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

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Brahms: Cello Sonata no. 1 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Łukasz Pawlikowski (cello) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)

“This is one of the most famous cello tunes in the world by Brahms, and Brahms was very meticulous about how he wanted his music to be.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Good. Let’s just take that phrase. All right. Can we just take that phrase? You have to make some decisions. Every musician wants to make a crescendo after that. See? So, they should, because the music goes up, and there’s dissonance at the top, and it’s the longest note, and all the things that draw musicians rightly every good musician would be drawn. My teacher, who was one of the greatest cellists in the world, told me to start on up bow. Just do that.

Ben Zander: No, one bow, right. That’s the most natural thing in the world. Isn’t it? Absolutely natural. Who am I to say the Brahms’s meant something else? I think he meant something else. I think what he meant is that the first bar is heavy, and the impulse comes from the first bar, and then you make the crescendo up to the C, and still keep the impulse on the first bar, which means the next impulse is the third bar. Did you get that? Let’s try that. No, there’s good. Good. He can’t decide now whether up or down bow. Down bow.

Ben Zander: What I would do, is go up the C string. And because he says legato, do you see, he says legato? Espressivo legato, you could even do it in one bow. Careful, not too fast. Because you’ve got to wait for the notes in the piano.

Lukasz Pawlikowski: I feel the energy.

Ben Zander: No, but it’s great. It’s great. The energy is great. You’ve got a conflict, or an ambiguity between Brahms’s structure, and the feeling of the music. Do you see what I’m saying?

Lukasz Pawlikowski: Let’s start down bow, up bow.

Ben Zander: No, because otherwise you’ll lead to the second bar.

Lukasz Pawlikowski: Okay.

Ben Zander: All right. We make that E, do E as if it was the last note. No, just that’s good. Just play E just the E. Right. That’s where the piece begins on that E, do it again. Oh, gorgeous. Gorgeous. Now do it again, and this time, start that way, and then lead up. Now, now look. The E is still there. It’s been there all the time. You play, and I’ll sing the E. That’s the same E, so the E’s been stuck there all the way. If you don’t play enough on the E, how can you feel that?

Lukasz Pawlikowski: It’s like a big ornament.

Ben Zander: Genius! He said it’s like a big ornament. Wow. I mean, only a genius would say that. I’ve never heard anybody say that, really, it’s exactly right. It’s an understanding of the way music work that is very rare. One in a thousand young musicians would say what he just said. He understands that there’s something called an E, and then a huge ornament. Then it returns to that E, so try one more time, and don’t rush it now. Three. Now, let me suggest, if you go up the C string, you’ll get even more tension. Do it again. To F sharp, now to G.

Ben Zander: Look at the face of the gentleman. He is so happy. Look at him, he understood the piece for the first time he heard, and Brahms up there saying bravo, young man, you did it. Isn’t that great? It’s so exciting because, he brings out everything in the music. Let’s do the next phrase. Heavy bar, heavy light, heavy. Now it builds sequences, sequences. Now the piano comes in. Now heavy bar. Good Bravo. Perfectly realized Brahms Sonata, as good as you’ll ever hear it. They didn’t even know they were going to play it. They’ve never studied together. It’s incredible. Except it isn’t incredible because they understand the grammar of music. Is that beautiful? Bravo, you two. You’re extraordinary. All I can say is that if we taught the grammar of music to everybody, even these little children who were sitting here, they would grow up, and that would be the way the music would be played. You would be feeling the way you are feeling now in your lives because music can do that. That feeling that we all have right now, feeling of openheartedness, and warmth, and engagement, and love, and energy, and connectedness, inclusivity, all of that, we have that. Brahms gave it to us through these extraordinary young musicians who know the grammar of music. That’s it. That’s my answer to John Rossi in South Africa, don’t wait till 2020. Get it now. Should we do one more thing? Maybe. Let me look. It’s fun. Isn’t it? Actually, three. I don’t think we have the cello part, do we? I think just the piano part. Come and sit here, come and sit here.

Lukasz Pawlikowski: Maybe we could play Schumann, Fantasiestucke?

Ben Zander: That isn’t so clear, but we also don’t have it.

Lukasz Pawlikowski: Oh, okay.

