Elgar: Cello Concerto - 1st movement
Daniel Hass (cello) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)
“Your playing is only a vehicle to the heart, it’s a roadway to the heart, not the heart itself… Don’t think about the cello as an instrument to play. Think of the cello as something to be with.”
— Benjamin Zander
Ben Zander: I’m going to stop you. It’s beautiful. Really, beautiful. Fantastic. It’s absolutely fantastic. I feel bad about stopping you because it’s so beautiful. Everybody in the room feels what a pleasure it is to hear that. It’s such a high level of playing. At your stage, to play as beautifully as you do… I mean, your reputation has already spread, and now I know why.
Ben Zander: I’ll tell you a story because they maybe say, “Well, what could he possibly add to that?” And I’ll tell you a very interesting story. When I was a student about your age, I was studying with a very great cellist called Cassadó. Do you know Gaspar Cassadó?” Right. And I traveled with Gaspar Cassadó all over. We lived in Italy, in Florence, and I spent five years with him and traveled with him. And he played many, many, many concerts. And one day, he was playing a Dvořák concerto, and he was playing like a pig. He was just awful. And you know, I was a hot young cellist, and I think the maestro’s playing like a pig. Because he didn’t practice all the time and… He was a great cellist. Maybe the greatest who ever lived. I don’t know. Could be. But he didn’t practice, and so sometimes he didn’t play well.
Ben Zander: So he was playing terribly, and I looked at my next-door neighbor, and tears were streaming down her face. And I was 16. Actually, I remember; I wasn’t as old as you. I was 16 years old, and I remember saying to myself, “Oh. I see. It isn’t about how he’s playing; it’s about how he’s being.” So he managed to touch that woman sitting next to me in a way that most cellists, or most musicians, actually never do because they’re so focused on playing really, really beautifully. And your attention is on that. And if I could say this, what’s next for you is your relationship with the audience and telling the story of this music in such a way that they are touched in spite of your great cello playing. Do you get it?
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm
Ben Zander: Can you understand that? Because it’s such a strange thing to say, in a way. Your playing is only a vehicle to the heart; it’s a roadway to the heart; it is not the heart itself. So let’s explore a little bit about this.
Ben Zander: We know Elgar is a comfortable English gentleman with a mustache, posh and pomp and circumstance and life in England… the empire and all that music. But actually, he was a very tormented soul. I think of Elgar as the English Mahler. He was out of place in England’s society. He was a Catholic in a Protestant country, and he married above his station, which is something that we don’t even think about nowadays. You know, somebody from rather poor circumstances, a poor schoolteacher married up into the upper classes. And he always felt like an outsider, just like Mahler did. Right? And he worked very hard to be accepted. And he was, but always that pull back. And this is his last piece. This is the piece he wrote at the end of his life, saying farewell and all that trauma and sadness and sense of being outside… heartbreak. As well as the outward English success story, right? So all of that has to be in the music.
Ben Zander: So could you try just the opening and see whether we could get some more tragedy? There was some. But my heart wasn’t torn out by those chords. I was impressed. I was very impressed with his playing at the beginning. I thought, “Wow! This is a great cellist.” And then I thought, “Wow, he’s a great cellist… Wow, he’s really great. Well, he’s really great. Yeah…” It’s like a very beautiful woman, you know? A beautiful woman comes in. “Wow! That’s a beautiful woman. She’s really beautiful…. What else you got?” It can be a distraction. It can actually be a distraction to be beautiful and a great cellist. Isn’t that funny, in a way? So let’s… What I would wish for you, although you’ll never do it, is to play like a pig sometimes. I bet you’ve never been asked to do that. Since you were this high, always, “Play better, play better, play better, play in tune, play…” No, don’t worry about that. You never need to worry about that. But will you give us access to our hearts? Okay, so beginning of the piece.
Ben Zander: Can I suggest one thing? I don’t want to interfere with your cello playing, but can I suggest you get through the chord very quickly and then (vocalizing), you know, right to the end? Because this is too comfortable. It’s an E minor chord; it’s a dark chord. And then the next one is even darker. It’s the last six inches of the bow. Try it. Try that. Yeah, yeah that’s it! Get through the chord by there, spare the bow, and then make a crescendo as you get to the point.
