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


Brahms: Cello Sonata no. 1 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Hotin Chen (cello) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)

“Play with complete abandon because the audience loves you. They want you to give their heart so they can give it back. It’s a give-and-take.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: So, I’m going to stop you because that’s the exposition, and that’s enough, but congratulations. Beautiful. Wonderful. It’s always a great, great pleasure when you meet a truly gifted, amazing young musician at your stage. I mean, it’s very, very I knew from the very first note, actually just before the very first note, the way you went, and I said, “This is an artist.” Immediately, even before you played. When you played that first note, I said, “Yes.” I had the same feeling when I heard Yo-Yo Ma for the first time, and many other people said you’re great. It’s beautiful.

Ben Zander: So now I’m going to help you to make more sense of this piece because you’re a little confused about it, and I can even see the confusion on your face because you don’t really know what to do with these different elements in the piece. You’re not alone. Most cellists have difficulty with this piece because it seems so confused. So, I’m going to give you a little clue. I want you to play the passage, which begins on G. Just play it alone as freely and as beautifully as you can play it.

Ben Zander: Good. Beautiful. Beautiful. Now, even more. Remember I said, all music is in one, all romantic music in one. This is in one. Like suffering, isn’t it? Now, you feel completely comfortable. Should we add Dina to that and make it even more exciting? Here we go, right from there with Dina.

Ben Zander: When you get to that E, you back away from it, but she actually changes what she’s doing because before that Just do it, Dina, you’ve got the triplet figure goes into the right hand of the piano. So rather than backing away, I would make that even more intense. Okay. Do it again and feel the suffering and the struggle and the passion. Don’t hold back. Here we go.

Ben Zander: That’s the key to the movement because that can actually only be played that way. Now, I’ve got a shocking realization for you. Play the opening at that same speed, the opening of the movement. So here we go. Play the opening at that speed from here.

Ben Zander: Right? That’s impossible. Nobody would do that, right? Nobody would do that. But now I want to reverse it. Do the opening the way you really feel it, like you did it.

Ben Zander: Good. Now play the passage we just worked at that temp. So, play the (singing) three, four.

Ben Zander: That’s the problem. You all got the problem? You’ve got two kinds of music: One is somber and soulful and full of totally different characters. The problem is, what are you going to do about it? Well, there are three possible solutions, and this is for all musicians because it happens in thousands of pieces. There are three possible solutions. One is you ignore the problem and say, “Play the exciting music fast and play the sad music slowly.” It’s like a drama. It’s like language. When you are very excited about something, you speak fast, and when you are very sorrowful, you speak slow. So that’s one solution, and that’s actually what most people do.

Ben Zander: Then there’s something called the British compromise. The British compromise is where you play the slow music fast and the fast music slow and everything sounds wrong. A lot of British musicians do that. I don’t know why it’s British, but anyway. So obviously I have another thing in mind, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought up the subject. Okay. So, this is what I think you can do. You can actually play the opening at the tempo that you need by using rubato. Now, what you do is you realize that the first note in the piece is an end. It’s the end of a phrase that came before the piece started. I’ll explain that in a minute. So, this first note is an end.

Ben Zander: So, what you’re doing is what rubato always does, which is you are taking time for something special in the music. So, the first special thing is the first E because it’s an end. The next special thing is that C because it’s a dissonance and it’s a higher node and it’s something you don’t expect. So now what I’m going to do for you is I’m going to set you up. Now I’m going to do a ritardando and you’re going to come in at the end of the ritardando. One, two, three, four, wait, two, three, four, five, six.

Ben Zander: Bravo, bravo. This was great. This was great. Fantastic. That makes sense. Now it makes sense, doesn’t it? Because the tempo is always there. When you arrive at that F sharp major, I think you can take more time and Dina is fantastically free and you have to listen to her and take her timing. But isn’t that great? So, the whole piece is in one tempo, and this is a clue for lots of music. If there are any musicians, active musicians, in the audience, listen carefully. Browns horn trio, any number of different pieces. Don’t change the tempo, make it free, make the mood changes through rubato, which is what you just did.

