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

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Beethoven: Symphony no. 5 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Daniel Cho (conductor) with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra

“We are privileged to be in the presence of the most life-giving force that exists in the world. And this is the music.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Good. Great. Okay. Well done. Very good. Very good. Very good, Daniel. Now, you’re at a ginormous advantage because you are actually a string player.

Daniel Cho: Yes.

Ben Zander: And so, one of the difficulties you are facing is that this is really difficult to conduct.

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Every conductor finds it difficult. But unfortunately, you’re conveying your worry to the players. And they’re already worried enough.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: And you’re making them more, more worried.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: So, the first thing to do is to decide exactly what to do. All right. So, the first bar is a downbeat or an upbeat?

Daniel Cho: Upbeat.

Ben Zander: Upbeat. Clearly upbeat. Do you know which number in the bar structure it is?

Daniel Cho: Fourth bar.

Ben Zander: Fourth bar. Perfect. You’ve done your work. So, the first thing to do is to give gestures so clearly that they understand that they’re playing the fourth bar of a phrase. And the way to do that Are you ready? Is 1, 2, 3

Ben Zander: Absolute. Absolutely.

Daniel Cho: Okay. Okay.

Ben Zander: So, you go 1, 2, 3. That’s it. It will never fail.
Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Right? So just do that. Now, don’t do this. Hello, 1, 2, 3. No. You do something which conveys it without conducting. So, you do Keep it to yourself.

Ben Zander: Great. Perfect. Isn’t that a great feeling?

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Because it’s the four most important notes ever created in the history of the world, and you just performed them perfectly. A little applause, please. Great. So now, the next question is how long is that pause?

Daniel Cho: Well, there’s no rest.

Ben Zander: No? For the next one?

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: But I mean How long do you want to do that? Just approximately.

Daniel Cho: Probably shorter than the second one-

Ben Zander: Good. That’s all we need to know.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Right. So long enough, but the second one is going to be more.

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Great. You’ve done your homework. Now do it again. So you’re going to say, “1, 2, 3,” and then you’re going to do four, right?

Daniel Cho: Yep.

Ben Zander: No. Don’t look worried. Don’t allow yourself to look worried. You know? This is like when you’re with children. And look. These are your colleagues, your friends, your equals, but they’re also like children. They need to be given the confidence. We’re going to cross the road and we’re going to get the other side and we’re not going to die. Okay?

Ben Zander: Good. Now, that’s brilliant. And you’re absolutely right. There’s no extra bar. Most conductors do this, 2, 3 You see? They’ve learned it. They’ve learned it. For years and years and years, everybody added a bar there. And now fortunately, we’ve become more courageous and do what Beethoven really wanted, which is no But since they don’t know whether you’re going to do that, you have to be very, very clear that you are not going to do an extra bar. So, from beginning to No doubt. All right? If you make that sign that it’s going to be immediately like They’ll get it. Okay?

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Now. Perfect. Good. Good, good. That’s great. That’s great. It seems simple, doesn’t it? It’s fine. Now, the next entrance is very difficult because there, they really want to rest because there’s a fortissimo that goes right to the end, and then the second violin start piano. So I actually cheat. When I’m rehearsing, I say second violins make a diminuendo. It’s fine. Nobody else. Every else keep fortissimo. And then you’ve got to really prepare the second violin. So from the beginning to

Ben Zander: Right. And then he’s very confident. He even looks up, and we look at each other, we’re friends, and so on. All right? Okay. Got it?

Daniel Cho: Got it.

Ben Zander: Great. You’re doing terrifically well. Good, good. Now, a couple of things. I think you can do the second pause a little bit more and I think you do too.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: And the other thing is that everybody’s making a diminuendo and you don’t really want that. Keep it. Great. Terrific. What I love about you is you are using your intelligence for musical ends, which is fantastic. Once again. You realize we are going to solve this problem for the rest of your life?

Daniel Cho: Yes, I’m excited. Yes.

