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


Brahms: Symphony no. 2 - 2nd movement

Interpretation Class
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Zachary Fung (cello)

“If you give up the need to be exact and to be perfect, you will find resources that are not available if your obsession is being perfect.”

— Benjamin Zander

Video Transcript

Ben Zander: Okay, I’m going to stop you because it’s a long piece. Okay. First of all, I want everybody to applaud. This is a wonderful, wonderful place. We are inundated now. I use that word in the literal sense of inundated, a wave of fantastic musicians from Asia who have brought an incredible quality of playing, technical mastery, and elegance to music making. And it’s a beautiful thing. You see three musicians like that, beautifully trained, playing in tune, playing with beautiful sound and with elegant musicianship. And that’s a beautiful thing. So now I want to see if I can muddy the waters a little bit because, of course, Brahms wasn’t Chinese.

Do you know a little bit about and Brahms also? Do you know a little bit about Brahms? Brahms was German, but he lived in Vienna and Vienna is very close to Hungary. And he met a violinist Remenyi. Have you ever heard of this man? He was a gypsy violinist and Brahms was very influenced by this gypsy violinist. And he started writing a lot of gypsy music, Hungarian and the gypsy music. And then he wrote this piece and this is gypsy music and it has the character of Hungarian gypsy music. And this couldn’t be further from the gypsy music in Hungary and the elegance and the beauty and the control of Beijing. So now we want to see if we can bring these two worlds together, right? See whether we can find some of that. So just try this passage, which you just had, this fortissimo passage, that’s pure gypsy music. Would you just do the cello and the violin? No, without the there’s no piano. Right.

No, you are doing it in four. In four. Brahms writes it in two. One, two, one. Can you do that? One.

Right. Now, there’s something very important about Hungarian. Hungarian. It’s not Hungarian and not Hungarian. It’s Hungarian, Hungarian water, water. Everything in Hungarian accent on the first beat. So do you and if you can allow your head to weather like that, so your new Hungarian. Let’s try once again. And when you finish water, hold it long and then move again.

Now we are getting it. Now, the gypsies are very sad people, because they’re poor. They don’t have a home. They wander from one place to another, they experience a lot of suffering, a lot of death, a lot of insecurity and they put all that in their music. And so there’s a tragedy here. Can you get the tragedy? So and don’t worry about the beats. Just think you’re free. There we go. Now we’re getting it. Okay. Once again, we have a little bit less. Yeah, we need it. It’ll freedom. And stand up when you play because the gypsies never sit down because they didn’t have a home. All right, here we go. Once again. One and three. That’s it. That’s it. Little applause please. That’s a complete transformation. You’ve become a different person. Now let’s try the beginning with that same idea. Okay. The thing about the secret of the two, it not being at four. If it’s in four, you are bound by every beat. If it’s in two, you’re free. Isn’t that interesting?

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Ben Zander: Just do the opening without the piano.

Speaker 3: Okay.

Ben Zander: Like a cry. No, take the it’s a new breath. Now we’re feeling the sadness of that. And the next note is going to be even sadder. Two once again. And what I would suggest now start new down bow. And not too slow because he says [foreign language 00:10:57], is that right?

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Ben Zander: So one, two, and finish. Now new down bow. Now so sad. Down bow. Now he moves. And then to that. And then to that. And then to that. That is so beautiful. If you get it, stay on it because it’s so beautiful. Bravo duvo. And then to there and now two two from there. What bar is there?

Speaker 2: Major 16.

Ben Zander: No, the first note is an end. Right. Finish. Now. Right. And one.

Yes. Bravo, bravo. So in music we always have to know where you are going. Every note is either going somewhere or coming from somewhere. So this, it goes to there and then to there and then to there. And now do you see that feeling? Can you get that one more time? One, two, and one. Can you really go to there? It goes to the arrive. Two, three, four, one. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Now we have a problem. You. Because you can’t play you have to move in your timing with them. That’s very difficult. It has to be extremely free because we don’t want to make them less free. Should we just try this passage? Because that’ll help. So this is going from here. One, two so you are going to play and he’s going to follow. Two, three, four, one.

Bravo. He was really good. Wasn’t he good? Terrific. A little applause because that’s exactly right. You have to follow that. Should we try one more time with me doing less and you doing more? So if you feel two B and then two D and then two C and now two E, two B. Right. Here we go. Two, three and one.

You really go to the last note. It goes to B. And one. Do you see? Do you see that we’re in two now? Not in four at all. Beginning. One, two and. Good. Great. Now you both have become what I call one buttock players. One buttock. One buttock. Otherwise two buttock. This music is one buttock music. Right. And I don’t want to make a silly connection, but we’ve all been through about the worst two months of our lives, most of us. And we’re in despair. Even the people in China are in despair about what’s happened to this country and the fear that people feel. And everybody’s like this and you come along and you say, “No, listen to us. It’s not that bad. It’s bad, but it’s not that bad because we still have this. We still have passion and love and communication and intensity and all those things.” And so that’s our job.

