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


Bartók: Violin Concerto no. 2 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Yebin Yu (violin) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)

Recorded January 26, 2019 in Rabb Hall, Boston Public Library

“Our vision is passionate music making without boundaries. Don’t be limited by boundaries. Don’t be limited by boundaries of being competent, being in control, being a success, being accepted, being like other people. Those are all boundaries.”

— Benjamin Zander


Ben Zander: Thank you. Okay. That’s enough. Very, very, very good. Beautiful. Fabulous. Fabulous. You’re wonderful. You’re really wonderful. Wonderful. Please come and sit down a moment. I want to talk to you because I have something to say to you. When Christo called me last night at 10 o’clock and said that somebody was going to come and play the Bartok Concerto, I said, “How can I teach the Bartok Concerto?” You can’t teach the Bartok Concerto. And well, you were coming anyway.

Ben Zander: So I decided, all right, let’s have a conversation about this because, unlike The Hidden, there is no grammar for the Bartok Concerto. There’s no rules. There’s nothing written. There’s nothing. All we can do is get through our ear, what this music is about and how it’s to be played through tradition, through listening. And, you are amazing. I mean, you are very young. This is a freshman in college. So, this is the beginning of six years of training that she’s about to go through before she even starts to go out into the world. So, you are a remarkable player, a beautiful musician. The only thing missing from you is you don’t know where this music comes from.

Ben Zander: You are not a gypsy. And, you’ve never lived in the hills of Hungary. So, I’d love to tell you a little bit about that. I want to tell you what happened. I think four years ago at Bern, I programmed this piece, I played it three or four times with my orchestra in history. The first time I ever played it was with a violinist called Shigumandi. Do you know who that is? You’ve never heard. Has anybody heard of Shigumandi? Ah, so sad. Shigumandi was a Hungarian genius violinist, and he came from Hungary and he played this piece and I wept the first time I heard him play, because I’d never heard anything like it. There was nothing in my Did you know him still, Danish? His name was Shigumandi Danish, because in Hungary they don’t say Bela Bartok, they say Bartok Bela. Bartok Bela. Did you know that?

Yebin Yu: No.

Ben Zander: No? How can you play the music if you don’t know that it’s Bartok Bela? Right? Because the music is like the language. Isn’t that interesting? I learned that from a great, great, great musician called Lehner. Eugene Lehner. He played in the Boston symphony. He was the Viola player of the Kolisch Quartet. And he was Hungarian and he taught me Hungarian and he taught me Hungarian music. We went over the Bartok Concerto Rocks. He taught me every phrase. He sang it, he spoke it, he gesticulated it. And that’s how I learned. It’s like learning a language. Four years ago, we programmed this piece again and a young woman came in called Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Do you know her?

Yebin Yu: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Is that amazing? I mean, everyone just go And not only was it chosen as the most outstanding concert in Boston that year of any kind, but her recording of this piece was chosen as the best recording in the world of anything. Because, nobody had ever heard anything like it because, she’s actually not Hungarian. She’s Moldovan. And her parents are professional folk musicians. That’s what they do. So what you should do is give up your scholarship at the New England Conservatory, and go there, and sit and listen. Would you do that please? Would you please do that? Look, come back to the Conservatory, get a diploma. So, you can teach. But, go travel, meet people who play this music, sit and listen to the folk musicians and see how they move, how they play the colors. That’s all I can say to you. But sure, if I were a violinist, I could give you some help with Boeing. No, but I’m not. I’m not that. I want to be taken on a journey. When I go to listen to a piece of music in a concert, I want to be taken on a journey to a place that I didn’t know existed, and I don’t know how to get there. And, by being there, my life will be changed forever. That’s what I go to a concert for.

Ben Zander: Do you understand that? So I want to be like a Hungarian gypsy in order to play this music. And when Patricia came, she got us all to understand that. And I made a copy of that recording to give to you today.

Yebin Yu: Thank you.

Ben Zander: All right. That’s the best thing I can do. And if I could find a way to get you a plane ticket to go to She lives in Bern, actually. I took my youth orchestra to Europe last year and we went to Bern to meet her. And she came and played for the youth orchestra and the kids all were just looking up at this and she’s a little girl. Have you seen her? You’ve never seen her play? 

Yebin Yu: Patricia?

Ben Zander: Patricia.

Yebin Yu: Yes. 

