“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

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Bach: Cello Suite no. 2 - Prelude

Interpretation Class
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Amanda Chi (cello)

Click here for the score of the prelude.

‘You can’t disappear inside yourself to be a leader; you have to give yourself away.’

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Very beautiful. Now you know why I chose to be the leader of the are cellos of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Amanda is at the end of her training, not at the beginning of it. Most of the people in the youth orchestra, the youngest are 12 and they go up through 21, and the majority of them are in high school or early on in college. Amanda is joining us as the section leader for the year, and what you can see is a very accomplished artist. Somebody who, A, is a wonderful cellist, that there’s no question about. You know, that’s almost a given nowadays, that people nowadays that this age of their career play their instruments superbly well. It’s virtually universal, not everybody as well as you, but the level has gone sky high, and also a person who plays with great musical understanding and sensitivity, awareness, character, all of that.

Ben Zander: It’s beautiful, beautiful playing, and one possible reaction for me is to say, thank you very much, Amanda, let’s hear the next person because, in a sense, your playing, and your performance is ready to go. It’s fully-fledged, so what can we do discuss? Well, let me tell you what I found as I was listening. I started off because I don’t know you are playing, so I started off by saying what a beautiful cellist, and that took me quite a while. I was just fascinated by your cello playing. Then by your musicianship and by your control, and by the beautiful way you play and then I got lost and I found myself lost. I found myself confused, I didn’t know where I was in the geography of the piece. Now, one of the things you are going to have to do when you are leading the 16 cellos of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, is to be aware not only of the music and of your playing but also of the people that you are leading.

Ben Zander: What I would like to do with you is to go through and see really what’s happening here in the music, so we can make it absolutely clear. One of the habits you have which is a very common habit in musicians is you love high notes and you tend to go for the high notes. If the notes are long, you particularly go for them. But it isn’t necessarily what [Bach 00:06:21] is bringing out. What he’s doing at the beginning is, he’s playing a D and then a bar late he goes to a C-sharp, and then he goes back to the D. In other words, he plays D and then C-sharp, and then back to D. Would you just do that? Play the D and then the C-sharp, and then the D.

Ben Zander: That’s the structure of the first four bars, right? Now the first bar is all about D minor, a chord of D minor. Could you play the first bar? That’s D minor. Now he goes to the C-sharp, and the next two bars are all about the C-sharp, and then he goes back to the D, so do from the beginning.

Ben Zander: Just the D, to the D. What he’s doing, is he’s establishing that it’s in D major. What he does with that is he says, “I’m going to play a D minor chord. D minor and then I’m going to repeat it, and then back to D.” You see, how would it be infused? Move your chair so that we could Sit where I talk like this. Okay, do you get it? The D minor and then C sharp, and then to, and then. So many composers love to establish the tonality of a piece before they go, and everybody says, “Oh, C minor or flat.” “Oh, it’s in C minor.” Or they go, and they say, “Oh, it’s a D-flat major.” Very common. He’s saying D minor. Just do that from the beginning. 

Ben Zander: Right, we’ve done it. Everybody gets it, right? If you got the D minor, you could nod your head and say, “Yes, I followed that.” Your job is to teach them what’s happening in the piece. I would be very careful and reluctant to emphasize any note that is not structural. Because if you do, that’s a very romantic thing to do, but it’s nothing to do with Bach’s structure, right? Your job is to say to the audience, you want to know this piece? Here we go.

Ben Zander: Do it from the beginning. There it is. Did you get that, you followed her? Okay, great. Now let’s see what happens next. The D, where does it go? Right to the B-flat. That’s it. Now what happens now with the B-flat, play it from the B-flat. Aha, could you be a little less enamored of the high D, which you love, because you love high notes and think about. To help the ear of the audience to hear the B-flat goes to A, so try it from B-flat. Good, and if you are a cello section leader and these are your section, you might want to use a little bit more body language, eyes, head in order to teach people in the section.

Ben Zander: Could you do a B-flat? Could you play the B-flat so that everybody falls in love with that note? Aha, do you notice when you were playing before you had your eyes closed? A lot of people do that. That’s because they’re playing for themselves. But when you’re a section leader, you can’t be When you’ve got an audience and you are training them in how to listen, keep your eyes open, but that was beautiful. Make the B-flat so beautiful that we care about the journey to the A, and don’t get interrupted at all on the way. B-flat.

Ben Zander: Oh, was that beautiful.? Did everybody follow that? You know the only thing missing is a sense of joy because you’re not only playing and teaching, you also say, “Look how beautiful this is.” All right, and that has to be in your body too, okay. One last time and this is the last time you’ll ever do it in your life so make it really special. If I were you, I’d be thinking. Oh, beautiful. Do you notice you got stuck on the E?

