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

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Beethoven: Symphony no. 3 "Eroica" - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Miquel Massana (conductor) with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

“An orchestra will do exactly what the conductor wants them to do. So be full of ideas all the time.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Thank you. We have just arrived from Boston. Some of us came yesterday morning and we gave a concert yesterday in Terrassa.

Ben Zander: And I want to tell you about somebody very special who’s in the room.

Ben Zander: Many years ago, we had a horn player playing in our youth orchestra called Jim Ross. At the age of 20, he became the first horn player of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. And he’s here now in Barcelona, so Jim, welcome.

Ben Zander: So I have a history here too.

Ben Zander: My cello teacher was called Gaspar Cassadó.

Ben Zander: From the age of 15 to 21, he was my life.

Ben Zander: Every sound I get from an orchestra comes from him.

Ben Zander: It’s extraordinary that maybe the two greatest cellists who ever live come from Barcelona. And some of the musicians in the orchestra have never heard this sound, and some of you have never heard this sound. So I want you to close your eyes and imagine 1929, a son of Barcelona, Gaspar Cassadó, playing the cello on gut strings.

Ben Zander: So, we have an exciting time. We have four conductors, and they are going to each conduct a movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. And so, I’m going to call on Miquel Massana.

Student: Are we playing three?

Miquel Massana: No, first one, three.

(Music plays)

Ben Zander: Good, bravo, bravo. Okay, okay, we have very little time. Where’s my, come here. I do not believe we can teach conducting.

Ben Zander: No. Because everybody has a different way of conducting.

Ben Zander: Furtwängler conducted like this. He conducted once in Italy, Furtwängler conducted like this. Everybody conducts differently, and so I’m not going to talk about your conducting. There are only two things we can talk about.

Ben Zander: Right, right. Two things. One is the music and the other, is there anything in the way of you realizing your musical idea, right?

Ben Zander: Is there anything in the way that’s stopping him from realizing his dream?

Ben Zander: Right. So first, the music. You have a clear idea of how you like it and you can deliver it to them, they played beautifully.

Ben Zander: You understand English, right?

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Yeah, so we don’t have to worry about that. Okay. Okay. All right.

Miquel Massana: Not really good, but-

Ben Zander: No, it doesn’t matter. Good enough, good enough, good enough. So, I’ve got some bad news for you, some bad news. Would you start the movement, right, start the movement. Just start.

Miquel Massana: Sorry.

Ben Zander: No, that’s okay, that’s fine. When we make a mistake, we say, how fascinating. How fascinating. Go on playing. That’s the bad news, they don’t need you. Right. So, there is no purpose to conducting unless you can teach them something that they don’t know or they can’t do on their own, all right? And too much of the time you are just conducting and it’s not giving any information to them that they don’t already have. So, you always have to have an idea about the music that is so clear, so powerful, and so amazing, that they will pay attention and play your way instead of just playing. Because this is a very good orchestra, right? So, they’ll play without you. And you aren’t always clear about what you want to do. So, there’s more information that you can give. Now here’s another thing. You play a traditional tempo for this. Have you thought about it?

Miquel Massana: It’s faster?

Ben Zander: Well, Beethoven wrote a tempo that is completely different.

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: But Beethoven was deaf, so he couldn’t see the metronome. Right? He had a metronome that went like this, right? But he was deaf, so he couldn’t see it. He also said, “Allegro con brio.” Right? Which is a very fast tempo. So have you thought about that?

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: And what do you think?

Miquel Massana: We can try.

Ben Zander: Okay. Should we try? Let’s try. Okay. So those two things, more information, which is separate, which is different from what they would do anyhow. Because a good orchestra doesn’t need a conductor. Right? No. All right. So now, give us some information. Okay. Shh.

Ben Zander: Yeah, good. It’s already a different story, isn’t it? It’s alive. All right. Now, these first two chords are enormously exciting. Nothing like this has happened in music. Bah! Like that. Bah! Something incredible, all right? Nothing has happened in Mozart, in Haydn, in early Beethoven like that. This changed the world, those two chords. Could you conduct them as if you knew they changed the world and tell them that? Just those two chords.

Miquel Massana: This?

Ben Zander: Yes. Well, excuse me. Okay. An orchestra will do exactly what the conductor wants them to do, all right? I promise, all right? So be full of ideas all the time. That was great, and they responded beautifully, all right? So, that’s great. So that’s the first two chords, now let’s go on, okay? So, let’s just start on the third bar, just think about that. Yeah, do you know what I think you are doing? It’s a very simple phrase.

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: That C sharp is the most shocking music note that had happened in all of music up until that moment. Mozart wrote a piece like that, right? He wrote an overture. Oh, my God. The C sharp, the C sharp. So, make that C sharp a world-shattering event.

Miquel Massana: Okay.

