Brahms: Cello Sonata no. 1 - 1st movement
Yihang Li (cello) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)
“We are actors, we musicians. And if we’re expressing emotion, it’s happening in your sound and in your body.”
— Benjamin Zander
Ben Zander: Good. Good. That’s the whole exposition. Well done. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. So, look, Jihan, you’re wonderful. You’re a wonderful musician. A wonderful cellist. Very, very, very serious. And I’ll tell you a funny story. A mother came with a little boy to play for Piatigorsky, the great cello teacher, and he played Rococo variations. And Piatigorsky said, “How old is he?” And the mother said, “Seven.” He said, “I want a pity too late.” There’s something about music. It’s a very funny thing about music is it draws very young people, and they can become very, very accomplished at a very young age. And you’ve become very accomplished at a very young age, but there comes a point when it’s not interesting anymore to be young. And you’ve reached that point. It’s not interesting. So, I’m really glad you came today because I want to treat you like an adult, not like a clever child, because you are beyond that now. But you are playing is still that of an anxious person, who’s a little careful, a little worried. Brahms did not write this piece for a worried person. It’s not about worry. Do you know what it’s about? It’s about warmth. It’s about passion. It’s about rushing emotions. It’s about striving for tremendous aims. It’s about all human emotions. So, let’s see whether we can bring you from that childlike approach, which is admirable, but non-interesting in itself, to be worthy of this great music. So, let’s take the first phrase, just play the first phrase without the piano. See already. It’s very interesting because it starts on a low E… And it sounds… Like that. And then it changes direction. Instead of being… It goes… It suddenly rises up. So, play the first E. Right. Beautiful. You know that statue of The Thinker, of Rodin. Do you know that? Have you seen that? Play that like Rodin, play a bit. Yeah. Ooh. That’s beautiful. Now it changes direction… That’s something. Wouldn’t you be inclined to go up the C string to get that tension? Would you try that? So, it would be… You would play… Yeah. Yeah. Now we’re talking. Now we’re talking and now you’ve got attention because the low E, the Rodin si a down. And then the second bar is an up…But it still comes from that low E doesn’t it. So it’s a struggle. The music goes up, but it actually comes from that original E, isn’t it? So start the vibrato before you start. It goes back to the original E. Isn’t that amazing? So the E’s been there all the time. Play low E. No a low E, one octave lower. Right there we go. Now play. It’s been there all the time. So you’ve got the pulling down of the Rodin and the striving up of this passionate character who’s fighting against it. And that C, that C’s a dissonance. That’s not a comfortable note. A struggle against, the E is pulling you down all the time. Can we try that again? Yeah. You have to spare the bow because you need enough bow at the end for that…The F sharp is a change. So that’s all E minor plus that C natural. Now, F sharp. And maybe you raise your eyebrows at that F sharp. Do it one last time. And then when you get to the F sharp go… And everyone will say, “Oh, what’s going to happen now.” Here we go. Now this is a intelligent girl, because when you played it the first time you played a harmonic on that G. Do you remember? And now you realize the harmonic wasn’t sufficient for that moment. You’re brilliant. I mean, that’s exactly what I mean. Because instead of playing a harmonic, like it’s beautiful. You realized, no, this is serious. This is Brahms. And so she played with vibrato, bravo. That was fantastic. Now we’ve got it. All right now should we add the piano? Are we ready? Before we add the piano, I want to tell you something that’s a little difficult about this piece. And it’s about many pieces. It’s that what you are doing now is great, but it’s very slow. So I want you to play from the past. Where you go… Yeah, exactly. That place. What’s that about? What is the singer saying? What’s it doing? It’s not about the cello. It’s about the human heart. What do you think about it. Do you have a name for that? A word.
Jihan: Not happy
Ben Zander: It’s obviously not happy.
Jihan: Yes. Pain.