Amanda: Mm-hmm 

Ben Zander: Because that’s the first piece for Barb, but in this music, it doesn’t matter. What happens next Now we got to G, we’ve got D. What are we expecting? F, right. But he doesn’t do that, because is a little too soon, so he does this. Then he goes back up, and then to F, all right. If you can play the G as if you are about to go to the F, but then you change your mind and go back up. This is great, one more time. Take me on a ride, B-flat. D and then it goes to F, we got that. Isn’t that amazing how beautiful that is? We just try once again from the G, just go from the G here. G, let me just show you here. Yeah, G. So AG and then up to A. A and Bach help you by going AB-flat to help you, right?

Amanda: Mm-hmm

Ben Zander: So find it again. G, and then to an F. That’s it, we’ve done it. The first part of the journey is now complete. We’ve gone from D to F, right 12 bars of music. Should we try from the beginning? And think of taking them with you, so they need all of you. They need your playing, your intelligence, your body language, and your joy.

Amanda: Okay.

Ben Zander: Here we go. Goes to an F, and I think a little applause is in order. Now the beauty of that is, not only did you play well, but they followed the journey. They followed the story of the music. The beauty of that is, Bach didn’t need to write piano, crescendo 40, because it’s built into the music. Isn’t that fascinating?

Amanda: Yeah.

Ben Zander: He’s looking for an Amanda to bring it to full light. Okay, now here we go. F, what happens to the F? 

Ben Zander: Here’s the F, right? We start on F, this is bar 13. Now we’re waiting, what happens to the F?

Ben Zander: Aha, so tell yourself and then tell them, F. Yeah, you see what a difference that makes? Because that guy, you see where the glasses there, he didn’t get it the first time, but he got this, is that right? You got I saw it on your face. You said, “Oh yeah, that’s right the F.” That’s how we have to play, we have to take him with us. It’s not enough for us to play for ourselves. Ah, I’m so beautiful and my cello is so gorgeous, and I practice and I play so in tune. No, it’s about Bach’s music right, so here we go F. No, it’s not about the D because the F-sharp has to go to G, exactly. So where is the G? Here, hidden away. It’s not on a long note, it’s in that funny place. Isn’t that right? F. G-sharp.

Ben Zander: Where’s the G-sharp? A, B, and then it goes to C, and now to D. Now we’ve reached, wow. F, F-sharp, G, G-sharp, A, B, C, D, E, we’ve arrived. Now what we’ve arrived at, and this is very important, because there are people in this room who happen to study music. But let me tell you one very fundamental thing. In classical music, in the music of this era, it is really about one thing, tonic, dominant, tonic. That’s all it is. All these pieces start on the tonic, they go to the dominant, and then they come back to the tonic. It’s universal. Now the dominant, this is the dominant of D minor. D to A is tonic dominant. The dominant of A is E.

Ben Zander: Once we get to the E, we’re on the way to A in this long journey. The E arrival has to be very arrival. This is why Bach makes it this big scale, going up to it. Should we try that? From the F again, F And if you can take us on the journey, and every time you reach an important note, just help the audience. Take this. Imagine he’s a cow with a ring in his nose, and you’re just taking him along on the journey. It would help enormously if you looked at him, so here, well thought, here we go. You lost the G, didn’t you?

Amanda: Yeah.

Ben Zander: You did great. You know, when we make a mistake, we say, “How fascinating.” Then we go, well one more time. and now he goes to C, and now he goes to D, and then he. And we’ve reached D, did you follow it? Great. Isn’t it a relief? It’s so wonderful, and you know where you are in life I meant in music. Because in a sense, you’re going on a journey. Now we’ve reached the E and something very funny happens here, because he’s saying to himself, it’s a little bit too early to get to A, isn’t that right? He gets lost, and you should be lost. Look, he goes So from here, E. Then to A, D, how about C? Well, we could try C-sharp, G-sharp. Okay, this is a good time to get to A, but it’s an A minor, he’s looking for an A major, right? Now he’s got to go on another journey, and here he goes. Let’s just do that once, play getting lost.

Ben Zander: Aha, A minor now. F-sharp, to G, to A, to B-flat, to C-sharp, to D, we’re getting there. To F, G, and then to A. But it isn’t a C-sharp, it’s A. A is at the bottom, isn’t that? What it is this, C, so it’s the whole chord. Isn’t that amazing, and here’s something really interesting. There was a great architect who was going to come, he didn’t come today. Did he come today? No, he’s not here, yep. He was going to come because I said, this is architecture. D at the beginning, F bar 13, and A bar 30 in the middle of the piece so D, F, A.

