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

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Beethoven: Cello Sonata no. 4 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Sophie Applbaum (cello) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)

Inside every musician is a voice, which can be either fully expressed or restrained, or stopped.

— Benjamin Zander

Transcript

Ben Zander: Bravo. Very good. One of the joys of my life is that I keep meeting extraordinary young musicians wherever I go. There’s one after another. And if I may say so, to take the doctor’s image, you’ve just come for a checkup, and you are in great shape. You are in really great shape. You’ve got everything going for you. Your playing is beautiful, and I’ll take it even further. Your generation of musicians is in great shape because you are so, all of you, there’s a whole generation of musicians that’s come up intelligent, responsible, moral in the sense of following what the composer wanted, no ego, no show, just the music and this was not true a generation ago. This is a new development. And I might say, perhaps, more here in Boston than, perhaps, anywhere.

There’s such a wonderful tradition of teaching and of work here in Boston, in the conservatory, in BU, in all these great schools, so you are a product of not only of that, what came before.

Cellist:

I’m from Boston.

Ben Zander:

You came from here, really? Did you grow up here?

Cellist:

I did. Yup.

Ben Zander:

Really? But I didn’t know you then in those days. Amazing.

Cellist:

I was too young to be in your orchestra.

Ben Zander:

Well, you are in great shape. I don’t have anything radical to say about your interpretation. Maybe a couple of little things, okay? And this is, again, there’s nothing wrong with your playing. And I’m always thinking that Beethoven is always here when we’re dealing with Beethoven. He’s here. He’s sitting up there with his brow saying, “No, you didn’t do it right. You didn’t do it right.”

Cellist:

So specific.

Ben Zander:

Yes. So specific and not only specific, but he told us how we wanted the music to be played. Now, I have been wrestling for the last 40 years with the ninth symphony of Beethoven, and in the ninth symphony, he gave us specific metronome marks, which have been almost completely ignored. And I’m happy to report that we finally have, it came the day before yesterday, a recording of the ninth symphony following all the indications of this. And it’ll blow your mind when you hear it, many of you, because it’s so different.

He didn’t leave metronome marks here, so somebody’s put them in. Did they put them in your part?

Cellist:

No.

Ben Zander:

All right. Okay. So we don’t know exactly what he means precisely when he writes “Andante,” but there’s quite a lot of indication here that he wrote. He wrote “Andante,” and then he wrote a huge slur over that phrase, and then he wrote piano, dolce, cantabile, spaghetti, bolognese, everything is there, right? Everything. And what I want to suggest to you is that if you thought in a larger line less. (singing).

It would get that feeling of a long line. It would also bring out in you the generosity of spirit, which is in there but isn’t quite coming out to the audience. Beethoven will help you. 

YEARS AGO, when I was a cello teacher, I had a student who was eight, and he said to me, “Why does the bow go up and down? Because music seems to go round and round.” He said, “You should have a bow that goes around the back.” And all these years, I’ve been looking for a bow that goes around the back. But if you could, just do that opening phrase and imagine the bow going all the way around the back.

Good. A little applause, please. That’s good because you are opening up the people’s hearts in the audience, rather than say, (singing). They’ll sit back and say, “Oh yeah, she’s a good cellist,” but if you play that way, they’ll say, “Oh, I have a great life.” That’s a totally different experience. Isn’t that right? So include them, I wish they were a little closer, but you get the idea. So, the first C pulls like peeling a banana (singing) back to the same C. So the closer you can bring those two C’s together (singing), and then you go beyond it. (singing).

Oh, isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that gorgeous? And it opens your heart, it opens their heart, and it invites your partner to join you. And now we understand what he meant when he said “cantabile,” meaning singing, singing, singing so that you’ve got beautifully.

So let’s do that and go on. So do it one more time because that might have been a fluke. You know, every time you play, you have to recreate the environment for what you just said. You can’t just say, “Oh, I’ve done that. I’ll do it again.” You have to say. It’s like Hamlet says, “To be, or not to be? That’s the question,” but he does it 350 nights in a row. Every time’s got to be special, isn’t that right? So fill your heart with love and with cantabile and give it away.