Ben Zander: So there are a few great people to follow, and the trouble is that we follow Hilary Hahn. Hilary Hahn’s great for Bartok Concerto. But not for gypsy music. She doesn’t know from gypsy music. And unfortunately, some of the famous musicians, and this is just between us, because there’s nobody here. Pinchas Zukerman and Perlman, they turned it into a caricature. It’s not a caricature. It has to be absolutely deeply fell because the suffering and the sadness in this music is just, it’s so deep and so profound.

Ben Zander: And Bartok, it was 1937 just before the war, two years before I was born and the year that my sister Angelica was born, 1937. And the Europe was in turmoil, and my parents were running from Germany to England, and everybody was in turmoil in Hungary. And he was a liberal figure in a terribly frightening environment. And he spent his life going into the country, finding out all about the folk music. He knew more about Hungarian folk Actually folk music in Europe than anybody else. I mean, he was steeped in it. So this is not art music. This is folk music. I mean, it’s combined with art music, but it’s folk music and it has to be played with that kind of freedom. So, just do the very opening and those harp chords.

Ben Zander: There’s something about that I don’t feel that right. Yeah. That’s good. Do it once again. That’s perfect. 

Yebin Yu: Thank you.

Ben Zander: You’re in a box. You’re in a box of competence, of conformity, of being good. You managed to get A’s in your classes. Do you? Yeah. Bartok David went to school. Anyway, that’s all right. So now, just take the opening of the slow movement, right? And it’s a folk song, and he’s in the countryside. He adored the countryside. Do you know that? He spent his whole life in the countryside wandering around. And this is an incredibly beautiful theme, which he then wrote a set of variations on. Imagine you are out in nature. All right? Take your shoes off. We all got a shock when Patricia came out to play her concert, she didn’t have any shoes on and she played all the concerts without shoes on. And I didn’t quite understand it, but I understood that she wanted to be close to nature in the end. She had bare feet. Oh, you do. Great. Terrific. Oh, you are prepared. Okay. So now, let’s just try the beginning.

Ben Zander: Good. It’s beautiful. Have you ever felt terribly, terribly alone? You have? Great, wonderful and sad, and a little scared. Right? And you are in the country, and there’s nobody else around, and you’re just musing, you’re thinking, and you barely need to speak out loud because the thoughts are for yourself. And the compliment is so beautiful. The compliment is so soft. There’s a single harp. And then a group of strings playing with long notes so that you almost don’t hear it. You can’t get that really on the piano because the piano is a percussion instrument. So you can’t get there, but you can give the illusion of absolute co-ord. And then when you come in, (singing). So the saddest gesture of the falling fifth, isn’t it? As if it’s hopeless and it’ll never go on. And then, it starts up and goes the way around. Just try that from the beginning. Very soft. Yes, that’s right.

Ben Zander: Good. That’s starting to sound like I think what he had in mind. And the softer you play, the more people will listen. If you whisper, they’ll say, “Really?” but if you play hard, that’s just so sad about the modern training of Ireland. They’re trained to play big all the time because they have to play in these huge holes and you can hear them just playing out. It’s no need. That’s one of the things that’s so wonderful about Patricia. She plays incredibly softly.

Ben Zander: It’s almost as if she’s whispering in your ear, and that makes you listen much, much more deeply. And so, do it again and be even more in your world of dream and fantasy memory, a memory of sadness. You’re beautiful. You’re a wonderful musician. I think it’s going to be great, but you have to look for a different place to find the solution here from the usual place. You have to go to all well, that is hidden in the woods, right? And I love the fact you are And would you try and actually move in between your phrases? So you do your first phrase and then actually just let yourself wander and see what happens through the next phrase.

Ben Zander: Beautiful. Beautiful. Bravo. Very beautiful. Very beautiful. And I want to tell you this about this applause. This applause is not saying congratulations. It’s saying, thank you. Do you see the difference? Most applause is, “Oh, Bravo. Well done, young lady.” Well, you’re doing good. Well done. That’s not what that was. That was, thank you. You took us to a place we couldn’t have gone, we couldn’t even imagine in the Bob Boston public library on a Saturday morning, you took us on a journey. Do you get that? So you have to be very clear about what the journey is and where we’re going. What are the places we go as musicians? This afternoon, the youth orchestra worked on Benjamin Britten and the planets. It’s a totally different world. It’s a different sound. It’s a different expectation, a different way of living life. It’s a different way of holding your body. Everything is different.