Ben Zander: Right? But first of all, before we do that, this is a piece about nobility, right? Eroica is a description of a noble leader. That’s a perfect circle, isn’t it? Perfection. And now, Oh, my God. Oh, my God. The suffering, the struggle, the death, the tumor, the anguish that we are about to unleash in this music. Right? So do the noble phrase, and don’t go on. Just that, all right? And see if you can get nobility into your body.

Ben Zander: Oh, oh. And that’s what sound A Beethoven sound goes like that. It should be like that. Boom!

Miquel Massana: Okay.

Ben Zander: Okay. Good. All right. But that was great.

Ben Zander: Do it again. Now let’s have everybody play tutti, third bar. Third bar.

Miquel Massana: You mean the C sharp?

Ben Zander: With everything now. Third bar, start third bar. Ooh. Sostenedo here, sostenedo there, and you are facing here, right?

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: So, you have to know everything that’s happening in the music, all right? Once again.

Miquel Massana: Okay.

Ben Zander: And let’s keep the moving. No. Now Beethoven is a terrible taskmaster. I met him.

Miquel Massana: Oh, really?

Ben Zander: Yeah. Yeah, we had a wonderful conversation. It was in Israel, actually. It was in Israel, down by the sea of Galilee. Well, more amazing things have happened there, actually. So, this is what he said, “Benjamin,” he said. In German, of course. He said, “My tempo are correct, and my dynamics are correct, and they are counterintuitive.” Can you translate counterintuitive, against?

Audience member: It would be the same.

Ben Zander: The same, counterintuitive. So, it’s not expected to make a crescendo which suddenly drops to a piano. It’s shocking, but he meant that. So, you look here. Suddenly to a piano. So, you have to do that in your body otherwise they won’t do it. Because orchestra players like to be comfortable. They don’t work harder than you ask them to work. You understand, right?

Miquel Massana: Mm-hmm

Ben Zander: That they look up and they say, “Oh, this guy’s going to give us an easy time, great, we don’t have to bother.” Right? But you have to make them work, and you have to make that crescendo so that this piano is really shocking. Okay? Once again, from the beginning.

Miquel Massana: The beginning?

Ben Zander: From the beginning, with the chords. You may have forgotten how to do the chord. Yes. Yeah. Now look. Here, Beethoven doesn’t make a crescendo, it’s all piano. Isn’t it very interesting?

Miquel Massana: Okay. Yeah.

Ben Zander: So your body has to go against the tendency of the orchestra to make a crescendo. They don’t like playing piano here, they really don’t like it, they want to play. So let’s just try it from that bar. What is that bar?

Miquel Massana: 23.

Ben Zander: 23, thank you. 23. You see? More energy. Your energy. Your energy. Beethoven was a wild man. Beethoven set out to change the world and he did.

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Right? So you have to be Beethoven. Right, do it again. So what is standing in the way of doing that? There’s something standing in the way of you doing that. You’re too polite. You’re too friendly.

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: When you came up, you said, “Hello everybody. Hi, how are you? Great. Nice to meet you. Let’s make some music. Beethoven, here we go.” You see? But if you came up and you really were telling the story of Eroica to them. Rar, grr, bah! All right, try.

Miquel Massana: Okay. Once again?

Ben Zander: Once again. Don’t be nice, be ferocious. Now piano, piano, piano. Now! Bravo, bravo, bravo, bravo. Now look here. There’s a big difference between forte and fortissimo. And Beethoven leaves the fortissimo to the last two bars, but you didn’t tell them that you knew that because you were going, “Whoa, let’s play.” Instead of saying, “Don’t play, don’t play, bah! Play.” All right? For the fortissimo. So could you do that? And I want to do one thing, because we have to move on, because there are three other colleagues.

Ben Zander: You’re doing great, you’re doing absolutely great. Can I invite you to try one step faster towards his tempo, all right?

Miquel Massana: Okay.

Ben Zander: Just try it and see what happens to you when you do it. Because the excitement level in Beethoven with allegro con brio is so exciting, because they hear. It’s near the limit of capacity. But look at these violinists, they can play everything, anything. Should we try? All right. And now you play the dynamics, make every dynamic extreme piano, pianissimo, everything. All right? And we’ll do it to Beethoven’s tempo. Are you ready? Have you got seat belts? All right. So here it is.

Miquel Massana: Do you recommend me in three or in one?

Ben Zander: I would not bother with three, except here. There, but not at the beginning.

Ben Zander: Here we go. Now piano. Piano. Now C! All right. Yeah, you’re going down here, but they’re not playing really soft. The way together play really soft is like this, right on there, and boom.

Ben Zander: Yeah, that’s right. Really sorry, make no sound. It’s no good going like this.

Miquel Massana: Yeah.

Ben Zander: You’re great, terrific. Well done.

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