Ben Zander: I don’t think we have. Let’s see what else we have here. Oh, it’s very exciting. Can I tell you this? Please, come here. You can play some accompaniment here. You’ll find your way. Dave, look to see this. Just to see the tune, you can’t score reading. Do we have a piano part of the Second Bronze Symphony? Second Symphony, second movement?

Lukasz Pawlikowski: I can come up with one.

Ben Zander: Bet you can. We’ll do it with the cellos. This is one of the most famous cello tunes in the world by Brahms, and Brahms was very meticulous about how he wanted his music to be. Let’s try this, and play that without thinking about it. Just play it without thinking. This is a piece that exists in many auditions for orchestral auditions. They all ask the cellos to play this tune. Yeah, no. It’s much, much slower it’s adagio. Right, good. Dina, let’s do it once. Now, imagine you are in an audition, and they want to know how beautiful your sound is. How in tune you play, how in time you play, that’s all they’re interested in really. It’s an orchestra audition straight. You play, show that you have a nice sound, and you make it as Look, he says, poco forte espressivo, meaning really everything you have. Imagine the whole thing without the piano, just let’s show to the cello. Because, there’s a screen here. You can’t see him, because in the auditions there’s no, you can’t see the person. You just hear the sound coming through the screen. Okay. Here it is. That’s right. That’s how fascinating. Let’s try once again. Good. Just beautiful. Fill the room with sound, gorgeous sound. That’s B natural.

Lukasz Pawlikowski: I’m sorry. I’m a bit stressed.

Ben Zander: No, that’s alright. This is unfair a little bit, because it’s a difficult phrase, and I thought you would know it, but you are very nearly there. I have something very important to tell you.

Lukasz Pawlikowski: I got too emotional.

Ben Zander: Yeah, that’s fine. Okay. So do from there. Beautiful sound. Right. Good. That’s beautiful, and you notice the sound is very, very beautiful. He plays in tune; he hasn’t studied it. You would practice that very, very hard, and then play it behind a screen. Now I ask you, is it the top note? That first note is not on the downbeat. It’s on the previous upbeat. So, there’s a tremendous conflict of wrenching for Brahms. But the heavy beat is the downbeat because Brahms knows that everybody’s expecting the downbeat to be heavy. Now let’s try, and do that, and I’ll help you with that. Good. I would suggest, it’s all poco forte, so make it all big. This is the heavy beat, and then it falls. No, we have to do the upbeat. Oh, now this is a B natural. Right, exactly. Do from here. Next one. Now the last one, wonderful. Now you get the orchestra with you to go to play. Here we go from the beginning, two, three. Now it begins, now the volume, and so on. That’s the idea. Now I tell you based on that, I would say, I hire you. I would hire you. I want to say something. I want to say something, a very touching thing. I just did something outrageous. I asked this young musician, professional musician to come up on stage, and play a piece he’s never played before. He didn’t even know it, in front of an audience and cameras. That’s an outrageous thing to do, except it actually isn’t, because you know what came out of it was with a real artist, with a real artistic musician. You can get to the truth immediately. If you know the grammar, and he was open, and he was available. If you made a mistake, he said, how fascinating, and didn’t get upset. He could have hit me over the face. You know, I don’t want to be here. This is not good for my career. No, look at him. He’s beaming, right? Because he is in a search, he’s in a search for the truth. It’s all we care about. All we care about is finding the truth. That’s what you just did. You did it exquisitely beautiful. Life is chaos, but it’s what you make of it that counts. It’s what comes out of it. I want to thank you two, you’re just absolutely beautiful artists.

Kamila Zdybal
'I watch Benjamin Zander every time I need enthusiasm and inspiration for my own work :) This is so contagious!'
Laurence Staiff
'The second movement of Brahms’ Second Symphony is such a fascinating movement full of ambiguity. Even from the upbeat of the first bar, you never really discover what key it’s supposed to be in. Is it B major or G# minor? This piece was my first introduction to orchestral music back in 1993 playing 2nd oboe at the ripe old age of 13. I can tell you, it was a bit of a revelation. Such a great choice for Mr Zander to choose to reveal the passion and torment of Brahms. And it ties in so well to the Cello Sonata in E minor. Thank you and well done!'
Carlos Lopez
'Thank you so much this was amazing!!!'
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