are fortunate IN THAT WE DWELL IN AN environment THAT SUPPORTS US TO BECOME CONTRIBUTORS JUST AS water GIVES LIFE TO fish and air SUPPORTS FLIGHT FOR BIRDS.