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

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Beethoven: Violin Concerto - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Deborah Palmer (violin) and Johnathon Shin (piano)

“Maybe for 200 years, people have been playing this piece incorrectly. Wouldn’t that be exciting to find out? Now, this is an interpretation class, not a masterclass. Interpretation is an inquiry. We’re all looking. We’re all students.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Benjamin Zander:
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, you cheated. You cheated. Would you do that at the end again? And go on with the music that’s there. All right. Because it can be very interesting. Right? Just do the last few bars.

Johnathon Shin:
Sorry.

Benjamin Zander:
Yes go on.

Benjamin Zander:
Okay. Now. The reason I asked you to do that, was because what happened was what always happens. And I’m going to explain in a minute what it is. But first of all, I want to say something about coming to play in a class. This is not a violin class. It’s not a masterclass. It’s an interpretation class. Right. Do you understand?

Deborah Palmer:
Mm-hmm.

Benjamin Zander:
So I’m not going to talk about your violin playing and, but I am going to talk about interpretation.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
And what’s very interesting is what happened in this room. We’re going to do it one more time. You’re going to play the last four bars.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
And then he’s going to play the first four bars of the next passage. Okay. 2, 3, 4. 1, 2, 3, 4. 1, 2, 3, 4. Nobody’s ever heard that before. Right? Nobody’s ever heard that before because nobody has ever done that before. Because it’s so ridiculous. So, what happens is, have you ever noticed that? Everybody in every performance, what they do is, you play your beautiful thing. And then the orchestra comes in at a completely different tempo. You were playing at 100 and he came in at 120, right? Without any explanation. And nobody noticed including the musician himself. Right? And that happened to be in a concert. And I was sitting in the concert listening to a very great violinist play. And when he got to that F major chord, it happened in the introduction too. It suddenly jumped 20 pair points on the metronome. I said, that can’t be right. There’s got to be something wrong. So I started thinking about it.

Benjamin Zander:
And what I thought was maybe the whole tempo is wrong. Maybe for 200 years, people have been playing this piece incorrectly. Wouldn’t that be exciting to find out? Now this is interpretation class, not masterclass. Masterclass, the master tells you how it goes. Interpretation. It’s an inquiry, right? We’re all looking. We’re all students. And we’re looking into this thing. Now it may be, that the correct tempo is this passage because actually you can only play that at one passage. You just play that. How could that be played any other way? So let’s imagine that’s the tempo of the piece and it probably is. And so, let’s go back to the beginning and you’ll get a big shock. You’ll get a big shock because that then becomes That’s right. Isn’t that beautiful? And that sounds very natural. So let’s try and find the second theme. Here. I do from here.

Benjamin Zander:
I love you. Please don’t ever leave me. And it’s a beautiful tempo. It’s a beautiful tempo. And Beethoven wrote another piece, very similar.

Benjamin Zander:
And you know what is smart? Exactly the same allegro ma non troppo. Identical. Right? So maybe we’re onto something here. We’ve got a couple of pieces of information because what has been played for the last 200 years is not an allegro. It’s an andante. So this is going to be a bit of a shock for you.

Deborah Palmer:
All right.

Benjamin Zander:
So let’s see what happens when we try and do the whole piece in one tempo, which is clearly meant.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
Okay. So now what I’m going to do is, we’re going to play the F major chord, which is going to give us the tempo and that incidentally is always played at that tempo. 1 26, 1 24, something like that. That’s here with the F major, right? So do that. 2, 3, 4. You should be getting excited. Are you excited?

Deborah Palmer:
I’m excited.

Benjamin Zander:
Are you excited? Are you excited? Are you excited? Okay, we don’t need to do all that. Because it’s a very, very long introduction. But now what happens, is if we are going to do that, let’s do the end of the introduction now at this tempo. Feels great, doesn’t it?

Deborah Palmer:
It does yes.

Benjamin Zander:
Are you getting excited? Oh my God. Oh my God. What’s going to happen? And now to the. And then to the. And now hello.