We can’t help with the politics, but we can make great music. And if it’s on one buttock, by that I mean that it’s free, long lines, deep feeling, soaring crescendos. Then we are giving a gift to the people around us. Otherwise we just sit miserable. We don’t want to be miserable. All right? Bravo. Now you see what you have to do. You have to be incredibly free. And Brahms was sitting at the piano. Do you know what he looked like at the age? He wrote this when he was 49. When he was 39, he looked like you beautiful, thin, handsome. Then he decided it was too much effort. And he started eating a lot and smoking cigars and then he was like this. He weighed 280 pounds. Heavy. So this is what you are, you’re Brahms. Right. Very free, very free. So we’re going to try one more time in two. And your 40, and you’re poco 40, meaning don’t drown them. Apparently Brahms, when he played the piano plate so loud that he drowned everybody. But that’s another matter. All right, here we go. One, two.

And can I suggest that when you instead of dropping the cord like a sack of flower, you go D D D. You think of it horizontal like that like that. I’ll help a little. And cut in a little late, you’ll see it’ll push them forward.

Now there’s a Brahm’s characteristic. Only Brahms has it. Other people use it a bit. Brahms uses it all the time. Two against three. His music is always about two against three. Even when it isn’t, if you have underneath your thinking and when it’s you’re thinking and if you get those two things right, it sounds like Brahms. You get that? So you have to work. And then he helps out even more because then he says espressivo, as if it wasn’t espressivo already. So he’s saying, “Please, even more espressivo than you would do.” So from here.. that right. Yeah. There we go. That’s Brahms. Don’t play correctly. That’s the one thing we don’t want is correctness. We want deep feeling and passion and love and intensity and conflict. Right. Should we do once again? It’s beautiful. I’ll help a little bit here. This is not child abuse here. This is and now the base note. Even more the second one. Yes.

You felt it, didn’t you? Didn’t need me to tell you. You felt it. I gave you freedom, but then you felt it. In the end, we’re all the same. Chinese, Korean, Italian, German, Hungarian, we’re all the same so long as we’re open. So long as we’re open. So instead of increasing the barriers, we should get rid of the barriers, get rid of all of them, all of them. Taiwan, China get rid of it. Right. We are all people who can respond to those great moments. Beautiful. Bravo. You are great. Isn’t that fun? It’s much more fun. It’s great.

And I’ll tell you something. They’re applauding you, but actually they’re applauding themselves because they’re saying, “I’m pretty stuck in my life too. And Brahms is trying to teach me something. He’s trying to teach me to be free.” Right. And they do it. They listen to you and they say, “I can be free too.” That’s why music is so powerful as the language, because it speaks to everybody. And when they came in to the room, they weren’t quite sure what they would get. Now they say, “Yes. I came for that.” That’s our job. It makes us very important people. All right. You got it. Okay. Lovely. And it’s fun to play there. It’s so beautiful. Let’s do it again. And each time you do more and I do less, you get there. And when you do it enough, I’ll shut up. Okay, here we go. And remember it’s a two, not in four. One.

What’s so beautiful about that, the first note is short and heavy. The second one is long and light. All right. Because this is a heavy beat and that’s a light beat. But it creates tension between and that creates you to be a one buttock player because that’s ambiguity. One, two. It goes to there, and then to there. And now to there. I love you. I love you.

That’s the way. That’s the way. Bravo. You know what? What I love is when we get to this point, you cease to be Chinese or female or young or anything. You’re just great people giving a message to great people. And we forget all those things and it’s fantastic. I mean, it’s just really beautiful. And it’s true. Is that right?

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Ben Zander: So now look, we could go on for another hour, but we have to stop because there’s another person who wants to play. But you could go from here and do the rest of the piece. If it sounds in four at any point, stop and say, “It’s in four.” Then you know you’re wrong. Just do the beautiful tune. That’ll give you the key, this tune.

Yeah. Aihao, Kanisimo, can you do it really soft? And it’s right that this is a perfect tempo, isn’t it? It has to be this tempo. Even softer.

Oh, that’s so good. That’s a long way. On the cello, it’s very close. But if you sang it can you give the feeling? This is the genius of Jacqueline du Pre, I feel one of the geniuses of her playing. You can always feel the exact distance between the notes that she’s feeling irrespective of how close they are on the instrument. And so you can artificially make it a long way. Do it one more time. And you see how perfect this tempo is. It can’t be anything else. Right? In two, one, two.

Sometimes our technique and our desire to be together and to be well bred and to be in well, Allison, in German say, “Everything in order stops us being free to express the music completely.” If you give up the need to be exact and to be perfect, you will find resources that are not available if your obsession is being perfect. So the gypsies were pretty dirty. They didn’t have clean living. They wandered from one place to another crying essentially. And Brahms caught that and turned it into a great this is the high point of Brahms. He was 49 years old. His past, his youth was behind him. And this was the culmination around this time. And this is as great as music gets. And so we have to be free in order to realize it. And you became free just now, your body, your face, your free buttocks, everything. Right. And you did a great job too. But everything is in your hands because you’re Brahms. You understand? The freedom depends on the pianist.

If you are not free, if you are not singing their part and then making your own part follow what you are singing in your head, it won’t work. If you do that, it’ll work perfectly. All right. And it felt free, didn’t it? Wonderfully free. Great. Terrific. Well done. Please.

Come here a moment. Look at these faces. These people have momentarily forgotten their sorrow and their sadness and their look at it. Look how happy they are.

Speaker 2: Thank you.

Ben Zander: That’s our job. Okay? Bravo.

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