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

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Beethoven: Symphony no. 9 - 4th movement

Interpretation Class
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Aiden Phipps (double bass)

“Instead of worrying about being out of tune, be concerned that the eyes in the audience are shining.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander:
Okay, well done. Very good. Aiden is in a long tradition of double bass players who have to go for auditions. He’s behind a screen and there are a whole group of orchestra players in front of him. And he’s playing. When is the audition?

Aiden Phipps:
I have-

Ben Zander:
It’s coming up.

Aiden Phipps:
it on February 4th.

Ben Zander:
Okay, perfect. Great! Perfect, that gives us enough time. So, Aiden has to do the following thing. He has to distinguish himself from 150 other double bass players. All of whom are vying with him to get the job, right? Is that normally the case?

Aiden Phipps:
Yeah.

Ben Zander:
So the one way you can do that is by playing more beautifully, more in tune and more perfectly than any of the others. In which case they’ll give you the job. Or you can get the listeners so excited that they will be amazed and offer you a job because you’re so interesting, right?

Aiden Phipps:
Yeah.

Ben Zander:
Or you could do both now. Let’s look at something here, which apparently nobody seems to have seen amongst the fraternity of bass players. Which is Beethoven writes presto and then he writes in tempo with the character of a recitative, but in tempo, what tempo?

Aiden Phipps:
There’s the it says 96-

Ben Zander:
No, don’t never mind. That’s not Beethoven.

Aiden Phipps:
I know. That was the page number in the score, right?

Ben Zander:
Right. No, that’s something else. Oh yeah. That’s right. The presto. About that, there’s no doubt. That was written 96 in the edition. But unfortunately, it was a mistake of the printer. It was the page number which he wrote. Actually, what Beethoven wrote was 66. Which is a fine tempo, right? And then it says in the character of recitative mais in tempo. But in tempo. Which tempo? It has to be the presto.

Aiden Phipps:
Yeah.

Ben Zander:
So how come nobody plays it presto, right? So, we’re going to try, okay? We’re going to do it in tempo. And so 1, 2, 3, 4 No, I’ll give you 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Aiden Phipps:
Okay.

Ben Zander:
One, two

Ben Zander:
Good. Very good. Very good! Let’s do it again. And what you are doing is playing what the baritone is going to sing later where he says, “O Freunde! Friends! Don’t play these tones. Let’s play some beautiful tones.” Right? You know what he says. So you are in place of the singer. You are replacing the singer and you are Do you know how many bass players played this in the first performance that Beethoven conducted?

Audience member:
Wasn’t it just Dragonetti?

Ben Zander:
No, that was another occasion. Good for you! Dragonetti was the greatest bass player of the day. Some people think that he did it alone. We don’t know that for sure. But what we do know the first performance, two bass players and four cellos. So reduced. So, imagine you are one of those two bass players. 1, 2, 3, 4 Good. Now as much like a recitative as you can, as free as you can. Once again, the same thing. Free like that. 1, 2, 3, 4.

Ben Zander:
Good, I love that. If you could make it sound as if you’re speaking to the whole world. “O Freunde! Don’t sing that stuff!” Imagine you are coming out and singing like a priest Good! Already, look she thought it was great. She hired you immediately. That was great.

Ben Zander:
Can you be a little bit more up in your playing? You’re very much down with your head. Better than it used to be. But still more. And I know you have a big instrument but talk to the people. Tell them the story here. Right? Exactly. Go on.

Ben Zander:
Good. Can you make it more like a recitative? So if you think of it this way. Right? That’s good. That’s good. Even more legato; that’s a presto. Good next. Good.

Ben Zander:
Now, if you were doing a real recitative, you’d do more legato. Can you do this? Yeah, poco adagio. Not too slow. Right? Okay. So, 1, 2, 3 Good. That’s pretty good. Let’s play it one more time. Good.

Ben Zander:
I wanted to just show you, so you know what 66 is. Just so you know how much slower you are going can be a little slower than that, but not much. One, and Oh Bravo! Bravo. That’s good! That’s good. So what’s happening is Beethoven is trying to construct a theme. He’s trying to find a solution. So he tries the first movement. That doesn’t work. Now he tries the second movement.