Ben Zander: Yeah. One suggestion. They need some indication that they’re two notes. One, one, right. So for the second one. That’s right? 2, 3, 4 and Now.

Ben Zander: Now, this is a problem because you’ve allowed the tempo to get very slow. And the result is it goes What Beethoven had in mind is something quite different, which is, if you just get up a moment, I can show you. What he had in mind was And that’s why he took that fantastically fast tempo.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: So think quarter notes, not eighth notes. And that’s a revelation to the players because nobody’s ever asked them to do that unless they’ve played in the Boston Philharmonic or the youth orchestra. So the way to do that, just to from the second violin. 2, 3 Right? So you just go like that. So you can

Daniel Cho: From there?

Ben Zander: Yeah. Yeah. Can I ask you not to look worried? Just get rid of that one. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to love. Look at these faces you’ve got in front of you. They’re the most beautiful faces on the planet.

Daniel Cho: Yes, yes.

Ben Zander: Right? And you know why they’re so beautiful? Because of Beethoven. You get that?

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: We are privileged to be in the presence of the most life-giving force that exists in the world. And this is the music. This is what we do. Isn’t that great?

Daniel Cho: It is. Yeah.

Ben Zander: So, when you conduct, make sure that you know that they know that that’s the way you feel about it.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Yeah. Worried. Worried. Be sure that you get the tempo going. Start right there, 2, 3, 4. Good. Now. Now, since you’ve understood it and they’ve understood it, now trust them.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Right?

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: And enjoy them.

Daniel Cho: Yes.

Ben Zander: Yes. Easy. Now do something. Do something and make it more beautiful than they’ve ever imagined it. Right? So it’s so beautiful to the Right? That’s telling them something they don’t know. And always be telling them something they don’t know.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Nope. No, no. Because what you need to do is give a feeling of line. That’s the hard thing: to go You know? I conducted this piece with the Israel Philharmonic. And the cellist said, “I’ve played in this orchestra 35 years, and I never realized there was a tune between the second violin.” He said, “Nobody’s ever pointed it out.” So point it out.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Yeah. Good. Face. Face. Something’s got to happen in your face because Right? Exactly.

Ben Zander: Yeah. Yes. Good, good. And Good. Again Secondary. Right?

Ben Zander: But you’re doing great. This is great. Your facial expressions are very limited. And so I would work on that. Do you have a partner?

Daniel Cho: I do. Yes.

Ben Zander: Great. Terrific. Work on it.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: With her? Him?

Ben Zander: Great. Terrific. Well, because she’s actually quite bored by you. Has she complained about that?

Daniel Cho: No, but I’ve gotten a sense.

Ben Zander: Yes. Yes. Boring. Very, very boring.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: All right? So be more interesting.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: All right? More, more gestures, more variety, more colors, more emotions, more, more, everything. More.

Daniel Cho: Okay. Okay.

Ben Zander: Right? But you’re doing great. Do it again. Yeah. It’s not going anywhere. Every note in music is going somewhere or coming from somewhere except one. There’s one note in music that doesn’t either go anywhere or come from anywhere

Ben Zander: The opening of Mahler 1. Seven octaves of A. It’s been there for eternity. And at the beginning of Mahler 1, God turns up the volume just a little bit, and you hear seven octaves of A. It’s been there. It’s the tuning of the universe. Every other note is going somewhere. So, when you do that And they don’t know that because they only have They don’t know anything. Right? But you can tell them something. You can say, “Are you ready to” Now 2 and

Ben Zander: Right. There we go. That’s great. And now they’re having fun. Okay. And they’re all smiling because they say, “Yes, yes, yes. That’s the way we want to make music.” But too often at the time, they’re just doing it by routine. Our routine is the death of music. So, conductors have a very big role to play because they spend 90% of their life doing routine. They want to be a lore against it. Okay?

Ben Zander: Tell the story. You look worried. You’re not worried. You’re sharing something great.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Do you get the difference?