Now she says, “Yes, I agreed.” (singing) And you notice there’s no real way of doing that. Beethoven has a slur over the whole phrase. There’s no way of doing that on the piano unless you play it at that tempo. And in fact, I would even suggest one [inaudible 00:12:22] faster one, because here’s a very important thing. If you do it slightly faster, it’ll sound slower.

What? What does he mean? If you do it faster, it’ll sound slower. Why?

Cellist:

More connected?

Ben Zander:

No. It’s very simple because instead of hearing six beats, you’ll hear two beats, two slow beats rather than six. So if I were conducting that at the slow tempo, I would do (singing). No. I meant from here (singing). If I’m conducting the orchestra, but that’s not in two. Now do it in two (singing). Now, look at my bottom. What happened? We call that one buttock playing because I didn’t say I would move my bottom. The music moved my bottom because I was singing (singing). Of course, I would have to move physically to get there. So play faster to make it sound slower. Ready? One, two, wait, wait, two, now breathe (singing). Yes. That’s beautiful. Now you do it. And now you join. (singing). 

Beautiful. Yes. You see the beautiful thing. Do you see the lady with the red hair? She has a big smile on her face. She’s saying, “Oh, I love this so much. This is so great.” And she’s actually saying, “I have a really great life.” Thank you, Beethoven, for reminding us how great life is. Because if people are sitting there saying, “Oh my God, this is so beautiful. Everything feels right.” Then we forget about Trump, and we forget about the taxes. That’s our job because otherwise, people would say- and what they will always be doing with you is admiring you because you’re a beautiful cellist. “Oh, she’s really good. She’s really good. She plays really well.” But after a while, that becomes boring. It’s like a very beautiful woman. You say, “She’s really beautiful.” “Wow.” “Oh, she’s beautiful.” But how many times can you say that?

But this is not about you. That’s about her. Isn’t that great? And you’re beautiful because you really understand that. It’s in your DNA to do that, which is totally admirable. Do you notice how much easier it is to play together with Dina? Because she takes over every phrase, and she gives you back every phrase, and it’s in one. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s a great discovery. So let’s do that and then do the end. We don’t need to do anymore. We can go on, but let’s just do the end of the movement from somewhere there. Yeah, from the G.

You’ve forgotten it’s in six. (singing). You see, physically, it won’t happen if you’re sitting on two buttocks because you go (singing). But if you go, (singing) you launch it, it’s like launching a ship. You push it out to the middle of the lake. Like that. Yes. There it is. (singing)

Now here’s a very interesting thing. How literal is Beethoven? You know what the question is, right? What do we do with that crescendo? Because the crescendo goes up and then there’s a subito piano, and you do what most musicians do, it’s natural to back away just before the- you know that, right? You do that because you’re lacking encouragement. You say, “Oh, he didn’t mean that. No, that’s too extreme.” But I’m telling you, he did mean that. So both of you have to play- the loudest note is the very last one, and then you go on, and you need time for that. That’s why there’s a real rubato at that moment. (singing). And the last note is the loudest. Let me tell you a phrase, “Make a crescendo to the last possible moment.” What happened? The “-ment” was soft. Make a crescendo to the last possible moment.

All right. I stole that from a really great musician who I love and admire and learn from. He used that phrase to demonstrate that it’s a beautiful example, isn’t it? Because you never think of making the “-ment” louder than the “mo-.” It’s unnatural, but Beethoven asks us to be unnatural. Isn’t that great? Okay, do the same thing again from the bar before and the two cellos, in the left hand, bring them out, the two beautiful cellos. Yeah. Right. Right, right. Yeah. But two cellos in the bass. (singing).