Ben Zander: Wasn’t that exciting? It gives a whole different feel for the piece and make sense for the audience also. So just do that, actually do it one more time and I love the way you played that E. That was fantastic. You’re responding to what’s going on around you. So do that and when you get there, just do that.

Ben Zander: That’s it. Should we do that? So do it from G. Try that. I find it a little laborious. Let it go. Crying, crying. Two, three. No, you have to wait. Can you hear her? Can you hear her piano? Do from there.

Ben Zander: Come after the first beat. Yeah. She’s taking quite a bit of time because she’s feeling the grandeur of it. Just do from there. There we go. Don’t you love that V? Don’t you love that high V? So, take some time on it. Do it once again. Once again from there.

Ben Zander: Now, look, everybody does this, what you’re doing. So, you’re in good company, but Brahms doesn’t right play slower. He doesn’t play slower. So, I would keep it going, keep it going, keep it going. Because then it goes to B. Let me show you. It’s all to B, to B, to B, to B, to B, to B and then not to B here, but it’s all from here. Then B to B, to B, to B, to B, to B, to B, to B, to B. Now to A.

Ben Zander: Oh, that’s such a moment, but if you’ve been going to B without getting slower, that moment is so touching, so beautiful. That’s where the rubato comes in. Should we just try from there? Let’s just imagine everything going to B. From here to B.

Ben Zander: Now, do the first ending. First ending. First ending. There. You never do the first ending, so you didn’t know. That E is the result of the ritardando that takes place in the first ending. Just do that, Dina. Do from here. That’s it. So before you begin the piece in the concert, you are lucky to have a pianist who understands this. She’s great, isn’t she? Because she gets that completely. So before you play this piece, before you start, you’re sitting there and the audience is waiting. To get that tempo inside you, make a ritardando. There it is.

Ben Zander: Good. Good. That’s the idea. Now you’ve got it and now it’s all in one piece and I would love to just do a little of the development. Can we just do a little of the development? Great. You’re brilliant. Fantastic. Fantastic. One thing I’d love you to do is to be a little bit less worried. You have an unnecessary amount of worry for a 14-year-old who’s as gifted as you are. You should have no worry. Your face is a little worried, a little not sure this is okay. I’m not sure it’s okay. It’s okay. Just play with complete abandon because they love you. They want you to give their heart so they can give it back. It’s a give and take. They don’t want any resistance between you. Do you know that? They want you to give everything you have to them so that they can give everything that they have to back to you.

Ben Zander: Then life is so joyous. It’s such a wonderful life when that happens, because the worry, the barrier of worry goes away. Should we do that? Would you just give it up like that? For the rest of your life, just give it up.

Ben Zander: No, I mean, worry. Just give the worry up. Okay. So do the double bar. Yeah. Now second half. She’s playing beautifully. You love her. She loves you. I love you too.

Ben Zander: So sad. Crying. Tempo. Tempo. Where does he say slow? Now everything goes to E. Before it was to B, to B. Now it’s to E because it’s come home. Isn’t that great too? From there. Do you remember I said a 40 piano in the Beethoven was like a hot stove? You put your finger. Ah! Like that. Just do that. That’s it. Do it once again. Hot stove. Have you ever put your hand on a hot stove?

Hotin Chen: Hot stove?

Ben Zander: Hot stove.

Hotin Chen: No.

Ben Zander: Where it’s hot. Very wise. You’ve got a mother who look he’s got a mother who looks after him. But if you never put your hand on a hot stove, you can go like that. Like that. Do that.Keep the tempo. Do you remember I was talking about one buttock playing? Do you know what I mean by one this is a buttock, right? So you pay either on this buttock or on this buttock. I’m many buttocks. I once had a violinist in the orchestra, the leader of the Boston Philharmonic, he had no buttocks. He stood up like this. All right, try it.

