Beethoven: Symphony no. 5 - 4th movement
Oakville Symphony Youth Orchestra, Meredith Gingrich (director)
“Your job is to waken the orchestra to everything that the music requires…You have to speak to them as if you’re telling a story, which they then tell the audience.”
— Benjamin Zander
Kevin Smith: Welcome musicians, teachers, guests, fans of beautiful music. We are in for a treat—a once in the lifetime opportunity.
Ben Zander: I’m just planning to come next year as well.
Kevin Smith: Oh, are you? A twice in a lifetime experience, then. We are so pleased. We are so grateful to have Ben Zander. A maestro, world-renowned, globally acclaimed conductor, teacher, inspirer of musicians young and old, to lead a masterclass session this afternoon. Ben, thank you for coming. We’re honored that you’re here. Maestro Zander, we will hear four wonderful pieces this afternoon. Following each piece, he will give constructive feedback to the performers, and we will get to listen, eavesdrop. Ben began composing at the age of nine. He has played and conducted globally for seven decades and made unparalleled contributions to developing music in the lives of young people especially. That’s why we’re so excited to have him here. These sessions and the interactions that he will have with our young players are like gold. And so again, Ben, we thank you for coming.
Kevin Smith: My name is Kevin Smith. I have been an Oakville Suzuki parent since 2009. And I will be the master of ceremonies this afternoon. There is a group behind me, though, ready to play. And I think by many accounts, one of the greatest finales ever written, the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. Meredith Gingrich is conducting the Oakville Symphony Youth Orchestra. And they will lead off this afternoon. So let’s welcome them before they play.
Ben Zander: Okay. Meredith, I’m going to stop you because the piece is very, very long. Let’s have some applause, please. So first of all, I want to tell you about Jean. I’ve just met Jean, and it turns out we played in the same youth orchestra when we were children. It’s amazing. And that was eons ago, in the previous century. And it’s just amazing, Jean, to be with you. We were both cellists. I was 12, and she was 16. And we go back, and we know all the same people. You realize that you will be friends for life if you play in the youth orchestra. You will get to know each other. She’s in her late eighties, and I’m 80. And we discovered each other, and we played together. We have the same coaches and the same conductors, and it’s really amazing.
Ben Zander: So this youth orchestra is like a disease. It’ll be with you forever. And you’ll never forget her, right? Because we remember every conductor we played under, every piece we played. It’s amazing, isn’t it really? Because I was 12 when I went into that orchestra, and I’m 80 now. It’s very exciting to realize, just to be in the presence of a youth orchestra. I know what’s going to happen to you, and I know the experiences you’re going to have.
Ben Zander: So let me tell you a funny story, and then I’ll explain what I’m going to try and do here. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Odessa, Texas. Has anybody heard of Odessa, Texas? There’s a small town in Texas, an oil town, and they decided they wanted to win the championship football for Texas, which was ridiculous because there’s Dallas and, what are the other towns in Texas? Houston and everything. But they actually did it. They pulled it off. And it was such an amazing story. They made a television show called Friday Night Lights about that town. You saw it, right? Isn’t that amazing?
Ben Zander: And then, one day, they decided they wanted to do the same with the symphony orchestra, so they called me up. And they said, would I come down to Odessa and coach this orchestra? And the end of the story is that they won the state championships. But what I did when I went down there was I didn’t coach the orchestra; I coached the conductor. And this conductor, it was a very, very moving thing actually, because this conductor was so focused on winning the competition that he was driving the players like crazy and making them play well like this. And what he forgot was his love of music. And what got restored was the love of music.
Ben Zander: So Meredith, if you’re willing, I’m going to make some suggestions for you in front of your wonderful charges. Because in the end, everything comes from the conductor. All the decisions really come. Even the sound comes from the conductor. It’s funny to say that because they’re playing their instruments, but actually, in a way, the sound comes from your baton. So if I may just make a few suggestions, I can take my coat off because this is serious business here.
Ben Zander: So the first thing is that Beethoven wrote something very interesting. It’s written in four, not in two. Almost everybody conducted in two. But if it’s felt in four, it’s more massive. He did something else, as he left a metronome mark, and it’s slower than you are doing it, interestingly enough. Isn’t that interesting? Have you noticed that? Because most people say, Beethoven’s metronome marks are all too fast. He was deaf, so he couldn’t see the metronomes. They’re crazy. But I really believe in his metronome marks.
