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


Bach: Prelude, Fugue and Allegro - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Jonas Kublickas (guitar)

“Always do something new; even if you’re doing the same thing, make it new. Otherwise, you’re just repeating.”

— Benjamin Zander


Ben Zander: Isn’t it astonishing that you can take a group of people who’ve walked in off the street randomly or driven a long distance, and in a matter of seconds, you can change their entire mood; Their sense of what it is to be alive, just by a few notes of Bach. Bach can do that.

Casals, the great Spanish cellist, began every morning of his life, every morning of his life, without fail, sitting at the piano playing Bach. That’s how he began. Some people say a prayer, some people go to the gym, and he plays Bach. It’s a great way of starting the day.

You’re a wonderful musician, and it’s a real pleasure to listen to you, and I’ve almost nothing to say to you other than what a pleasure it is to hear you play—very thoughtful playing. I would recommend one thing, and I don’t care how long it takes you, tune carefully. This is a real wake-up call for you because it’s a great privilege to have these extraordinary people here. They’ve come a long way to hear you. They got here early, you know. The harpist of the Boston Philharmonic arrives one hour before every rehearsal. It’s about attitude. So, eliminate that from your life for the rest of your life. Never get into a playing position when your instrument is out of tune. Whatever it takes.

The genius of Bach’s music is that it is played on one instrument. But there are many instruments present, and a cellist is playing, and you don’t play the bass as if you were an individual bass player or cello player with that kind of attention and presence and specialness.

So that’s one thing and the other thing is it’s a plucked instrument. The danger is that it becomes vertical. You know that, and you’re making lines. But if you were playing the flute, it would be easier to think of those two things. I attended some rehearsals of Celibidache. Who knows the name, Celibidache? Very few people. Wow.

Celibidache was one of the greatest conductors the world had ever had, and from Romania, and he was the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic after the war when Furtwängler was no longer. He became the conductor, and he’s very great. He demanded enormous amounts of rehearsal, scandalous amounts of rehearsal. Jealous-making amounts. And I heard him tune the London Symphony Orchestra. He spent 15 minutes tuning the bass section, 15 minutes. Imagine what that cost. He went on and on and on, and they complained bitterly. But then, they tell me – the colleagues – they said, “we’ve never sounded this well in-tune.”

Alright, imagine, if you will, you’re Yo-Yo Ma. For a brief moment, just play that note as Yo-yo plays it. It can be more beautiful; it doesn’t need to be loud. It’s launching. It’s like the launching of a journey or the pillar for a building, a huge arc. It will go away from here right to the end of the piece. Oh, that’s better.

Imagine you wanted to sell your guitar, and sell it for more than you paid for it, more than it was worth. And you depend on that note. Just right. Yes, I’ll give you a little extra. Yeah, extra. Still more. That’s coming. Look, you see! Oh, she really went, oh! That’s your job. It’s to make that face come alive. It’s not difficult with this particular face. Right, now, the secret for the flute is to make this one line. And where is it going? It’s going there, what are you. That’s the purpose of this line. It’s to get back to that bass load. Yes, it goes each time to D and then back to D and then back to D.

By now, the audience is saying, “Does he have any other note?” Yes, I have this D, and then, I’m going to go to the C sharp. That’s going to be a real event. But it’s all about the bass note. Make each note come alive. You go. That’s an important one because that’s dominant. So all of that is moving to the dominant. Now we’re beginning to have a feel of the shape. Isn’t that exciting? It’s really beautiful.

So let’s try it again. Don’t take too much time. Only take as much time as the music calls for. Don’t put your own timing. Find out the timing of the music. Do you see what I mean? In other words, you took a lot of time for this D bit, but it’s just another D. The C sharp, on the other hand, is a surprise. So whenever you’re surprised by the music, either because of the harmony or the dynamics or something, then you take time. Otherwise, move on. Here we go. Yeah, when you’re playing these notes. Play like a cellist. It’s beautiful.

You feel the notes less individually. No breaking line. That’s right, keep the line. Good. If you could think in your mind D to C to B, that will give you a longer line. Play to G sharp to C, and the result is shocking. It’s shocking because you expected B natural there. You have to create some real surprise, though, because we were all shocked by that. Bach was shocked himself! He couldn’t believe it. “Did I really write that!?”