Daniel Cho: I think so. Yeah.

Ben Zander: Worried is about you. Sharing something great is about Beethoven and about them. It’s like saying, “Do you know something amazing? Should I tell you something amazing?” You see that? That’s amazing? Right?

Daniel Cho: Mm-hmm

Ben Zander: Tell them. No. Don’t conduct.

Daniel Cho: Don’t conduct?

Ben Zander: I don’t conduct at all. I never conduct. Good. Good. Now, that’s lacking in energy.

Daniel Cho: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Ben Zander: Right. It’s lovely. Nice shape. But it doesn’t have any energy. Because Isn’t that right? 2, 3. Now. Yes. And Hold it. Hold it. And Now. Now roar. A little applause, please. Exactly. Exactly. Fantastic. That was fantastic. And the reason they’re applauding because it’d opened up something in them that wasn’t there before. They said, “Yes. Thank you, Beethoven for opening up that key, which is my full emotion, my full expression, my full participation in life.” Right?

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Fantastic. That’s what your job is right there. That’s conducting. Unfortunately, it’s not what you learn in the conducting studio.

Daniel Cho: No, no.

Ben Zander: Isn’t that interesting? And the beautiful thing is you can trust without fail that your musicians will perform, will produce that if you give it to them. They will always produce it. And that’s what keeps me going in the work with the youth orchestra because you think, “Well, they’re 12-year-olds, they’re 13-year-olds, 14-year-old. What can they do? They’re just kids.” No. They can do anything you ask them to do, but you have to ask them. That was beautiful. Let’s go on. Should we go from-

Daniel Cho: Bar 25?

Ben Zander: The last fortissimo.

Ben Zander: You know? It’s very interesting. He builds up and builds up and builds up to forte, and then he leaves one thing in reserve, which is the fortissimo. But you have to be very careful you don’t play the forte as if you’re holding back.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: You have to play as much as you can and then know that you can play more.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander:Right? You got that? So do from

Daniel Cho:Oh. This is

Ben Zander: From here. Yeah, exactly.

Daniel Cho: 38.

Ben Zander: Where those forzandos begin. And there’s one thing to know, which is these chords in the winds, you don’t have the wind players here, but they usually play too short. And so you can’t hear the chords. Just hear the chords. This is 38. Is that the bar? Where you have the short under chords in the wind. Just listen to this. 1. No, no. Without the aids. Just the chords. 1 and. Isn’t that? They’re amazing chords. So if you can do something in your gesture to encourage the winds to play a little bit longer when you get to that. Okay? So we’re going from-

Daniel Cho: 38.

Ben Zander: 38.

Ben Zander: I would suggest that you leave something in reserve for that fortissimo that nobody’s ever seen before, that they’ve never seen.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Right? So you’re great. I mean, you’re doing all the right things, but there’s something that has to explode in their faces when you get to that fortissimo.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: One way of doing that is being a little bit less active just before it. Come away with your gestures, just pause, and then.. Like that. And then it’ll be a shock. Try it on your girlfriend. It’ll have a terrific effect. Can we try from the crescendo? Would you do from crescendo, which is measure-

Daniel Cho: 34.

Ben Zander: 34. Exactly. Right. There.

Ben Zander:
You got it. Yeah, that’s right. No. No. No, no. You’re telling a secret. It’s not a secret. We all know where this is going. What it is, you’ve got to guide it, this Vesuvius of energy to its destination. And its destination is not the forte, it’s the fortissimo. Right? So And you know Beethoven had that wonderful face? Use it. Forte, forte, forte, forte. Now. Right.

Ben Zander: And you notice they all responded? Every one of them in their own way. Wasn’t that great?

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: They just produced something and they’re so happy to be doing that. You know? Because they love to be asked the limit. They don’t want to be asked halfhearted. They didn’t get up in the morning and come to work to be

Daniel Cho: For it to be okay?