Benjamin Zander:
Aha. Yes. She’s even smiling. Wow. Again.

Benjamin Zander:
Bravo. Well done. Bravo. It’s actually a different piece. It’s a different piece of music, completely different piece of music. And it changes the character. Because Beethoven said something very important. He said, “Tempo is character”. Tempo is character, right? And so, by changing the tempo, you’re actually completely changing the character. If I go It’s a totally different character than if I go Right? The tempo changes the character. Now what you were beginning to do, not fully doing was you went, you were beginning to change your personality as you were playing the piece. Because you become something, the word that springs to the lips for the traditional performance of the Beethoven Ninth is Patrician. You’ve got to be at least 60, you know, 65.

Benjamin Zander:
And incidentally, I don’t want to, in this course of this conversation, find ourselves mocking, or making fun of, or putting down, great, great musicians. One of the musicians who influenced me more when I was young was Menuhin because my teacher was in a trio with him and I went on tour with them. I spent a lot of time with Menuhin. And he played so beautifully. You know, there are memories that I have in my ear that will never leave me, of Menuhin playing. But when he played this concerto, he took about twice longer than it should’ve taken. And he would play

Benjamin Zander:
Very beautiful, but when Completely different tempo. Now I didn’t speak to Menuhin about that. I was 16. He was Menuhin. Right. But with you, I can have that conversation. Because it doesn’t make sense to do, to take a work of great, great art and change it for what? For our indulgence. Because we have a beautiful sound, or so The first thing is look at the music as a totality. And then when you discover, as we’ve just discovered, I mean, at one point I discovered that the Beethoven fifth was a very different piece than the one, than we were used to. And that was years ago in 1972. And I did a performance of the Beethoven fifth here in Boston. And when the review came out, the review was Michael Steinberg. You know who that is? A great man. He said, “Now we have to rethink Beethoven from the ground up”.

Benjamin Zander:
Right? And that’s happened. Now, a whole generation of musicians has come and they have thought this out. And now you hear the piece played more normally. But still musicians can be in a bubble. You’re in a bubble of listening to recordings of traditions, and so on. And so I ask you to go out there and listen to what’s going on in the world, and you’ll see what happens. And then when you find out the real tempo of this movement, and all the movements are played wrong in this piece, the second movement, the third movement, isn’t that interesting? Then be physically, physically respond. Because it becomes a young person’s piece. Do you know how old the violinist was who played it for the first time in public? No. 21. He was not 65. Nor incidentally was Beethoven, but he was 21. And between the first movement of the second movement, he did some clever little things like this, playing little solos between, behind, he could play the violin backwards.

Benjamin Zander:
And so he did that between the first movement and the second movement. So think of it as a young person’s piece. Full of ardor, and joy. And then become that in your physical You have a bad habit, which is you look at your fingers when you’re playing. Do you think that helps the fingers? No. No. In fact, the fingers keep on saying, go away. Go away. Go away. Leave me alone. Right? I’m fine. I’ve practiced. I know how it goes. Get your head away up in, out everywhere. Communicate it. Your job is to communicate the joy of the piece. Should we have one more go at it? So let’s do from You’re doing brilliantly incidentally, and you transformed the tempo completely. You didn’t transform with it. The character.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
All right. So should we just do I don’t have my, here, glasses. Let’s do, should we do the second half? It doesn’t matter what we do actually. Let’s go back a bit. It doesn’t matter because it’s fine. Oh, I know what we should do. We should look at that G minor passage. Because everybody plays that slow. So let’s try. You need that. Yeah. I just want people to hear it because it’s so amazing when you hear it. Okay. Let’s go from F, F from the recapitulation, right? Where you come back.

Benjamin Zander:
Yes. All right. Yeah. Just do here. And this is sweeping. Look, Beethoven wrote a slur over the whole thing. This gives it away. Right? One huge bow like that. Should we try? Oh, look she smiled. Isn’t that great?