Ben Zander: Pain. It’s crying. It’s crying. So you cry sometimes. When you are… Not, I mean, when you are angry with your cat, but I mean, when something really, really deep has happened. Have you ever lost anybody? A person you loved? Really? Wow, great. Well where can you go if you haven’t lost anybody ever, what can you do? So I wonder what that’s like. If you someone, you say, “Oh, I remember what I felt like when I lost that person.” Or an animal can be anything, something you really care about. Can you do it crying like that with you? Good, bravo. That’s crying. That’s crying. There’s one thing I want to suggest to you. We are actors, we musicians. And if we’re expressing emotion, it’s happening in your sound, and it’s happening in your body. It’s not happening at all in your face. Your face looks completely blank. But when you are really suffering and you’ve lost somebody, you might actually cry. I don’t recommend crying in a concert, but I do think allow yourself to feel it through your whole body. Let’s do it one more time and make sure that you make everybody in this room, get in touch with their sadness, their loss, their despair, their grief, through Brahms. Here we go. Everything you’ve got. Wow, that’s fantastic. I mean, that’s a grown up playing. That’s not a child playing, isn’t it great. Now we have a problem because… Is very much faster than you were playing the opening. So I’ve got a trick for you. This is a really important trick. You don’t have to play the opening slower in order to match up with that. What we just did. What you have to do is play it freely. With freedom. And then you can create the illusion of slowness and this wonderful pianist knows exactly how to do that. So let her do that. We’ll start that. So this is the tempo… One and two. And I want a little applause because isn’t that amazing? That was a grown woman playing. And what we heard before was a young girl. It happened here in the Rabb Hall in the Boston Public Library. Jihan became a woman. No, but that is fantastic. That is beautiful. And you must feel happy with that. And always look for a pianist like Dina because you couldn’t have done that if she hadn’t done what she did, you understand? Because she was playing her chords so freely that you could take time wherever you want it, because she knows the music and she knows that you need time for that C. But that doesn’t mean you need to play slowly. Isn’t that interesting? So before you play, before you start, find a passage in the music, when it’s already going, that is fast, the fastest that it will be, like… And translate it back to the beginning of the piece and use the same tempo. And we’re going to do it one more time and I’m going to go to… And two, one, two three and… Good, good, good, good, good, good. That was very beautiful. The high C, that third C is the climax of the whole thing. For that whole first phrase. So if you start on the C… That last one, how much can you do? So start from there, from the C. And if you could look and be dolce… It’s the same rhythm as the Rodin, but it’s the other side. It’s, if you like, the feminine side, the delicate side. Look radiant. Careful you don’t accent… It’s… Can I just tell you one thing, don’t give away the fact that you’ll go… No crescendo, because it’s going to start new. Now it starts. Now let me just tell you something. The person who’s sitting here dominates the ear and the eye of the audience. So at that moment, you want to disappear because this melody’s gone into the piano. So what you should do is help the audience to take their attention off you. And that’s hard because you are a very galvanizing person. When Jacqueline du Pre played, even when she played a little accompaniment, everybody was staring at her, even though the soloist was somewhere else. But that was beautiful what you did, would you do it from the high C? And because we’ve established… Here, you can really move after the C, after the high one. Now disappear. It’s beautiful. It’s great. It’s great. You’re doing wonderful. Wonderful. I’m going to raise it up one level. You have a fantastic partner here. I mean, she’s a great artist, a great privilege to play with her. And we make a point of doing that. We don’t want to have somebody sitting there who’s an accompanist. We want somebody there, who’s an artist, a partner. I don’t feel you appreciate her enough when you are playing. Because look what she’s got here. Do you see what that is? That’s two horns, two Brahms horns in a wood somewhere in Germany. Just do the two horns. That’s actually at least as equally interesting as what you’ve got. So can you be aware of that when you are playing? Because you’re a grown up now. Oh I love this. This was great. Wasn’t that fantastic. Do it from that very place from…Do you feel it? Now you’re out of the way. Listen. What are you doing here? What’s happening?
Jihan: It’s building up.
Ben Zander: It’s what?
Jihan: It’s building up.
Ben Zander: It’s building. That’s right. So look as though you are building something. And the fast tempo is going to help you. Because it’s much easier than… Which will make you stuck. So remember… Because that’s where we’re going. From the F. Can you use your eyebrows? Kind of… “Look. Hey everybody, we’re building something. We’re building, are you ready? Are you going to join?” But if I go, “We’re building something. Why did you join me? I’m building something.” So you have a beautiful face, an expressive face. You can tell the audience what’s happening. You ready? Here we go. Right now that’s Brahms. Powerful and defiant. Like that, with all the power you can make, that was beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful that when you have a faster tempo, it’s actually easier to play because you can be freer. So when you get to that final arrival on… It’s just going to raise people up to the sky with energy. Should we do that one more time from F. And if you can get a sound on that F, and with the eyebrows up saying, “We’re going to tell a story. We’re telling a story. Please listen, everybody, listen.” All right. To try it one and… Sing like a great singer. Don’t rush it. Spare the bow. You didn’t time that quite right. But you have to remember how that goes, but you were great. You were great. Oh, that B, isn’t that amazing, that B. Should we try that one more time from… Second theme. Yes. Almost every cellist does that, and pianist, everybody gets slow there, but nothing has ended. Nothing has ended. So I would keep it, keep it, keep it, keep it, keep it, keep it because it’s going, going, going, always to be, to be, to be. Would you try from the chord? The E and A sharp. Yeah. I actually meant to go further. Just do once more where the cello comes in. We do the same thing. I’m sorry to… To be, to be. What is the melody here? Listen to me. I’m a very important soloist and I get paid a lot more than my pianist. It’s here, so play it very soft here. Now she does. No, you came too early. You haven’t quite learned it. That’s all right. You know what we say in that case, we say how fascinating. I didn’t learn it. I went in front of the international television crew and I didn’t know the piece, how fascinating, but that’s all right. That’s fine. You’re doing a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful job. And you’re amazing. You’ve shown who you really are now, by the way you are playing this. Let’s just do the opening of the second thing. And then we have to stop. Because we have so many wonderful things happening. So we’re going to go from the double bar. Oh no, you know what I’d like to do? Do one time from your D. Right.