Ben Zander: Right. Exactly. They didn’t. That’s why we play this great music because then the listeners see it and hear it and say, “That’s the way I want to lead my life.” It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? What a We’re like preachers in that sense. We have that same role. And we can’t afford to be casual. We just can’t afford to be because people depend on us like they depend on the priests or the Dalai Lama or somebody like that. That’s why we have to tell the truth musically. We have to tell the truth because people depend on us. So that’s why it’s not good to muddle about with the truth. Beethoven’s truth is clear as could be. Do it again. And I’m waiting for that fortissimo. And so Aria. Aria’s so excited about that fortissimo.

Ben Zander: No. No. Don’t do this. It’s not careful. It’s, “Are you ready for this, for this journey? Are you ready? Are you up for this?” There we go. And you don’t need every beat. They don’t need every beat. Now

Ben Zander: Very dangerous. It gets slow here. Always slow.

Daniel Cho: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Ben Zander: Keep it moving.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Because when the second theme comes, but, which Beethoven is saying, “Don’t change the tempo.” So do from the two chords, the two big chords.

Daniel Cho: Okay. Bar 56.

Ben Zander: Yeah. The two chords are routine chords. Do them alone. Do the two chords alone. 1 and. They’re good. Right? Are they great? They’re something very special. Yes. Now, the main thing here is to say, “Horn players, don’t get slow.” So do the two chords, and

Ben Zander: There. You got it. And where’s he going? It goes to there, and then You know? I had a class at the conservatory, and I was talking about bar structure and which was heavy and which was light. And there was a girl in the class. We were doing this piece. And there was a girl in the class who was playing flute in the orchestra at the school. And she said, “We’re doing that piece.” And I said, “Oh, what is the conductor doing? Is he doing? Or? Or? Or?” She said, “I don’t know. I haven’t looked.” So she came back the next week. She said, “You know? It’s very interesting. He’s not doing anything.”

Ben Zander: She and I helped him out. You know? The first time I did The next time, I Then I went And then I went He didn’t seem to notice. Right? So we conductors have to tell the players what we’ve decided, and it’s up to you to decide. I happen to think But it’s not the only way of doing it, but it is a way. Make sense.

Daniel Cho: Mm-hmm. Okay.

Ben Zander: All right? So I would suggest help. Do Or do the two chords so you can do the

Ben Zander: Good. Good. With facial expression, the whole mood has totally changed because instead of Can your body reflect that?

Daniel Cho: Yeah, yeah.

Ben Zander: Totally different. Same tempo, totally different character. You got that?

Daniel Cho: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Imagine it written in eighth notes. And it may be that you don’t need much conducting. Just do the two chords and Something like that? And don’t do what I do. Everybody has to do their own way, but it has to be a change of character.

Daniel Cho: Okay.

Ben Zander: Good. You’re doing great. Do it again. Yeah. But your face has to tell the horn players that, “Yes, I know you want to play this slowly, but unfortunately I can’t let you because I want the second theme in the same tempo because the cellists and bassists have” All of that has to be in your face. Right? Because the horn players want to take time. They love themselves. Now To there.

Ben Zander: What’s the mood? What’s the mood?

Daniel Cho: Joyous.

Ben Zander: Joyous. So why don’t you inform your face that you’re feeling joyful? Because your face hasn’t heard about it.

Daniel Cho: Beethoven.

Ben Zander: Right. Something, something joyful. All right?

Daniel Cho:Okay.

Ben Zander: But you’re doing great. And isn’t it exciting for the players to play in a way that makes the musical sense? It’s such a relief for them. One of the reasons they get disappointed is because the conductors don’t think enough about the music and they do silly things like, “Listen to me. I can make a ritardando under here,” or some silly thing. And they roll their eyes and say, “Come on. Get on with the music.” And that’s what you’re doing now. We’re playing the music the way it should be played. It’s beautiful. So should we do from And when we get think of the base. The base is the base and it’ll lift everybody up.