Meredith: von Karajan, as well.
Ben Zander: Yeah. 84. Yeah. Such a wonderful tempo. And if you do it in four, there’s a massiveness, grandeur, and power that doesn’t happen if you’re doing it in two. So can I suggest we start at the beginning and think it in four? Since Beethoven lent me his metronome, I have it here. I just recorded Beethoven’s ninth symphony in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Beethoven was up in the balcony. He was in the balcony looking down on me as I was conducting. And every now and again, he’d go like this. And then, at the end, when we finished, he went. Okay, I’ll give you a copy of the recording. Okay. Now, 84, this is Beethoven. It’s actually quite slow. Isn’t that amazing? So let’s try that. I’m going to get my glasses and then I’ll be able to see something. Just a moment. Okay. So let’s do that.
Ben Zander: First thing I want to say, the trombones have been waiting for 150 years to play, right? This is the moment. Because all the symphonies have heightened, and all the sense of Mozart and Beethoven 1 and Beethoven 2 and Beethoven 3 and Beethoven 4, and then the first movement and the second movement and the third movement and… They play the trombones. They’ve been waiting all that time. So really, let’s make the trombones huge.
Ben Zander: Can we just hear the trombones at the beginning? One, two, three and… If somebody makes a mistake, I always say, how fascinating. So that was a, how fascinating. Once again. There should be three trombones, and at the moment, we only have two. And… Feel the massiveness of… 1, 2, 3. Oh, that’s pretty impressive. See if the rest of the orchestra can match that. Are you ready? Ready? Trombones, you are leading the charge. 2, 3, and… All right. Isn’t that amazing? It’s already massive and powerful. And that’s the most joyful sound that exists in the history of music. That sound, what we just heard. All right. So I would suggest… Let’s do it together. Everybody, together with from the beginning. 1, 2, 3, and… Now I’m actually feeling four beats in the bar. And you are doing it in two. When I do it in two, look what happens to the sound, it goes away. Do it again, from the beginning. I’ll do it in two. And…
Ben Zander: That’s the reason why everybody plays it faster because they think it sounds so bland that way. But if you do it in four, it doesn’t feel at all bland. So you don’t need to go 1, 2, 3, 4. Look what I do. I don’t do 1, 2, 3, 4, I do something that suggests 4. Play again. And… Isn’t that great? So get that sound. It’s a massive sound. Okay, here we go. No, you don’t even look like the last movement of Beethoven. People have to know exactly… Right. And you’re built perfectly for the task because this is a big piece. Big, big, big piece. So with a massive sound, here we go together. And…
Ben Zander: Amazing. Now, every note in music either goes somewhere or comes from somewhere. So every moment, the conductor has to decide, where is it going? And at the beginning, it seems… You expect it to go up. But it actually comes from there, from the first note. So that doesn’t mean that the second bar is less. It means that it grows from the first bar. So it takes terrific intel because you are doing something counterintuitive. Because most people say… Because that’s simple. It goes up. Then the next heavy bar is… So just try that, with that shape. And if you tell the orchestra the shape, you don’t need to, but if you tell them, they’ll make it even clearer because they feel the 1. 1, 2, 3, and…
Ben Zander: That’s it. That’s it. That’s as good as that can sound. Now, the next thing is… And the third one, because things are always built in threes… Going from the beginning, and let’s exaggerate those shapes. 1, 2, 3, and… A little applause, please. Good. Now, the conductor must never look as though they are in the boxing ring with Mohammed Ali. You always have to be in control and slightly detached. And at the moment, there’s so much of this, that they get confused. They don’t know to want to follow. So keep the economy of your body, such that they only see what they need. They only see what they need to make the shape. That means, sometimes you don’t conduct at all. Let me show you how little you can conduct. Can we just try from the beginning? 3, and…
Ben Zander: See that? All you are giving them is what they absolutely need, nothing else. They’ll play great the rest of the time. Beautiful. Do it again. Can I say one thing to you?