Daniel Hass: All right.
Ben Zander: Yes! Again! Music is almost always built in threes. Or very often. One, two, and then three. And it’s either “I, you, we,” or “one, two, three.” This is definitely “one, two, three,” isn’t it? The first chord, the second chord, and now. The third is the most, right? That was a much better beginning.
Ben Zander: It’s actually only an eighth note. You’re playing a long note there. And then the wrist is full. If you do this, the rest doesn’t have any meaning. But that was great. Pull. And as you pull, you’re pulling on their heartstrings. Can you do that?
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm
Ben Zander: No, it’s too long also. Because again, have a relationship with the silence. That’s what is interesting. But if you do it like this, the music stops, and then it’s a chord.
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm
Ben Zander: That was great. You’ll do it one more time, and this time, don’t think about the cello as an instrument to play; think of the cello as something to be with. Sorrow, pride, grandeur. Desperation. Particularly that C. You can really lay with that. That would be great—one more time.
Ben Zander: Yes. Yes! Now, this lady came from France, and she’s going like this. She’s going… You touched her. You got to her. That’s all that matters. It was great. Bravo. Let’s go on. Clarinets.
Ben Zander: What do you think is happening here? What’s this music about here, in this place?
Daniel Hass: Searching for something.
Ben Zander: Great! Exactly. Searching. Maybe asking a question. (singing) Again, threes.
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm.
Ben Zander: If you’re too slow, we’ve lost interest already in your question. And there’s the answer. In tune. Everything is leading to the violas, isn’t that right? And if you could look questioning… Because you look like a cellist. I always say to my conducting students, “Don’t conduct! Don’t conduct. Conducting is not what an orchestra needs; conducting is being the music.” You might even raise your eyebrows. So tell us… Say to them, “I’m asking a question.” Do it.
Ben Zander: You don’t ask a question on a down bow. Aha! Aha! Aha! Aha! We had a question! Now we want to know what the next question is, yes? Yes! And now what? Think viola, think viola… That’s the sound! There, you want there the sound of a viola, right? That was great! It was clear, everybody’s going, “Yeah, that was a question,” right? Beautiful! One more time, and then go to that F# and say to your viola section, “This is what I want you to sound like.” Right? Yeah.
Ben Zander: Yeah, you look anxious. It’s just a question. You don’t know the answer. You have a number of physical gestures which suggest you’re worried. Very few pieces of music were written to represent worry. Very little. Mostly, it’s something we want to be involved in, like a question. A question is great, so be excited.
Ben Zander: Lovely, lovely. Viola…
Ben Zander: Ooh, one moment. He actually played a little wrong note, but it was great. Should we give him a little applause? He looked upset, “Oh, I played the wrong note.” Do you know what Elgar said about this tune? Did you ever find out what he said? Oh, it’s his tune! “This is me,” he said. He said, “When I’m dead, and if you hear somebody whistling this tune on the moors,” in Yorkshire, where he lived, he said, “That’ll be me.” Isn’t that beautiful?
Ben Zander: There’s a big problem with this, technically. It’s a huge problem. I used to teach cello when I was young, and I had a student who was eight years old, and in the middle of the lesson, he said, “Why does the bow go up and down?” He said, “The music goes round and round. You should have a bow that goes round the back.” So I’ve been looking now for 50 years, looking for a bow that goes round the back. I recommend one buttock playing very much. Could be the other buttock. Then you’ll get a sense of a huge, long line. And imagine Elgar whistling on the moors in… Should we just try down at the last two bars…
Ben Zander: Beautiful. Everything you do is beautiful. Would you do it a little bit more soulfully? A little bit less out there, more internally? It’s very personal; I mean, you do what you want, but… It’s one of the saddest tunes ever written, actually. Isn’t it beautiful? So just try the two bars, the cello… This chord is so beautiful.