Ben Zander: If you conduct like that, the base will come alive and everybody will be joyous. And then if you inform your face, it’ll be terrific. Should we do from Where do we go? Doesn’t matter. Choose a place. We need to go back a little bit.

Ben Zander: Okay. It’s not enough to build joy. You need a little bit more.

Daniel Cho: A little more? From the second theme?

Ben Zander: Yeah. Do from here. Yeah. Second theme.

Daniel Cho: Second theme, please.

Ben Zander: Right. Yes. With love. Love. Now viola. Now give them joy. Now you’re ready. Go back, back to the beginning, and

Ben Zander: Well done. Bravo.

Daniel Cho: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.

Ben Zander: Now, the test is, are they smiling? Are they Look at his eyes. Turn around. Look at this. Look at this. If the eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it. And that’s true of teachers. It’s true of parents. It’s true of musicians, conductors. Politicians? No. But it would be great if we could act in the world so that other people have shining eyes. What we worry about is whether we have enough money, whether we have enough power, or whether we have the kind of influence we want. I don’t care about that. I care about those shiny eyes. Beautiful.

Ben Zander: And music makes people more beautiful than anything else does. No amount of makeup. Just play Beethoven and look at those faces. It’s fabulous. It’s a fabulous task we’re involved in. And if you could get the privilege that it is to do the work we do, which is unlocking the human spirit What do you do? I unlock the human spirit. And it has a name. It’s called conducting. But on your passport, unlocking the human spirit.

Daniel Cho: I’ll get that changed right away.

Ben Zander: They’ll let you in any country in the world. Well done, Daniel. You’re doing fantastic. And you know what’s amazing is you made a true transformation in this room while we were here together and they saw it. And every one of them is saying, “Wow, we can all do that.” And that’s a huge gift to be open the way you are open, because you’re basically at home with yourself: comfortable. You love being alive. And that’s a great gift to share. And musicians respond so generously when you give them that.

Daniel Cho: Thank you so much.

Ben Zander: Well, thank you. Well done.

Daniel Cho: Thank you.

Ben Zander: Daniel.

Daniel Cho: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Ben Zander: Beautiful. Beautiful.

Brodhax
'I love the fact he still has this energy and enthusiasm at 80 years old. The world needs to appreciate this man.'
Ft Wong
'Heartfelt Quotes of Zander:
"The first thing to do is to decide exactly what to do."
"Don't look worried, don't allow yourself to look worried."
"You're not worried, you are sharing something great. Worry is about you, sharing something great is about Beethoven, and about them (note: them = orchestra players). "
"What you need to do is give the feeling of the line, that's the hard thing."
"Your facial expressions are very limitedbe more interesting, more gestures, more variety, more colors, more emotions, more everything!"
"Every note in music is going somewhere, or coming from somewhere."
"Our routine is the death of music, so conductors have a very big role to play, because they spend 90 % of the life doing routine."
"Tell the story!"
"The reason they are applauding, is because you've opened something in them that wasn't there before."
"Thank you Beethoven! for opening up that key which is my full emotion, my full expression, my full participation in life. That's what your job is. That's conducting!"
" (on youth orchestra) You think they'are 12, 13, 14 year old, what can they do? They are just kids. No. They can do anything you ask them to do, but you have to ask them."
" (on orchestra players) They love to be asked the limit, they don't want to be asked half-hearted."
"We can't afford to be casual, because people depend on us, like they depend on the priest or the Dalai Lama. That's why we have to tell the truth musically. We have to tell the truth, because people depend on us. So that's why it is not good to muddle about with the truth. Beethoven's truth is as clear as it could be."
"Don't conduct!"
"You don't need every beat, they don't need every beat."
"Don't do what I do. Everybody has to do their own way, but it has to be a change of character."
"If the eyes are shining, you know you're doing it.
"It would be great, if we could act in the world so that other people have shiny eyes."
"Music makes people more beautiful than anything else does."'
Jay Suryavanshi
'Benjamin Zander is the best conducting teacher ever!'
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