Benjamin Zander:
The joy. The openness. Isn’t it great? You should be so excited. Goes to there, and then to there, and now to there, and then to

Benjamin Zander:
Can you imagine coming in and going Hello? I’m so happy to see you. And then you do another one over here and you say, hello, thank you for coming. We’re going to have a wonderful time. So do the quarter. And you do Why are you looking here? The people are here?

Benjamin Zander:
Here they are. It’s funny. You know, if I put a handkerchief here, this would be much better. Here. All right now. Say hello. And then to. Now you say. Talk to them. Talk to them. Talk to them. Now, when we make a mistake, we say, “How fascinating”.
Benjamin Zander:
Otherwise, isn’t that beautiful? Now life becomes a communication instead of a test. Wow. Life becomes a communication instead of a test. Now in these buildings, these hallowed halls, the conservatories of music where we preserve art, everything is a test. The faculty make it a test. The audience make it a test. And worst of all, your colleagues make it a test. Because they’re sitting there saying how many wrong notes is she going to play? Not how touched am I by Beethoven’s vision. It’s a huge shift. It’s a shift of being. You got that?

Deborah Palmer:
Yeah.

Benjamin Zander:
And you are carrying a lot of weight. You have two children. You don’t want to pass that weight onto your children, right?
Deborah Palmer:
No.

Benjamin Zander:
Okay. So can you give up that weight today? So when you go back to your two children, what age? Two and four?

Deborah Palmer:
Mm-hmm.

Benjamin Zander:
Right. So those two-year-olds are, they don’t want to be weighed down by worry, pressure, competition, fear, anxiety, because they’ll need a lot of psychiatry in their older ages.

Benjamin Zander:
Right? So your job is to give them love, enthusiasm, passion, vitality, connection, and security. Right? Is that right?

Deborah Palmer:
Right.

Benjamin Zander:
Okay. So that’s what Beethoven was writing about. Right? Love, mainly love. So if we could remove that burden of competition, essentially comparison, measurement, fear, all that. We just remove it out of our life. Don’t allow it in. It isn’t welcome. And then Beethoven will help because he has a lot to offer. Right? So should we try that once again? And you are going to give that introduction, like say, I’m so happy you came. I can’t believe My granddaughter was six. She was great. Except she couldn’t walk. She skipped everywhere like this. Everywhere. Everywhere she went, she was skipping around. Right. And all she was saying is, I’m happy to be here. I’m happy you are here too. That’s that’s what it’s all about. Right? You get that?

Deborah Palmer:
Mm-hmm.

Benjamin Zander:
It’s a big leap for you. But remember your motherhood, not your, not your student-hood. You’re a student here, but you are also a mother. You have a greater responsibility as a mother than you do as a student. Got that? Ooh, that hit home. Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
Where’s it going? To there!

Benjamin Zander:
You’re 21. Virtually.

Benjamin Zander:
Where’s it going? Where’s it going?

Benjamin Zander:
That’s okay. That’s fine. I should we just get to that G minor because I want to see if it’s humanly possible. I know it is, but There we go. Should we do the G minor? Oh, we just do this. This is fine. Then we.

Benjamin Zander:
Oh, that’s a great moment that, can you make that very special? One of the reasons people play slowly, because they think they can get more effect that way. It’s not true. You just have to pay more attention if you’re doing it faster.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
Now.

Benjamin Zander:
Yes! This is how.

Benjamin Zander:
You see? She’s just fiddling. Now, this is a passage which everybody plays very, very slowly. And it’s so slow often that you forget that is the theme, right?

Deborah Palmer:
Yeah. Yeah.

Benjamin Zander:
We’re going to try.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
Now one of the things you can do is in the bars, in which he’s not playing the drum, you can be free.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
Right? So be very rhapsodic, like a like gypsy violin. Should we try from the G minor? Yeah. No, no. From the idea here. Right. So when you get to the top from here, you can be very free with that. You’re alone. Two from there. Now tempo. 1, 2, 3. Yeah, but You take a little time. Right? A little, not that much, but-

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
that was beautiful. Don’t become mechanical. Because this is one of the favorite moments in all of music. People love this, which is why they play it so slowly. I don’t think it’s necessary. Should we try once again?