Ben Zander: When you conduct, you’re thinking about yourself and what you’re going to do. I would recommend that you think only about what they’re going to do. Because you are silent, they are the ones who make the sound. So your job is to awaken them to everything that the music requires. So rather than looking as though you are inside your head before you begin, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? Like that. Right? So it’s about them. Always about them. That’s true in life, generally. Always pay attention to the other person. That’s true in a marriage too.
Ben Zander: Too much. Too much. Great. But it was great. What you did was perfect. And then you did too much. Yeah. One of the biggest things about being a conductor is trusting the orchestra, loving the orchestra. I know you love them, but trust them. Trust them. They’ll play wonderfully. You don’t have to hit them over the head all the time, say, play beautifully. No, you don’t need to do that. Once again, we’ll do it together. 3, and…
Ben Zander: It’s so funny. Beethoven loves to upset things. And those sforzandos are upsetting the whole apple cart. Do you know The Marriage of Figaro, the opera, The Marriage of Figaro? At the beginning of the opera, The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro is measuring the bedroom they’re going to be in because they’re going to get married. And he’s very excited because it’s huge. Susanna says, “You idiot. The reason he’s given us this huge bedroom is its right next to his quarter, so he can get access to me.” But Figaro takes no notes; he goes on measuring. And when he finally gets it, he sings a song, and he sings (singing). If you want to dance, Mr. Count, (singing). I’m going to play the guitar, my friend, if you want to dance. (singing). And he shouts on the second beat of the bar. You can’t do that in a minuet, because (singing). It’s elegant, aristocratic, and got to be everything right. And suddenly, for the first time, there’s a sforzando on the second beat, which caused the French revolution. Well, not quite.
Ben Zander: Do you see what I mean? That’s the sforzando… It’s almost more than you can bear, right? Should we do that? You’re doing great. It sounds beautiful—one more time from the beginning. And always play it as if it’s the last time you’ll ever play anything. Right? Because you never know. Suddenly the roof crashed and maybe the last time. Okay. Here we go. And think to yourself, I always do this before I conduct, I always say, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, and… Okay.
Ben Zander: There are a thousand things to conducting, thousands of things, but you’re always looking at the same place. You’ve got the whole orchestra. Everybody needs you. Particularly, the second violins need you. I saw a sign once, out a shoe shop in Spain, it said, Alvares Shoemaker, and then underneath it said, and lessons in the second violin. So make them feel totally important. Right? Once again.
Ben Zander: You’re doing beautifully. Really, it’s coming alive. It’s beautiful. The cellos and bases, unfortunately absent, have a wonderful important bar there. Just play… From the G, the cellos. 3, and… Good cello playing. Very, very good. The trouble is it’s never heard because the timpani playing is, “listen to me,” and the trumpets are playing, “listen to me.” Nobody cares about you guys. All we care about is that. Now Beethoven wrote 40 for everybody. He assumed people would adjust because they’re smart people. And if they see… Probably they realize it’s not the melody. Right? Okay. But nowadays, we have to point that out. So tell those guys to shut up and look at the cellos as if their life depends on it, and they do.
Ben Zander: Okay. So let’s do it. You’re doing fabulous. I mean the whole thing has come alive. It’s joyful. There isn’t one person in the room who’s not excited at the moment. Not one person has fallen asleep. All right? Because this music is so exciting. It’s so exhilarating. I give talks about the possibility in corporate situations. I just spoke last week for 2,200 corporate CEOs in Copenhagen. What did I end with? This. This music on the loudspeakers, as loud as the speakers could take it. But it wasn’t as exciting as what’s going on here. Isn’t that great? People have little hairs at the back of their necks. When I attacked you, I didn’t mean it personally. You understand? In a way I did, I’m just working on behalf of Beethoven… That’s what he’s saying. He’s undermining the status quo, the hierarchy, the way we always do things. He’s shaking his fist at the world. Should we try it one more time? Imagine it’s the last time you’ll ever play it. Ready? And when we get to the cello thing, make sure that everybody hears the cellos. All right, here we go.
