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


Brahms: Piano Trio no. 3 - 1st movement

Interpretation Class
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Lily Tsai (violin), Daniel Rothchild (cello), Henry Burnham (piano)

“Don’t hide away. Be full of love. Give yourself away. Be generous. Create a space around you so that other people are enlivened and full of spirit and love.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Well done. Beautiful. Well done. Great. Amazing. The reason I brought a chair over is that I actually want to talk to you first. First of all, welcome. You’re a fantastic trio. How long have you been together?

Lily Tsai: Nearly two years now.

Ben Zander: You’re nearly two years. Are you all in the same year?

Lily Tsai: No.

Henry Burnham: No, I’m a year ahead.

Ben Zander: You’re in what year?

Henry Burnham: I’m a senior; they’re juniors.

Ben Zander: A junior. And you’re both sophomores.

Daniel Rothchild: We’re juniors.

Lily Tsai: We’re juniors.

Ben Zander: Oh, you’re juniors, and you’re-

Daniel Rothchild: He’s a senior.

Ben Zander: You’re?

Henry Burnham: I’m a senior, and they’re juniors.

Ben Zander: Right. Senior. Great. Well, you know, so we’ve had a very interesting morning, and there’ve been a lot of musicians here, and we just had a young violinist who’s clearly on the path of being a professional soloist. That’s what she wants to do, and we were talking about that and how one does do that. And when I see three musicians like you, I just say, how wonderful that you can play the way you play, play as well as you play, and be at Harvard, and do all of that means. I mean, that’s an extraordinary opportunity, and I don’t know whether any of the three of you intend to be professional musicians, but it’s not relevant right now. It’s just, you’re wonderful musicians, and you love playing together, and it’s great. It’s really great. An amazing achievement and a great pleasure.

One of the things I would love to add to what you are doing is a real joy in music making, and you’re acting a little bit as though you were music students and you thought you weren’t going to win the competition. Whereas it has nothing to do with what you’re doing. The word amateur means to love. And you are playing I don’t know what you’re going to do. What is your field?

Daniel Rothchild: I’m a physics major.

Ben Zander: Exactly. Your field? And you?

Lily Tsai: Computer science.

Ben Zander: Computer science. And you?

Henry Burnham: I’m a music theorist

Ben Zander: Musical theory. So, in other words, there’s not one of them who intends to be an instrumentalist, and yet they play at this level. It’s incredible. You should be beaming with joy all the time because what a privilege to be an amateur because an amateur loves music, as opposed to the professionals.

So the first thing I would plead with you is never lose sight of the joy of making music and the sheer pleasure that you give yourselves. And, because you are on a high level, that you get to give other people. Just that would add to your playing. I’m just amazed with how beautifully you play and how carefully you thought it out.

Probably the audience was saying to themselves because we just had three people playing and each one of them went through a dramatic transformation and they’re probably saying, “What’s he going to say to them?” And the answer is not very much, interestingly enough, because in the case of the other three people, there was a real fundamental tempo issue. And in this case there isn’t. You’ve got a really good tempo for this piece. It’s clear. It’s marked Allegro energico and I think Brahms didn’t need to write energico because it’s energetic music. He really meant you want to have a level of intensity and energy that is not normal, so I’d like to add that.

And then the other thing in Brahms There are two things about Brahms’s music that I want to share with you. One is that Brahms lives in the eighth notes. Mendelson does not live in the eighth notes. Mendelson lives in the huge long line. It’s all about myriads of notes. Brahms, every note counts, and every eighth note has to be experienced and felt.

The other thing is that in Brahms, every note is going somewhere or comes from somewhere. And I don’t always know. Sometimes I do. When you play, I say, “Oh, they understand.” That’s a four bar phrase, and that’s the first phrase. Sometimes you just go, and then the music becomes inarticulate. So those are the three things; joy, love, energy, direction, and the eighth notes. Right? And then we’re going to work on that now and see whether you can bring that out. But from a base of terrific playing, very convincing. Beautiful. From the beginning. No. You’re not expressing joy. I mean, you’re just about to play one of the greatest movements in the history of the world. And you look as though you’re just sitting in a bank teller.

