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

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Beach: Romance for Violin and Piano

Interpretation Class
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Nikki Naghavi (violin), Elgin Lee (piano)

“The generosity of spirit you bring to everything you do affects everybody around you.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript:

Ben Zander:

Thank you. That’s going to become a pop sensation, so look, you’ve got to get this. This is a very, very special young woman. Most of the people that I work with, you, those of you who’ve watched me teaching a lot, um, it always seems to be about bringing people out more. Not Nikki. Nikki is already out there.

I mean, she’s, uh, she’s an example of somebody who lives fully out in the world and brings people along with her. She’s a great leader and she’s a great teacher. She’s one of the leaders, the current concertmaster of the Youth Orchestra, and everybody looks up to her. Everybody follows her. She inspires everybody, and you can see why because you’re completely available, Nikki, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful quality. And I’ll never forget you, even if I live another 50 years. So that’s a great thing, and the world’s found out about it.

She has an Instagram, whatever you call it. Last time I looked, it was 99,000 or something. What is it now? 110,000 people follow her daily, right? And there’s a reason because of that intensity and the warmth and the expressiveness and the lack of self-consciousness and all those wonderful, wonderful qualities that you have. So, I have nothing to add to that, but I have a conversation about this piece with you. I didn’t know it.

You played Elgin. Is it Elgin? Elgin, yeah, like the Elgin marbles. Do you know what the Elgin marbles are? Oh, yeah, yeah, right. They’re being moved finally, anyway. Very beautiful pianist, and that’s great. I wondered, and it’s just a question, whether you’re playing this a little too fast and the danger of this piece. It becomes a little sentimental, a little, um, now corny. What’s the word? It’s a little bit, um, yeah, sentimental, a little bit like a pop song.

I think it’s actually very rather deep music, and I found something rather amusing, which I think will interest you, and it may be wrong, but if you take the opening, just play the opening. You have it there. Just, yeah. Isn’t it interesting? This, it’s, see, I wonder whether she knew the Mahler. She was a very interesting woman. She lived in the shadow of her husband, as every woman did at that time.

The reason she was called Mrs. H. A. A. Beach, the reason she was called that is because every woman had to go by the name of her husband until he died. Then she was free, and then she was Amy Beach, and she started concertizing and composing, and she turned out to be quite an amazing composer and player. And one thing that I wondered whether you might add to your already incredibly beautiful expressiveness is a certain reticence that doesn’t come naturally to you, because you’re, you couldn’t be more different than a proper English New England lady living on Beacon Street, you know.

Because your wonderful free expression is that I’m always trying to get people to be more expressive. But in your case, I wonder whether you could be a little bit less expressive in the sense of being a little bit demurer and letting the music speak with its own beauty and some of these very special harmonies.

I think he/she knew Mahler and not personally, but I think she knew there are many homies, so should we just try? It’s an experiment, it’s undone, it’s such a neutral, right, he said. Andante, right, so very expressive, but in Andante is actually a slow movement, and the way you play it is like a pop song, and I think it diminishes it. I don’t know, I’m not on very strong ground because I don’t know the piece, but can we try it and see whether we can get that feeling? So I’ll conduct it a little like Mahler, one, yeah, imagine that in the cellos. Nothing in Mahler is even just jump up and look, look.

And so on, you get that, so fluid, fluid, three, four, one. It’s still a little stuck. Can I, I don’t want to be pedantic, but let me just show you how this works in the Mahler. Where is here? Look, oh yeah, here. So it starts like this, very soft but very fluid, three, four, one. Yes, now don’t come too early with that chord in the left hand.

One. Now, Elgin, your piano playing is very piano playing. If you can stop thinking of it as a percussive instrument and think of it as a string instrument, very, very smooth. Then it will bring out her sound more without her having to play more, right? So very, very legato, and I’m not a pianist, so I don’t know. But let me just show you, I go back to Mahler, the wrong piece. Sorry, here, look, this.

Like that, very, very fluid. Should we just try, and this piano right, very soft, everything like strings, cello, and one, no, no, no, no challenge, don’t play like that. They do, is, do you know what gave me this idea? That very bad play, that bar. Bring some more variety, more seriousness of, yeah, I think it’s a serious piece. It can easily be thrown off as a, you know, a popular bonbon, you know. But I think it’s actually very deep. So can I hear this, and when you get to this, yeah.

Oh God, sure, I love when the third section comes when it finally lets loose. Should we try that? I don’t have the bar numbers. Yeah, never, never be her equal, always a shadow makes all the difference because when you do that, suddenly her sound shines. Otherwise, it’s a little strained if it’s equal. It’s a very good thing to me.

My first wife was an amazing pianist and she played with Yo-Yo for 13 years since his piano. And she always made the instrumentalist sound better than they would without her. That was her job. They all came to play with her, and they said, ‘I just sound better with Patricia than I do with anybody else.’ So that’s your job now.

There are no recordings in those days, then the new recording. So we don’t know it’s become a kind of pop song with that kind of a little sentimental, and this is not at all what you’re doing. Not at all sentimental, it’s a real undone. So it’s something to think about, and you know this is an interpretation class.

So it’s not as if there’s a right way or this is how it ought to be. It’s more, huh, maybe how would it be if? What if it’s a kind of a what-if class, and you both bring wonderful qualities. Your playing became very, very beautiful during that. At the beginning, it was a little just heavy, a little, um, too much for her. That this was lovely what you just did, very lovely, and that brings out the best in her playing. And there’s a little bit more simplicity in your playing, which I love, and it fits the character of Mrs. H. A. A. Beach.

She, of course, burst out of that particular box and became Amy Beach and was quite a powerhouse in the women’s movement. And her friend for whom she wrote this piece became a big powerhouse in doing lots of things for the first time for violinists in this country. It’s very, I find that a very beautiful piece, something to think about, right? That’s if you go away with something to think about, we haven’t wasted our time. So thank you very much.

And if I may just add one thing, thank you for the generosity of spirit with which you bring to everything you do, and it affects everybody around you, including me. So it’s a model of the way young people can be in the world, just giving, generous, open, available, warm, loving, and it creates a beautiful atmosphere, a beautiful environment for music and human beings to grow. Sot it’s lovely, thank you.

Thank you, Maestro, for creating opportunities like this and for guiding us as young musicians to grow into our full potential. I would say a huge part of the reason I am an open person is from the very first moment I watched one of these interpretation classes on YouTube. Yes, I remember the moment. Wow. So thank you. That’s like our friend from Kentucky, even better. Yeah, yeah, it’s the same thing. Yeah.

Well, you see, this is not a cult, and it’s not a person. It’s not about me. I’m, as I always say, a good vicar, and the Vico makes the mistake of thinking they come to see him, gets taken away in a white van, you know. That’s it’s not about that. It is about an environment in which we open ourselves to the possibility of what music has to offer. So thank you, a big thank you.

Howard Cohen
'Wonderful! Thank you all.'
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