Ben Zander: We’re building up to a great moment here. All right, so we just try one more time from the E to get lost. What you do when I say get lost, means you are looking for a destination. A minor, now you shh. Yeah, you have to start soft here because you know why. Because you’re going to be at F-sharp, G, A to this moment. Okay, so one more time. To G, A, to A, F-sharp, to . Here we go. Bravo, a little applause, please. Good. You know, what they’re expressing is actually gratitude for clarity.

Amanda: Right.

Ben Zander: They’re not saying bravo well done. Amanda, you’re a wonderful cellist, you’re going to have a great career, wish you well. Not at all, it’s not about you. It’s about them. You help them to go on a journey, and they said, “Thank you.” It’s like having a fantastic guide when you’re going through the Uffizi Gallery, people telling you what happens. You see, you understand? That’s your job. Now we’ve got to the A, now something amazing happens. This is one of the great discoveries, one of the great moments in all of Bach’s music, and I’ll tell you what happens here. I want you to find As, play, and every time you get to an A tell me A. Once again starts on A. The next day is actually here, isn’t it? Hey, this is not a new way. A, to A, really there.

Ben Zander: I agree with whoever wrote tension there, except that it’s still going to A. It’s not going to the G-sharp, it’s going to A. it goes to A. to A. . Then the whole thing is over A, isn’t that amazing thing? I mean, it’s like how could he do something like that? When it gets minor which he does here, it’s not arriving at D minor, it’s passing through D minor, you get that. It’s not saying, “Oh, we’ve arrived in D minor.” No, that’s going to come much later. He doesn’t want to arrive in D minor. Here it’s much too early, but he passes through. Would you do from here one more time, and I’m going to show you what happens when I hold that A, and you join it every time you get near it. Can you fall less in love with the G-sharp and be more in love with the A? Still A, D. Still A. Still A, now. Big. A little applause, please.

Ben Zander: Now I have no idea what Bach would’ve expected you to do around the middle. But since that A is so tense and so inevitable in its motion, I wouldn’t come back. I would keep it going. So from this A, which is really like a 40 piano, it’s in the middle of the 30th bar of a 60 bar piece. I wish the architects in the room will be satisfied with that. There’s a 12 bar arc, then a 36 bar arc and we’ll talk about the end in a minute. We’re in the middle of the middle bar of the piece, it’s a great moment and I would make it a 40 piano and then start from that day. Let’s build it one more time, and if you can take these people on a journey and it cannot be too much here this build up. . Should we try it one more time from here? A. I’d love you to feel the tension of the G-sharp going to yeah, there we go. Do you see the difference? He got it, isn’t that exciting? He’s not a musician, you understand. He’s just a regular human being, right? Isn’t that exciting?

Amanda: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Good. All right, here we go. One more, once again, A, all about A. to A. Yes, wow. Now, what happens next? Now, this is Up until now, it is uncontroversial. Now I’m going to suggest to you something that may be very controversial. But there’s a long-standing habit, tradition, which is that after that big chord, it starts softly. The person who started that was, Khazal started everything. He discovered these pieces in a music shop in the exercise department. Did you know that in the studies? He thought there were studies. They were put in the studies, they didn’t realize it was music, and he worked on it for 12 years before he performed one of them. Because he was so mystified by them, isn’t that a fascinating thing?

Ben Zander: He started this tradition of playing very soft for this next passage, and it’s very beautiful. Particularly since the B-flat on the D string is so tender. But in strictly musical terms, it doesn’t resolve yet. This chord of A major, A dominance, hasn’t been resolved yet. , it goes on. Should we try that? I’m not saying you must do that, I’m just suggesting you look at that possibility. So should we? After the chord, and imagine the chord in a cathedral, with the resonance of seven seconds going to the back of the cathedral and fillings there, would you do that? Yeah, don’t make it diminuendo, because to the back of the Yes, now go on. Now that chord is the same as that chord, isn’t it?

Ben Zander: It’s just a repeat, do this and now do this, and now. That’s the resolution. That D, that’s the first time that A, which started in the middle of bar 30, will now finally get to the beginning. 50 to bar 55, right? Could you just try that, and then go on and keep the tension all the way till that court and then take all the time in the world, so that the gentleman in the front row feels, “Ah, we’re home.” Can you for that? Oh, look at the smile on her face. Look, oh she’s saying, “Oh, we’re home.” With that smile, she’s saying, “Thank you. Thank you, Amanda, for taking me on that journey.” Now let’s see what happens at the end, final coda, D, E, F, G. What’s missing? A. So in the end, we have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, actually, from the beginning of this coda, we have 12 bars just as we had 12 bars at the beginning. Isn’t that amazing?

Amanda: Yeah.

Ben Zander: That means that since you’ve built to the climax in the middle of the piece and for the A, you are going to end it piano, because you can’t end it 40 after you’ve done that. If you are going to do this, what I’m suggesting, then you’re going to want it, and that’s why he put those chords there at the end, to really create a cadence, a sense of peace so that you arrive at the end.