You know, Rostropovich gave a concert in Boston and he came out, I’ll never forget this, he came out on stage. It was the C major, the same one that the boy was playing. And he came out with his cello like this. He was playing before his bottom hit the chair. He was so excited. He couldn’t wait to do it. You know? So generate that excitement. Here we go. Oh yeah, from the beginning. Oh yeah, glasses. We got a smile from it. All right, here we go.

Yeah, good. Immediately. The first chord then the three upbeats, ta, da, da, rah. Right? That’s the function of them, in order to make the second one even more intense than the first. Incidentally, the first one also has a triplet upbeat, but he forgot to write it. So it’s like that before. I’m going to conduct that triplet. Are you ready? One, two, and three.

Good. So always make da, da, da, da the last thing, not da, ba, da, ba, but da, ba, da, da. Ready? Once again.

Okay. Now. Great. Terrific. Terrific. Terrific. He’s an amateur cellist. He’s having the time of his life. He’s just so happy. He plays in the Boston philharmonic. He’s saying, “Yes, this is how music should be.”

So now, Brahms does things in threes. Actually everybody does things in threes. Things are built in threes. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. So here’s an example. Ba, dum, ba, dee, ba, dum, ba, ba. Ba, bim, ba, bee, ba, dum, ba, ba. And the third one goes. Now threes can be divided into two kinds, either one, two, three, or I, you, we. Which is this one?

Lily Tsai: The latter?

Ben Zander: Which The ba, dum, ba, ba. Which is that? Is that an I, you, we? Or is that a one, two, three?

Lily Tsai: I think it’s an I, you, we.

Ben Zander: No.

Lily Tsai: It seems like two kind of parallel statements, and then the third is like-

Ben Zander: Yeah, the third is always different. But what are the first two?

Daniel Rothchild: The bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah-

Ben Zander: Right.

Daniel Rothchild: And again, bah, bah.

Ben Zander: Right. But it’s not the same.

Daniel Rothchild: No.

Lily Tsai: No.

Daniel Rothchild: So it’s-

Ben Zander: So it’s a one, two, three. So now you have to know that. You have to judge it so that the third one is the most. Right? So should we just go from there? Ba, bum, ba? Did you notice how when we were doing that passage before, always a direction. Da, da, di, da, do, G. Da, da, di, di, do, G. And now the third time, da, da, di, do, do, di, do, do, di, do, do, di, do, do, di, do, do, di, do, do, di, do, do. Right?

Should we just do that one more time? And I’ll give you the upbeat before the beginning. You don’t need to write it, it’s in your heart. All right, here we go. Ba, da, da, di, do, do, pa, da, da.

Can I suggest? Don’t do ba, ba, ba, ba, it’s a different rhythm, so ta, pa, pa, pa, pi. Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba. Right, one, two.

Next one. Now.

Yeah. Yeah. Every eighth note with vibrato. That’s great. That’s great. Beautiful. You have to judge the dynamic so you’re not playing at full throttle all the time, particularly the piano. So if you know where the destination is, where you are going, you’ll come down less in order to make that climax. But that was great. And it’s getting that kind of energy that he’s asking for, energico. So should we try from And you notice how you built to that big climax.

Here’s another thing about Brahms, very interesting. Brahms loves confusion. Actually, he calls it ambiguities with his He confuses the listener. It sounds like da, da, da, da, da. In fact, it’s da, da, da, da, di, da. He always plays with the bar line. So there’s a conflict between what the melody wants to do and what the bar line wants to do. He’s like this, he gives you a confusion. You don’t know, is it a downbeat? Is it an upbeat? Always make it rhythmically secure with the bar line. And that means changing your instinct because your instinct is always to play the da, dum, da, dum, pi. It’s all the time in Brahms. It happens over and over and over again. Most musicians ignore it, but I’m very, very dogmatic about it. I think he really means it. So with that in mind.

Always feeling the beat. Should we just try that very place? Where the cello comes, the first time, with the C flat. Can I suggest Sing through every note. Making the second note more than the first. Try that. Two, and one.

Now, you play this on an up bow because you think it’s an upbeat. It isn’t an upbeat, it’s a downbeat. It’s a four bar phrase starting. And it’s upside down. It’s not what you’d expect. Brahms loves that. He loves that ambiguity, so I would do a down bow and feel it as a one. Even though sounds as though it’s an upbeat. It’s like another piece, same key.