No, no. I meant to go… either one. To show that the first note is an end. It’s an end of something that’s already been happening, that first E. What we call the Rodin E, that is the result of music that’s happened before the piece actually got going. Isn’t that amazing? Let’s show that just one more time. Do me a favor. Do it once more from where you played. All right. And she’s going to start. Oh, isn’t that interesting? That A natural, because to B, to B, to B, to B, to A should break every heart in the place. All right. Do it one more time and accompany her. Company Dinah. Listen to her. Listen, listen. Now, here it comes. Going back to the beginning. There we go. We got it. Do you see how it makes perfect sense? The opening, wonderful. Just do the beginning of the second half. That A was beautiful. You could do it even more beautiful. I know because somebody in the audience, when you did that A, she went… Like that, as you say, “Oh, thank you.” Like a dart in her heart, because the B, the B, the B, the B, and then to A. Do it once more, same thing. And could you look. When you are doing… Don’t look as though you are important. Look, as though you are unimportant. Can you do that? You’re an only child, aren’t you? Yeah, that’s a problem. Because you see those kids, there are five of them, so they can’t be that important. You’re always important. So you have to develop sometimes where you’re just… Please don’t notice me. Please don’t notice me. The tune is in the piano and I love my pianist. Would you please listen to her? See, while you are playing, you’re telling the audience with your body language, that you are not the center of attention. And it’s something that some cellists never learned. Rostropovich was one of the greatest musicians who ever lived. He never learned that. Because when he played a concert, he would sit out in front like this and the pianist would be back there and he would be playing like this even if we were playing in accompanied part. Listen to me, listen to me, poor pianist just stuck back there. So you want to celebrate this incredible musician. Should we try once again. Isn’t she beautiful, listen. Go on. Open your eyes. Good. Tell the story. Good. You are getting it. You’re getting it. And you don’t have it completely in your heart yet. You’re learning it, which is great. And when you do, you can tell the story more clearly, like that. That’s a horn in the distance of the woods. Some hunter is coming. I don’t mean that Brahms was telling a story in a dramatic fashion, but something is always happening of interest that takes the audience on a journey. But this is some of the greatest music ever written. And it wasn’t written for a 13-year-old. And so you can’t be a 13 year old to play it. Thank goodness you’re not. We shouldn’t be limited by anything. We shouldn’t be limited by age, by origin, by education, by anything, we should be totally available for the music. He weighed, Brahms weighed about four times more than you do. He was a heavy man. And so you have to be a heavy man in order to play, which you’re doing beautifully. You’re a good actress. Thank you. Thank you for coming. I mean, it was just amazing. You came all the way from New York to play and I wish we could spend the whole day together and play all this music and all the music you’ve prepared, but would you come back?
Ben Zander: It’s not that far to New York.
Ben Zander: Where’s Mituri. Do you see Mituri there? She played in my youth orchestra for years. And then she went to Juilliard and she said, “Could I keep playing?” I said, “But it’s in New York.” She said, “Oh, I’ll come back.” In fact, her sister did that before her, every week she comes back from New York. So it’s not that far. If you can persuade your mother to bring you occasionally, or you could move up to Boston. It’s a great place to be, actually, it’s an incredible community here. I mean the talent that’s in this town. I mean, it just blows your mind. And it’s beautiful that you’ve joined us for one morning. You’re amazing. You’re amazing. But I’m not going to treat you anymore a 13 year old because it’s insufficient for what this music asks of us. And you know that. And you delivered, I mean, everybody was moved by Brahms. At the beginning when you started, they were all saying, “Oh, she’s really good. Wow, she’s good. She’s only 13. She really plays well.” By the end, they couldn’t tell us who you were. They were listening to Brahms. They said, “Oh, Brahms just moved my heart.” Isn’t that great. That’s the difference. Because when we become available to the music, it’s the music that goes directly to the audience, not the performer. Isn’t that great. Our job is to disappear. And you just did that. And let’s acknowledge Dinah because without that kind of piano playing, you can’t do it. So thank you.