Now, okay, you’re doing great. You’re following the line beautifully. I would suggest that, just before it, take a little time in these three eighth notes. I would suggest that you do it by playing loudly. And do it all with timing. Just a tiny, tiny little bit of time. That’s all. If you play loudly, it’s like hitting somebody over the head with it. You don’t need to. They’re very subtle listeners. They’re totally in tuned-in. Totally. They’re hearing everything you’re doing, and they love it.

So, here. From here. you could raise your eyebrows if you want. The biggest thing is, once you’ve discovered something, you actually don’t need to do anything at all. Because now you’re so surprised by that B-flat that every time you play it, for the rest of your life, you’ll do something special. But without doing too much. Alright, that’s beautiful. If you have something like that, make sure that right at the end, you take time. Because of that cord, we’ve been waiting for that moment of a stop. And now we’re going to find out something new.

So one more time and do something you’ve never done before. Always do something new; even if you’re doing the same thing, make it new. Otherwise, you’re just repeating. Here we go. Beautiful. Now, when you stand up to receive applause, be with the audience how they are with you. Feel gratitude, joy, amazement, admiration, and love.

I was in India yesterday morning, and I arrived yesterday evening, and I wanted to share something with you that I haven’t talked about in the class at all yet. I gave a talk to 600 Indian business people, and I was on top form. I gave everything I had. I was full of passion and intensity and excitement and drive. And the Indian audience was completely passive. They didn’t laugh, they didn’t participate, and I got really kind of upset. I would say something funny, and all I got was “no.” I got so frustrated with this experience, and I didn’t quite understand it.

I went back up to to my hotel room after that was over, and I called Ros, my partner, and I said Ros it was terrible. They didn’t respond at all. They didn’t seem to get it. There was nothing. Alright, so you can’t win them all, as they say. Right? So then, I went to the dinner party afterward. And when I came down, they greeted me there, and it was wonderful! They were so aggressive, passionate, and they hugged me and cried and laughed and said it changed their lives.

Then I said, why didn’t you do that in the court? In their corporate culture, they said, as long as their directors and the company’s head are there, they’re not allowed to express any emotion. So I thought about that, and then I thought about something we don’t talk about, which is the art of listening. The art of listening. We talk here about the art of performing, but we don’t talk about the art of receiving what is being given. And I think it’s worth spending some thought about that because it’s a two-way conversation between the performer and the listener. It’s a love relationship.

If we don’t develop that and think about it and see ourselves as participants, an essential part of the relationship and the performance is missing. We’re missing out on a tremendously important part of music and so you might give some thought to that as you’re listening.

Pay attention to who you are for the performer. And something you probably don’t realize now is that most of our young musicians are brought up to think of the audience as the enemy. The audience is made up of critical people. They want you to make a mistake. They hope you’re not as good as their friend who’s playing next. And all of that is not the case. The audience is the friend, the lover of the performance. They want you to play fantastically, and they want you to do the best you can do, and the way you know, is because they’re expressing that on their faces. It’s that spark.

So that’s something that came home to me, and I talked to many people in India about this and they kind of apologized to me about this. He said this is the way we’re brought up. So I said, well, let’s stop that.
I can’t imagine a better way of starting this class than being with you and having you play this music. Thank you. You’re a beautiful musician.

Monica Call
'Oh that all music teachers in private lesson and master class settings could be this positive and helpful! Often the teacher is trying to impress the student with with their talent and knowledge and not focusing on the student and fitting their teaching to the student’s strengths and weaknesses. As a professional musician and teacher I am inspired by Mr. Zander’s approach on so many levels.'
Jon Nichols
'Refreshing to have a conductor interpret a guitarist. All too often we hear guitarists giving their interpretation to/of another guitarist. This was nice to see. Thank you!'
Renaissance Strings
'I've been a student as well as a teacher for quite some time now, but I am yet to encounter a person who brings forth such passion and insight into their teaching as Benjamin Zander. For me, there is always so much to take from his every lesson. Thank you for sharing.'
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