Ben Zander: To E. That’s so special. That’s so special that D. I mean, oh, we’ve had so many Es. Oh, so special. Your face also should react how special it is, because we have to be music with our whole body, with our whole being, with our whole you see, it’s not enough just to play with our hands. It’s like the elbow players, they play with their fingers and their reeds. Except the real ones they play with their buttocks. Do it from there. Yeah, from there. Yeah. Soft as you can. Soft as you can.

Ben Zander: Now, here it comes. Here it comes. Excuse me. Does that make a difference? Does that make a difference? Isn’t that beautiful? Because he knows how special that note is. Because with so many E, E, E and suddenly a D and his whole body became the D. That makes a difference and they won’t forget that. They’ll remember that, that moment. Do it one more time. One more time. Imagine you’re going to be run over by a bus after this and that’ll be the end of you. We’ll write a letter to your parents. “I’m so sorry we lost him, but you should have heard that D. It was so special.” Okay. Here we go. Here it comes.

Ben Zander: Very soft. Beautiful. Bravo. Fantastic. Fantastic. I’m 76. I feel like somebody who’s just been given the most incredible plot of land and that we’re going to grow seeds and flowers and incredible things and incredible things over the next years. For instance, should I tell you one little thing we’re going to do? When you get to that last G sharp, you think, “That’s my note. I’m the cellist, the soloist. So I can going to play G sharp.” But when you grow up into this new garden, you’ll realize that that G sharp is the middle of a chord in which the piano has the E and you’re going to disappear into that E and it’s going to make all the difference, because it’s going to take the attention away from you into the music.

Ben Zander: When you take the attention away from you into the music, you’ll be a great artist. Should we do that last phrase one more time? Not the whole thing, but from maybe up to the B. Where is it? No, no, we’ll do from here. From there. Can you set him up? Here, before this frame. Right, exactly. Right, here we go.

Ben Zander: Take your time. Oh, beautiful. Now, another one. Gorgeous. To the A sharp. Very soft. Listen to the piano. Hold it long. Hold it long. Bravo. Beautiful. Wonderful. Bravo. Great. Again, I have to say it, I keep saying it, thank you, Dina, thank you, Dina, thank you, Dina. Because it’s only when the pianist understands the way she understands that it makes sense, but you could feel the beauty of pulling the rubato whenever something was important, you had a big note at the top and you wanted to take time. She was there to give you that time and then back into tempo. It’s very exciting. That is all in one tempo. The reason it’s so moving for us is because we know where we are. All the time, the audience knows that we’re exactly where we are, and you might take a huge amount of time, but when you’ve released that elastic, it’s going to go back into tempo and that’s a revelation.

Ben Zander: Because what most musicians do is they change the tempo, the poor audience is completely confused and doesn’t know what to think and they fall asleep. Nobody falls asleep when you play this way, because you’re held in a vice like this. I always think like a cow with a ring in his nose. You pull the cow along and you know exactly where you are. Isn’t that a great discovery? So that’s a better discovery than changing the tempo or compromising with the tempo and doing everything a little bit wrong. So this is a solution and you’re great. I mean, you’re just amazing. I mean, you’re an amazing artist and you’re ready to fly. It’s very exciting to hear you. I’ve never heard you before. I heard about you, and I’m really thrilled to hear you, as I think we all are. Bravo. Well done. And Dina.

Robin Ampipparampil
'The kid is amazing. He plays subtle dynamics with finesse. The woman at 12:05 and 20:55 is wonderful. It is as though there is the subtle spirit of music. The pianist is brilliant and Benjamin Zander is awesome. And yes, the composition by Brahms is extraordinarily warm and evocative. What an experience!'
Luigi Podestá
'34:00 He gave him a great piece of advice for life, in a superb way. How much passion and experience! I wish I could met Mr. Zander once, at least to attend one of his concerts.'
Bill Bonner
'The audience reaction says a lot - the smiles - the pleasure they get from the way Zander conducts the lesson - great stuff'
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