So it’s the opposite of what you’d expect. And what that does for you, it actually gives you that wonderful sense of spaciousness. Direction up, but it comes from the first bar. You get the impulse. So should we try from there? Four, five, six. Incidentally, why do I say four, five, six instead of one, two, three?

Daniel Rothchild: Two bar phrases?

Ben Zander: Two bar phrases. That’s what they get from being at Harvard. You see? They’re really smart. That’s right. Four, five, six-

Daniel Rothchild: It’s the math from the physics major.

Ben Zander: Yeah. That’s right.

Daniel Rothchild: Divide by three.

Ben Zander: Exactly. So four, five, six. That’s good.

Good. And I want you to notice that, Daniel.

Daniel Rothchild: Yes.

Ben Zander: Daniel, has become so free that he’s actually playing on one buttock. Did you notice that? We introduced that idea. One buttock playing so that, you know, freedom. Freedom’s great. And you feel like a different person already.

Daniel Rothchild: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Because you are not It’s not a test. Music is about sharing, right? So a little lengthening, a little, what we call an agogic accent on the first note, means you lengthen it slightly and then it takes you through four bars. And so, so you arrive on a down bow. Right?

Daniel Rothchild: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Four, four, five, and

That’s it. That’s it. That’s it. Now you’ve got it. That’s love. That’s engagement. Love of each other. Joy, I mean, that’s what Brahms is telling us. Brahms is teaching us how to live. Do you understand that? He’s saying don’t be restrained. Don’t hide away. Be full of love. Give yourself away. Be generous. Create a space around you so that other people are enlivened and full of spirit and love. That’s his message. And our job is to make that come through, and you just did. And I looked around and they’re all going, “Yes. That’s it. That’s it.” So we don’t need to talk anymore. That’s it. It’s perfect.

But don’t lose that because what you bring, you three, you’re all going into other fields, but you have an incredible access through music to a dimension that most of your colleagues have no idea about. Some of them get something a little bit like it from religion, but it’s not reliable. This is reliable. This will never let you down. Isn’t that great? This will always give you that place of connection, and love, and passion, and full, full engagement. And that’s what this music has to teach us, and it’s an amazing gift. And that you can do that at this level.

When you forget about what a stress it is, there’s no stress. What you could teach the professionals. You know, our orchestra, Boston Philharmonic, is always consisted of three things; professionals, students, and amateurs. And I’ve held onto that for 44 years. And most people have said, “Well, why didn’t you make it a professional orchestra?” I said, “No, we need amateur. We need love. We need people like that who come to every rehearsal bursting with excitement and joy.” And the professionals kind of get influenced, a little reluctantly. They feel that passion, and that’s an incredible gift. It’s such a valuable thing.

Incidentally, every institution, every organization should have those three elements. The professionals set the standard. The students keep it as a training situation. Learning, always learning. And the amateurs remind us that music is an act of love. It’s essential. In all those three things they’re essential and you can have them all. Isn’t that amazing? So Bravo to the three of you. Well done. Bravo. Beautiful. Beautiful. Well done. Beautiful. Wonderful. Great. Whoa, what a morning. What a morning. Beautiful. Beautiful.

I want to thank you for These two, we know they’ve come from Vermont, and these two came from Connecticut. They come every week. Every time we have a class, they drive. How long is it? Two and a half hours?

Speaker 5: About.

Ben Zander: Two and a half hours. But people come from all sorts of distances, but not only distances also people are busy, and they have things in their life, and they come because they want to be part of something which makes a difference. Which isn’t academic, it isn’t You don’t make money here. It’s just for the human heart. And I’m enormously grateful, enormously grateful that we can have this conversation, and we’ll go on with it. So thank you.

Beautiful, well done. Thank you. Wonderful. Great. Lovely.

'Professionals set the standards. Students encourage training. Amateurs bring the love of music. Thank you, Mr Zander.'
ziv auri
'I think that when I die the first person I would like to meet, or one of the first, would be Mr. Zander.'
Robert Li
'I always learn something listening to Zander's teaching music.'
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