Ben Zander: Yes! That’s it. That’s it, beautiful. That’s it. That’s it. I give assignments to the youth orchestra. This afternoon, I’m going to give an assignment: give everything you’ve got. And watch the ripples. That’s the assignment. Give everything you’ve got. And you’ve got much more than the cello playing. And we heard it. Those people just said, “We did a good thing to come from Connecticut to hear that.” Right? I mean, that’s worth it. To hear that? That’s worth it. But it takes everything we’ve got. Isn’t that right?
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben Zander: It was beautiful. And the way you build that, you know when you get to that E, I loved the way you did that. Just do that, and then we’ll go on. We should go on, anyway, because there’s so much to do. But… yeah, let’s go on. Let’s go on, yeah.
Ben Zander: Mezzo-forte. Bring along the cellos… Now, like a conductor. Beautiful. Now…
Ben Zander: There’s a tradition in English music. The English wrote beautiful music for strings. Some of the best music ever written. And Elgar, you know what instrument he played? No? The violin.
Daniel Hass: Violin.
Ben Zander: It was the violin. He was a professional violinist, so he knew the strings. But the world of pastoral life is very crucial in England, and English composers understood that perhaps better than anybody… Britain… all the composers. They could write music for the countryside, and that’s what this is. So this is country music too. Like the undulating hills of England. Very gentle. Do that. Now, tender. Yeah, that’s it. What is that? What is that? What is that? I know it’s a down bow, but that’s not what I mean.
Daniel Hass: Right.
Ben Zander: So what is it?
Daniel Hass: It’s something a bit yearning.
Ben Zander: Yeah, it’s a sigh.
Daniel Hass: A sigh.
Ben Zander: It’s a human sigh, as only the cello can do it. Again. Sighing. Can I suggest one thing? I never interfere with people’s cello playing, but play it here in the middle of the bow. Sighing. Now, look at her face. That’s how music works. You do something beautiful like that, and she says, “Ah,” and that’s how it works. Music is human communication, language. That’s all it is. And you just did it. It was perfect.
Ben Zander: In fact, for the rest of your life, that’s all you should pay attention to because the rest of it will take care of itself, I am quite certain. That woman, this lady… This is your grandmother? Grandmothers are great because they always know what they like. Trust the grandmothers. “Oh, I don’t like that one. Oh, I really like that.” That’s all you need to go on. Never mind the critics. Do it one more time, and make that the most tender sigh.
Ben Zander: Beautiful piano. Another sigh. Now relax. Can you do that very difficult passage with a smile on your face? It’s so tender and beautiful. There’s no worry, but you’re worried because it’s high, and so you think you might play out of tune. Be my guest. Okay? You probably couldn’t play out of tune even if you wanted to, because you’re so good. But don’t worry about that. Do the second phrase. Clarinet… Aren’t you lucky to have this pianist? Isn’t she great? Oh, isn’t that beautiful? That’s it. Tender.
Ben Zander: I’ll tell you something. That great lady who’s come here from Connecticut is crying. Do you realize that? She’s crying. She’s not impressed; she’s touched. Ah, well done. And you certainly became a completely different person, if I may say so. Because you know, this is very hard to do what you’re doing. This is a very “competitive” world, you know; there are competitions and auditions and schools and… That’s the mood that people are in: always looking over their shoulder wondering who’s better. But Elgar wasn’t writing about that. He was saying farewell to life, and so if you can put that all behind you, even when you’re in the practice room, just say, “It’s about that woman.” Look at her face. Do you see? It’s about that. And we forget.
Ben Zander: In the music schools we forget it, because everybody is so busy and rushing and classes and grades! Oh my God, the grades! That’s why I give all my students A’s… At the beginning of the year, I gave them an A. They didn’t have to worry anymore at the beginning of the year. Isn’t that great? Give everybody an A. Just give everybody an A, in your life. You’ll be amazed what happens. And you know what we used to do in that class? I would ask them to write a letter. The beginning of the year, right in September, and I’d say, “Write a letter dated May,” (that’s when the class ended, in May of the next year). “You’re in May, and then you write, ‘Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because.” Then they would write, describing who they would’ve become by next May, and that’s the person I would teach: the person that they had in their letter.