Deborah Palmer:
Okay. Mm-hmm.

Benjamin Zander:
But be very intimate, very intense, and in tempo, but very free. Right? Same thing just do from the Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Benjamin Zander:
Yes.

Benjamin Zander:
Beautiful. And there it is. There isn’t that beautiful? So that’s her discovery. That’s her discovery. Now once we open a box and see what’s inside, unfortunately the box will never close again. So you’re going to be miserable for the rest of your life. Every time you hear the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Benjamin Zander:
I had a class at the conservatory, and one of the students came at the end of the class and said, “Thank you very much for the class. I loved it. I learned a lot, but unfortunately, I have to throw away all my CDs”.

Benjamin Zander:
Cause you can’t hear it the other way, once you’ve realized how he’s written it. So now here, first of all, bravo for being so quick and able to change without fuss.

Benjamin Zander:
You know, musicians make a lot of fuss. They say, I don’t feel well. I need more time to practice. No, you don’t need any time to practice. All you need is open brain. Your fingers will do what your brain tells them to do without fail. So the thing is to be clear with your brain, that’s all that matters. And you did that beautifully and everybody was impressed. I mean, you totally transformed the way of your Incidentally, it was a lot less boring. It was actually very exciting when you were playing. Not surprising because Beethoven was a great composer. He knew how music should go. It’s an allegro. You got it?

Deborah Palmer:
Got it.

Benjamin Zander:
Right. And allegro means fast, but it also means happy. So remember to be happy. Okay. Well done.

Benjamin Zander:
I want to thank you for one other thing, which is so vital. To be open. To be open. To be willing. To be curious rather than say, no I know how I’ll tell you a very interesting story about this. When I discovered all this, it was 1975, something like. That before anybody was thinking about Beethoven, Tempe and everything like that. And I called up Itzhak Perlman and I said, “I want to do the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And I have an interesting new idea about it”. He said, “Oh yes. Tell me. On the phone”. So I sang all this and then I sang the second movement

Benjamin Zander:
And the last movement is a rondo, like the seventh symphony How do I know? Because Is exactly the same as the seventh symphony first move. So I sang all that and I told him all that and he listened and he said, “Well, it’s interesting, but I like to play it the way Isaac plays it”. That’s Isaac Stern. And so I put down the receiver and I invited a wonderful young violinist who was about 20 at the time. And we had about nine rehearsals, and nine conversations, and he played it. It was Peter Zazofsky. Have you ever heard?

Deborah Palmer:
Yes. Yes.

Benjamin Zander:
Now he’s-

Deborah Palmer:
Yeah.

Benjamin Zander:
now, and he played it this way. And it was thrilling. People went wild with enthusiasm. And then the next week after the concert Perlman came to town to play Beethoven Violin Concerto The critic didn’t like that at all. Because the previous week they’d heard the Beethoven Concerto. I love your smile. Use it more often. It’s beautiful. Particularly with your children.

Deborah Palmer:
I will.

Benjamin Zander:
Okay. Don’t deprive the children of your joy, and your passion, your vitality and your dancing. Don’t because they will be less because of it. And incidentally don’t deprive your audiences either.

Deborah Palmer:
Okay.

Benjamin Zander:
Thank you.

Deborah Palmer:
Thank you so much.

Benjamin Zander:
Yes. Thank you.

Trevor Stolz
'I am 46 years old, started playing violin as an adult (I played piano since childhood) and working on grade 7 Royal Conservatory of Music exam. So, I'm certainly not up to this calibre of musicianship, but these videos always make me feel very inspired. I feel like I can do it, even if it takes the next 10 years of my life. Thanks for the inspiration!'
AssHattery Engaged
'The weight of the world with all of its tasks and tests bears down on all of us constantly. It's refreshing to hear an instructor consciously and consistently steer these artists' focus to the contrary. Thank you.'
Claire Potter
'When I practice violin I imagine Benjamin Zander on my shoulder singing, talking to me as I play, lose your inhibitions! talk to them! communicate! give up that weight! It really helps my playing.'
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