Amanda: Okay.

Ben Zander: Now, let’s do it from the beginning all the way through. We just have time, it’s going to be fantastic, but I want you to come a little closer to the audience. I’m going to help you, because I’ve now discovered that you are not only a wonderful cellist and a great musician, you are also fantastically quick with your brain, which is great. But to take all this in and do it would be expecting an enormousness, so I’m going to be your conductor. But you are the section leader and this is your section.

Amanda: Right.

Ben Zander: All right, so I can go to help you. But you are responsible that every single person Do you see that little fellow? He’s six. Do you see the little one? You put up your hand if you are six? Put up Yes, that one there. Can you imagine that if you do it really convincingly, he’s actually going to be following. And this gentleman is like a cow with a ring in his nose, you’re going to pull him along through the piece, and I’m going to help. I’m just going to be the conductor on the side, okay. Here we go, and don’t play too slow because if you play the opening too slow, when you get to it’ll suddenly be And you’ve moved it faster because nobody can play that as slow as they play the opening. Right great, here we go. Before you be.. Okay, here we go.

Ben Zander: Now, the next stage is for you to do yourself without me obviously. You can’t do that with an orchestra because there are too many people. But my dream section leader is somebody who’s conducting the 16 people behind them, and connecting with the viola, and connecting with the wins, and connecting which takes enormous amount of energy. Leadership is a huge responsibility. It gives energy and it also provides energy. You can’t disappear inside yourself to be a leader, you have to give yourself away. What I’ve done here, is I’ve written this out and I’ve got copies for anybody who’s interested in picking it up. I’ve done a visual and analysis of that, of everything that we discuss. We don’t need to play the whole piece but tell me the story. Do you see how that D goes to D, and then to B-flat? And then to A, and then to G, and then Just do the beginning and I’m not going to anything, and you’re not going to use any extraneous energy, only telling the story of the music.

Ben Zander: Now in Vagner, the story is about the gods and about and about all the characters. In Verdi, it’s about the characters, and in Bach, it’s about the notes, the drama, the story is about what happens to the notes. You know, what he wrote at the end of every piece. Do you know what words he wrote when he finished the piece? For the glory of God.

It’s not about you, it’s not about them, it’s about something much bigger, and that’s the thing. I’d like you to begin now, and use all enormous intelligence, as well as everything you’ve gained as a cellist and a musician to reveal the clarity of that. One thing I want to say before you begin, be careful not to be uneven with the 16th. Be very even, until you want to take time to share about a particular note, and then you’ll take time.

Amanda: Okay.

Ben Zander: Can I just stop you a moment? I feel it’s rushed, not fast, rushed. I feel. Tempo is lovely, just be peaceful. And maybe the audience might want to close their eyes, because now they don’t need to look at her anymore. You are not going to close your eyes, you are going to take them through it. But just that calm, very, very calm, noble, quiet until we build to the climax.

Ben Zander: Bravo. I now know, we’re going to have a wonderful time working together because your brain was working all the time. If I had a white sheet, in the orchestra, every member of the orchestra has a white sheet on which they can write. I had several white sheet points I would make to you, like the D minor at the end, you didn’t really resolve it enough. He didn’t feel calm enough, do you remember that feeling you had when he did, you didn’t have that feeling doing the performance, right? So you could write, you didn’t take enough time for the resolution of the D minor, many things like that. But you’re doing it for the first time, it’s just the first hour. Now you’re going to go home and work. Now you know the piece, you stand the structure, you can work for hours and days and weeks and months and years to bring into fulfillment, but that’s the structure. Beautiful, you’re a wonderful musician. I’m so happy we’re going to work together and this afternoon is going to be the first rehearsal. She’s going to be leading the cello section in mala one.

Amanda: Yeah.

Brodhax
'This man snatches you out of your comfort zone and throws you onto the passion podium where the light shines brightest.'
Daniel Brooks
'So many comments made by Zander can be said about writing, speaking or any creative force. He explains the music leads to a certain note and in so doing, reaching that note becomes being the theme of the music. It gave me a new insight into classical music, something I never knew. He asks the musician to de-emphasize high notes, the ones she prefers. In doing it, each note and key tells the story of the music, not the preference of the musician. The music blossomed before my eyes and along the way, it becomes simplified. Achieving simplicity, who'd have thought it would help the music tell a story? Zander showed her, and us, how the journey is the objective. Bach keeps us in suspense, as a great writer would, until the right moment. Thank you, Benjamin Zander. Classical music now has a new meaning to me.'
MusicaAngela
'This is so inspiring! Even though I just put my cello away for the day, I'm longing to get it out again and practice.'
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