Ben Zander: I love that smile. Great. Do it again. Second phrase. And when you get to this part, imagine you were just whistling or playing it on a flute. The second phrase again. Ah, so sad. Can I just say one thing? It’s a tiny thing. Could you say this instead? Right? Only the first word, the first syllable. One last time.
Ben Zander: Beautiful. Now, big smile, like spring. The sun is coming out, are you ready? Here it comes. Yes, G major, oh God! Spring at last! Good. Here it comes… Yes, now we’ve got it. Here it comes, the big one. Joy!… Even sadder than before… Beautiful. Joy, sorrow. Back to that tune. Open your eyes. Yes, good! Sorrow, farewell. Finish… Bravo, bravo.
Ben Zander: You touched a lot of people this morning with your playing. With this playing. And that’s what it’s about. And remember that story of Cassadó. And you were playing great. You missed a note. I was very happy when you missed it, you were miserable. Because… perfection is great, but it’s not enough.
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm
Ben Zander: It’s great. It’s a terrific thing to aim for. It’s like running the four-minute mile, and then the three-minute mile, and the three and you know, all that, that’s great stuff. But is that all that life is about, running? No. So what you did today was, you created relationships. People in this room… There are people in this room who will never forget you. Isn’t that amazing? There’s an 11-year-old, or a nine-year-old, or whatever he is. I mean, look at him. And look at his face. He’s just saying, “Wow! That was great.” And he plays the saxophone, and he learned about the cello just now. But mostly, he’s learned about the heart. And that’s our job.
Ben Zander: We’re like preachers; we teach people about life. We teach people what’s available to us as human beings: love and sorry and joy, the capacity for overcoming huge odds. And that’s Elgar. And it’s Mahler, too. Different. Very, very different. But they… Elgar came in an English package, so there was always some nice reserve, and Mahler was just frenetic and Jewish, and you know… But Elgar suffered just as much, and when you get to the end of this concerto, it breaks every heart.
Daniel Hass: Right.
Ben Zander: Do you know that this piece is the single most popular piece of classical music in England?
Daniel Hass: Really?
Ben Zander: Isn’t that amazing?
Daniel Hass: Wow.
Ben Zander: Number one. Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is number two. She’s Russian. Do you know whose fault that is? Do you know who created that?
Daniel Hass: Jackie du Pré?
Ben Zander: Absolutely. Jackie du Pré. One musician took this piece and not only made it our own but made it belong to humanity. Really. And you’re in that line. You’re a cellist… I played with Jackie du Pré. We played the two cello quintet of Schubert when she was 15.
Daniel Hass: That’s amazing.
Ben Zander: Yeah, she played… Yeah, yeah, she played… You play just as well. That’s not the issue. What’s the issue for you, it’s a big deal because this is your life. I mean, are you going to be a really good cellist, or are you going to make a difference in the world as an artist, that’s what is here at stake today.
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm
Ben Zander: So the assignment: give everything you have, and then watch the ripples. You’re missing out on a lot of information that’s coming at you because you never look up.
Daniel Hass: Mm-hmm
Ben Zander: So that’s something, but it’s great. Thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. You’re just great. Absolutely great. I’m so happy to meet you. And thanks, Dina. Great, wonderful, fantastic. Excuse me. Let me… Danny, Danny, just come, before you leave just come and have a good look at this face. I want you to see it. Do you see? That’s what it looks like. When you touch somebody, that’s what they look like. Isn’t that great?
Ben Zander: Just come and do me a favor. See, look. Look. You see, that’s what human beings are supposed to… That’s the design of human beings. But unfortunately, our life is not organized so that people go around looking like that. You know, if you went around the street looking like that they’d come along and take you away in a white van.
Ben Zander: But that’s what it’s for. And if you could really get that… When you go back to the conservatory, don’t forget this. All right? Thank you.