It takes tremendous effort to go against nature, but Beethoven asks us to do that. He asks us to go- Mozart wouldn’t do that. Mozart knows it’s inappropriate, but Beethoven was the first composer to go in the front door of the building. Mozart went in with the servants. He didn’t want to trouble anybody. You know that Beethoven met the Prince. I don’t know which prince it was, who cares, and Beethoven was sitting there, and Goethe was standing beside him, and Beethoven didn’t bow. Goethe bowed to the prince. Beethoven, No. And Goethe said, “Beethoven, You didn’t bow to the man.” He said, “Later on, nobody will remember the prince, everybody will remember Beethoven.” So that’s what he’s saying there, right? Once again, cellos. (singing). Yes. Now, it needs a little bit more time for that E, doesn’t it? But that was great. Beautiful. Again. Be excited about the trill because the trill (singing) has to have more intensity, more vitality. Once again, cellos. (singing).

Good. Now- Beautiful. Please. Fantastic playing. Now, you have a choice. You don’t need to do it that way, but you heard it.

So now you can think about it, try it, experiment, and play to other people, but that gives you at least an insight into that way. Now, the second movement is quick. We got to move.

You know, it’s interesting because you are warmed up, relaxed, and playing with more intensity now than you played before. Tempo is perfect, and all I can say for you in this movement is just to be more extreme with the dynamics. Interestingly, he has a suadente and a suadente and then another suadente. And the third one is the biggest, right? It grows. And I don’t believe you can do that entirely with your bow. You have to do it with timing.

Timing. So don’t (singing). Like that. Just delay it very slightly. Do it once again. If you take time, you don’t have to. If you do, don’t make it affect the little note. It isn’t (singing) but (singing). Always come late with- the little note always has to be delayed even if you make a huge ritardando. Suppose you go (singing). The little note always remains. Alright, once again. (singing).

Yeah. Don’t make even the hint of a diminuendo. If anything, a hint of a crescendo. Play as loud as you can, and then play louder (singing). Right. There we go. (singing).

If you do push through to that F sharp, you fill the silence with energy, but if you go (singing), that’s an end, all right? Do the second phrase. (singing).

Now, complete change. They’re putting on a new mask. And then just tender, like Marcel Marceau. You noticed Marcel Marceau, the great mime. He has this wonderful mask, have you seen that? You go on YouTube, you’ll get it. It’s incredible. He puts on a mask, and he puts on another mask, and then he puts another one, and then he gets stuck, the mask gets stuck, and he struggles to get it off. But his face is a beautiful smile all the time. That’s difficult to do. But put on a totally new mask. (singing). But that was great. Would you do the phrase one more time, and then we have to stop.

Now pianissimo. Dina, can you play softer? And don’t make a crescendo. Those suadentes, this is late Beethoven. Beethoven, right at the end of his life and then suddenly completely quiet, do it from the pianissimo.

Beautiful. (singing). Yes. That’s it. Bravo. Bravo. Beautiful. Thank you.

You know, inside every musician is a voice, which can be either fully expressed or restrained or stopped. What you just saw is a fully expressed voice, two fully expressed voices, and there’s nothing more satisfying as a musician to get yourself out of the way so that the composer can be heard. And that gives an infinite satisfaction to the audience because they have a voice that is also hidden, and our job as musicians is actually to bring it out. Look at this- would you come with the camera, please? Look, you see that face? But you can look at it everywhere. Every face is saying, “Thank you for liberating who I am through your music.” So Bravo. Beautiful, beautiful.

Lucas Casanovas de Barros Cavalcanti
'What a marvellous eccentric master is Benjamin Zander. Always presenting his thoughts with outstanding sensibility and passion. Furthermore, the attention of the student towards his comments and seek of comprehension it's admirable, really. He truthfully rescued my admiration for classical music. Absolutely brilliant!'
Craig Collar
'Had a smile through the whole thing. Mr. Zander makes me smile with his enthusiasm and love for music. Not only him, but the music itself, and seeing the musicians improve that very moment and just enjoying it makes me happy. Also I love Beethoven so there’s another reason'
La Resistenza
'Sheer genius! I'm overcome with tears of joy. Thank you.'
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