Ben Zander:
Good. Do that. Good! No, not Good, and that’s a chord. That’s a recitative chord, right? Do that. That was beautiful. Bravo, Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!

Ben Zander:
Now next one Bravo, Aiden, bravo! So this is like Eroica right? 1, 2, 3 just do that like the Eroica. And then when you get to the B sharp, very held. And from here,.

Ben Zander:
Right? You don’t need to go slower there because it’s Just take time. Once again. Perfect! Perfect. Exactly the way he wanted it. And now this last one Good! Very, very good. This is the singer full out. It’s as if his instruments are not going to be any good enough anymore. He has to get real singers in. But this is the best we can do as instrumentalists. Let’s try that. Good, well done! Very good.

Ben Zander:
I’ll tell you a secret, you were auditioning for my orchestra. Next year, we will do this in Symphony Hall and Carnegie Hall.

Aiden Phipps:
Amazing.

Ben Zander:
And you are going to play.

Aiden Phipps:
Yeah?

Ben Zander:
That’s how we’re going to do it, okay? Now, let’s do the great tune, right? I think they know it

Ben Zander:
Good. I’m very pleased that you don’t play it very slowly, which is what most people do. But you are speaking for all humanity and it’s a little bit mundane, what you are doing. It’s something very, very grand, noble, simple, but full of bliss, right? Can you get that more beautiful?

Ben Zander:
Be careful you’re not uneven. Because the evenness is what gives people the confidence that everything is going to work out, right? If you are at all unstable, this is the opposite of Schumann, right? Light. Everything is light. There’s light everywhere.

Ben Zander:
Good. Now I tell you something very interesting. The reason I’m looking for my Metronome, because I think it’ll be interesting for you to know. You’re playing it beautifully. You’re playing it a little bit under the tempo. Do you know that? Not much. I’d like you to move it up one notch and it’ll flow a little bit more. And if you can look up and give your feeling, it’s that beautiful feeling in Beethoven of being cantabile, of being generous. Generous to the world. 1, 2, wait 1, now

Ben Zander:
And can I ask you one thing, Aiden? Instead of worrying that it’ll be out of tune, can you be concerned that the eyes of the audience are shining? Those are different things. Being in tune is very important, really important to be in tune. It’s like when you get married, wear a clean shirt. But it’s more important to find the right person to marry, right? If you have to weigh them up, right? Okay. So make it clean. But at the same time, think about all of humanity being enlivened by this moment. One Now Good. Now, can you play the opening of the Bernstein performance of the Ninth Symphony on the bass?

Ben Zander:
Can you close it off? Great, that’s the most extreme example of that very slow approach that most people follow and is the furthest away from what Beethoven had. Now, can you imagine what it’ll be like when you go into your audition and they’re sitting and you play the way you are going to play now, and you knock their socks off, right? They’ve heard maybe 80 versions of that. And now you walk in. Ready? Are you ready for the beginning? One Yeah, remember it’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Good. And now don’t worry at all about playing in tune and just go for a broke. So, a real presto. Ready one, wait, wait, wait, one

Ben Zander:
Good. Well done. You’re really well on the way. I would recommend that you work more in that direction before the audition so that you really do it strongly when you come to the audition. Now I remember I coached a cellist once in this and I said to him, when we finished, I said, “Don’t play this way in the audition because you won’t get the job.” But he did. And the conductor was so excited that he appointed him associate principal cellist. So you may not be that lucky because they’re expecting more like that. And most people are going to do that. I would, I don’t know, it’s up to you whether you want to go that way?

Aiden Phipps:
Yeah.

Ben Zander:
But an audition is an audition. Well, what we’re talking about is how the piece really goes. And when a composer writes presto in tempo, but like recitative, I think we have the job to do that. All right. So well done. You’re on the way. Very good.

Ben O'Brien
'I attended this class myself. It was absolutely fascinating!'
Ryan McGuire
'Mr Zander continuing his rightful obsession with Beethoven 9'
Aaron Meives
'The before and after during this masterclass is outstanding! Aiden and Ben make a great duo!'
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