Ben Zander: It had power, it had majesty, had intensity, had clarity, had everything you could want. Now put direction into it, and it’ll be perfect. So the C, the beginning… That takes terrific tension here in order to do that. Let’s do it. 2, 1, 2, 3, and…
Ben Zander: 2, 3, 4. Always, somebody comes in early. You’re doing great. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Being a conductor. For one thing, it’s physically exhausting, but it’s also mentally exhausting. Because they are thinking, you are the brain for the whole group. And so you want every single person to feel exactly the way you feel about it. And that means you can’t stare at one place, and you can’t just conduct. Right? It always is… And then the third time, you have to speak to them as if you were telling a story, which they then will tell the audience. But it’s hugely improved already. And I’m a very patient person, so I’d like to go back to the beginning and do it one more time.
Ben Zander: And each time we do it, I do something very rash, but I recommend it. I put a white sheet of paper on the stand of every musician in every orchestra I conduct: professional orchestra, world-famous orchestras, children’s orchestras, everything. And the invitation of the white sheet is to tell me whatever they want to tell me. And I asked them only one thing, sign your name. And I get all sorts of fantastic information. Coaching from them about what works for them, what doesn’t work. That’s how I learned to conduct by seeing how effective that was. And you know how you know whether it’s effective? Their eyes are shining. When their eyes are shining, you know it’s working. If the eyes are not shining, I say, who am I being? We can do that with our children too. Who am I that my children’s eyes are not shiny? Who am I that my people in my company’s eyes are not shiny? But it always comes down to our responsibility. Should we do it one more time?
Ben Zander: Let’s do it. And let’s see what happens. Now, we have to think and think and think and think. Right? And don’t look at one place. Look at this as your whole life, your whole family. All right. Ready? We’ll do it together. 1, 2, 1, 2, and… Let’s be sure that they do it together. If they don’t play it together, whose fault is it?
Ben Zander: Right. Great. Thank you. That’s true of all you CEOs out there. If it’s not going well in your company, it’s your problem. 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, and…
Ben Zander: One of the characteristics of Beethoven is the violent contrast of very loud music and very soft music. And it can’t be done with the same gestures. They simply don’t pay attention. So you have to do something totally different. If they’re not paying attention, whose fault is it?
Ben Zander: Right. Great. So do something.
Ben Zander: Right? They’ll pay attention. You go… Then what difference does it make? That’s why orchestra players get so cynical because they get disappointed all the time. It’s not that they’re cynical, they’re passionate, but they’ve been disappointed too often, and so they get cynical. That’s what cynicism is. So get their passion going through your own. So let’s just do from just before the… You know what I mean? That was great. Do you hear the cellos? Wasn’t that great? And they didn’t even have the bass in. Imagine how that would sound with six bass players underneath them. Oh, it would be great. What I love about your cellos is they’re very, very energetic. And they will play their hearts out. But if they’re drowned, there’s nothing you can do about it. So let’s go from… How would it be? From somewhere here. Well, maybe from… There. Can you find that place?
Ben Zander: A. Perfect. A very good place to go. No, no, no, no, no. You want those horns to be massive and grand. So you’ve got to do some gesture which encourages them to play. Is that where they’re playing?
Ben Zander: Yeah. Exactly. Oh, this is such a great moment. Let’s have it.
Ben Zander: Now we’re talking. That’s the way. It’s extreme. Absolute dream. I love you. You’re lucky to have her. Probably we should stop. Should we stop? No, nobody wants to stop. Well done, all of you. And here’s the thing. Meredith brings you incredible passion, commitment, love, engagement, force, all of those things. And what we added today was a dimension of clarity and thinking, and you can help. You can help with this process definitely by your playing. And also don’t know if you want to do it, I’ve done it for you, white sheets. It’s the way to grow. Because we conductors and teachers generally tend to blame people when it doesn’t go the way we want it to go. And you’re not alone. Teachers do that, generally. And in professional orchestras, the conductors often blame the players when the conductors may… Do you think they’re taking in the players?
Ben Zander: No. Not from a moment. They know. So this is a joint effort where everybody gets involved. And I look around, and I see a lot of shining eyes. All right. Shining eyes, shining eyes, shining eyes everywhere. That’s all that counts, are the engagement and the love and the passion of the people we’re working with. And you’re working with some of the greatest music ever written. Well done, and thank you for what you’re doing.
Meredith: Thank you.