Ben Zander: So our job as performers is to immerse ourselves like actors totally in the world, in which this music lives. Not to drag it, kicking and screaming into our world. We have our own world. But to play Bartok, we have to give up an enormous amount of control and expectation, habits, assumptions, all sorts of things, and go out in the countryside with him and experience nature and experience feelings and fear. And do you know that in the end of the first movement, that’s the alarm from the air raid siren, from the war? He put that in the thing. I mean, that should sound like an air raid siren. That’s what it is. It’s not violin playing.

Ben Zander: You probably don’t have the air raid siren. No. That’s right. Anyway. So I think what it calls on. And I’m thrilled, I love the way you are listening because you’re not listening like a hotshot, young violinist on the make. You’re listening like a young artist learning. And I know that you are going to make an effort to meet Patricia and go off and dig up some record. You’re going to come and ask me for recordings of Danish Shigumandi, Shigumandi Danish, Bartok Bela, Bartok Bela. Music is an elevated language like poetry. That’s all it is. And the only way you can learn the language is by immersing yourself in that culture. You can’t learn it from here. Do you get that? That’s so important. And I appreciate so much, not only your playing, but the way you are listening, the way you are absorbing this conversation because it doesn’t lead on a path to quote success.

Ben Zander: Shigumandi Danish and Patricia Kopatchinskaja never went in for a competition in their lives. That it’s not what their life is about. It’s about following Patricia follows her parents into the country and makes folk music. Have you played folk music ever?

Yebin Yu: No.

Ben Zander: No. All right. No reason why you should. You come from Australia and before that from Korea. There’s a lot of Jewish music in here. It was steeped in, mainly in klezmer and folk music. She heard all that as a youngster in Russia. So, traveling is so important. I was very lucky because when I was 15, I left school. Very fortunate. I never went back. I went to Europe, lived with a great Spanish cellist, and traveled around Europe together. And I wouldn’t say I lived in the Hungarian hills with gypsies.

Ben Zander: I didn’t do that. But I was very lucky because I traveled a lot and saw a lot of that world and met a lot of people who lived there. And not many of them are around anymore. It’s the travel that not many You have to seek them out. And you can’t get it through YouTube. You have to be there. All right. So would you promise to be a traveler?

Yebin Yu: Yes.

Ben Zander: Really? And the first opportunity, you go to Europe and I’ll help you. I’ll send Patricia a letter saying I want her to come and spend a week looking at you.

Yebin Yu: Thank you.

Ben Zander: She plays all the modern music. And I wrote down a little note she wrote. This is a lovely thing. She comes from an amazing family, but when she was four years old, she was listening to a piece by a Russian composer. And so, this little girl, four years old was listening to this piece that her mother was playing. And she said, “It’s like a person always walking forward and never coming home.”

Ben Zander: I don’t know about the four-year-olds, you know, but, it’s like Isn’t that amazing? She’s listened to this music. And she said, “It’s like a person always walking forward and never coming home.” That’s the most beautiful thing. So, I’m inviting you. You’re wonderful. I think you’re great. And I’m very excited. And I’m trying to pull you back from the jaws of disaster, which is comfort, success, competitions, winning, being better. It’s not enough to be good. You’ve got to change the world. Right? It’s a different path.

Yebin Yu: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Are you willing to do that?

Yebin Yu: Yes.

Ben Zander: Great, wonderful. Thank you. This is the Boston Philharmonic brochure. And on this page, there’s only one thing and that’s our vision. And you know what? Our vision is passionate music making without boundaries. Is that beautiful? Don’t be limited by boundaries. Don’t be limited by boundaries of being competent, being in control, being a success, being accepted, being like other people. Those are all boundaries. And it’s very hard in certain cultures, of which one is yours, to break out of that. The gypsies travel around and don’t have a home and are not tied down. They don’t have mortgages, right? They don’t have schools to get their children too early in the morning. They’re basically just wandering. And this music expresses that freedom. So, you might take on some of that exploring, like new clothes. And see what it feels like, read, listen, and live that way. See what it does for your playing. I think everybody in the room when you were playing that phrase at the end and the slow moment was really touched because you took them on a journey. That was a beautiful thing. Thank you so much.

Jeffrey Cumber
'1st thought: Amazing what this musician makes with the instrument. 2nd thought: Amazing what this conductor makes with the musician.'
Howard Cohen
'BZ really put his finger on what this (incredible) talent of Yebin Yu. He communicated this so well, with love, respect, both his ears and experience. His tonal-expression makes the use of an instrument moot while teaching the most sensitive of musical aspects. ZANDER, Benjamin!!'
'Zander, Benjamin, thank you very much. That was so moving.'
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