Schubert: Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano - 1st movement
Dominick Douglas (viola) with Dina Vainshtein (piano)
“Be enamored of the people in your life, the people in your section, the pianist, the audience, your mother, everybody. Just be enamored.”
— Benjamin Zander
Can we stop you now, because it’s such a long piece and well done. It’s beautiful. Really great, brother. Beautiful.
So, Dominic, I’ve been wanting to say this to you for a while in the orchestra, and so I can now get a chance to say it to you privately.
First of all, you are a wonderful musician. You care about music so deeply and so passionately, and it’s visible from in a big hall that when you are playing, you really, really care about the music deeply. Thomas said to me this morning, he’d never seen anything like the opening of the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky fifth symphony when you were playing in the Youth Orchestra in the last concert. He said, there was such passion and such intensity and such love for the music expressed, and that’s there, and that’s great, and you don’t give it away. Now you are a leader in this orchestra, and so the next thing for you is to take all that you have to give, and to give it to the people around you so that people are inspired and live and led by you.
And that’s something that came out right now, also. You are playing more or less for yourself, and there are a whole lot of people out here who need you, who want connection with you.
And there’s a musical thing, which I notice, and you probably notice it itself, which is you are confused about the tempo. You don’t quite know what to do with the tempo, and you are not alone. This is a very common problem in this piece, because there are passages that seem to want to go fast, and there are passages that seem to want to go slow, and what the hell do you do about that? So I’m going to tell you what you do. So you came to the right place. So here’s the secret. The secret is always choose, for a piece of music, the tempo that you need for the fastest music. That is the tempo. Because if you don’t, you’ll land in the same confusion that you were just in. Just play from here, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, where that begins.
Right. What that really needs, what that wants is a little bit more sparkle. And the giveaway is the bass because it’s so wonderful. So look, the bass.
That’s the tempo of the piece. Just do that from there. Two, three, and …
Now, could you actually pretend you are having a good time? Just pretend. If you don’t feel it. Smiling is great, head moving, body moving. Just give the feeling because we are actors and we may be miserable. We may just have, the girlfriend left this morning and we are miserable. But it doesn’t matter. And if it’s not a mood that you are feeling at that moment, fake it till you make it, and promise it’ll help. Right? So real good cheer, and you’ve got a great pianist to help you. Two, three …
Now, I want you to notice, since you are looking at the music you wouldn’t know that … I just want you to notice these two faces. They came up from Connecticut and they’re feeling suddenly cheerful. They were feeling tired and irritated. It’s too far to come and you played. And look, the face lights up. Isn’t that great? That’s our job. To lighten up the faces. All right? So you might check occasionally to see how the faces are doing, because if you do this, it’s like going up to a girl and saying, I love you. Oh, I love you.
Now. Right? Communication. It’s about communication, right? Here we go. And you don’t really need the music, right? Isn’t that right? You don’t really need … okay, here we go. One, two, two, three …
Now imagine. Seriously imagine you had your section. 16 violas in your section. Now, imagine they didn’t know that’s how the music went, but you told them with your body. And your head is very useful because you go like this. It doesn’t work, but … and the eyebrows are useful. Try, two, three …
These two kids actually didn’t want to come this morning because they’re kids. 10, 10, 10? 12, excuse me. 12 year olds don’t want to come into a dull room like this and listen to classical music, but they were smiling, so apparently you won that one. Okay? This is great. Beautiful tempo, right? That’s the temp the music wants. And usually we know what the fast music, how the fast music goes, and you know how we know that? Because almost everybody plays that at that tempo. Every cellist, every violist. Listen to a hundred recordings, they’ll all play … because that’s the way the music goes. So now here’s the problem. Play the opening the way you played it. It’s very beautiful, isn’t it? It’s very, very beautiful. Now, play at that tempo.
It doesn’t work. So that means you’re going to have to change the tempo or you can compromise. I call that the British compromise. That’s when, because English people do this a lot. They play the slow music a little faster and the fast music a little slower and everything sounds wrong. Don’t compromise. All right? Just, that’s general. In life, don’t compromise. All right? Just go for everything there is. Okay? So now there’s a third solution, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it up. So this third solution is take the tempo that the fast movement music requires, and then play with so much freedom that it sounds as though the slow movement is … the slower music is slow, whereas actually it isn’t. Okay? So that’s the secret. And it’s true of hundreds and hundreds and thousands of pieces. So we’re going to learn to do that. Would you do the opening and I’ll play before you go one, two, three, four.
You know what would be really great, because she played so beautifully, if you would allow your face to say, oh my God, she’s playing beautifully. Because what you are saying is, oh my God, I’m just about to come in. And that’s a whole different way of being.
If you can be so enamored of the people in your life, the people in your section, the pianist, the audience, your mother, everybody. Just be enamored of … I give out assignments every week, and the assignment this week was shower affection to an unlikely person. Shower affection on an unlikely person. Isn’t that a good assignment? They do that all week. See what happens. So would you shower affection on Dina and on your audience? Okay. And did you hear how beautiful that was? How natural? Everything in Schubert is a song. Everything in Schubert is a song. So there’s a beautiful song being sung here by a great lieder singer. Here we go again. And before you start …
Oh, so beautiful. Is that beautiful? Such a privilege to join her.
And then he goes again to that.
And a little applause, please, because that’s a very different story. Very different story.
Now, there have been two profound things have happened. One is you are playing everything in one tempo. If you play everything in one tempo, you will confuse the listener. If the tempo is constantly fluctuating, the listener gets confused. I believe that’s why people get bored in concerts, because they don’t know where they are. If you’re going to change the tempo, it’s like pulling a piece of elastic. You pull it like this and you do it for a note or few notes or for many nodes, but it’s always like a piece of elastic. Then you let go and it goes back into tempo. But there’s got to be a feeling of tempo there all the time. Otherwise, there’s no feeling of stretching the elastic. That’s what rubato is. It’s the stretching of a piece of elastic for some reason in the music. Otherwise, you take the tempo at which the fastest music needs to go. Right? Point number one.
Point number two is that music is an act of love. It’s not an athletic event. It is partly an athletic event, because you have to play the notes and you have to be brilliant instrumentalists. But when that’s been done, it’s about people.
And so to develop your artistry, you have to develop your relationships to people, and that’s the next thing for you. And you are 19. 19, perfect. Nineteen’s perfect age to do it. Perfect.
Because the first 19 years are spent really sort of … it’s like building a high-fi set. You want really good music. You build a high-fi set with good speakers and all those machines and lights, and you got it, boom. Now what? Music comes through it, right? You don’t have to think about it anymore. And yes, you have to practice, but you don’t think about it.
So before you begin to play, don’t have think about your viola. Think about Dina. And she’s so great, because Dina is such a great artist. She responds to every single little nuance in the music. So should we do that? And now we could go on, but I’d love to get that first phrase one more time, because when you came in, you were so used to playing it slowly, and you are so in your own world that you didn’t notice her tempo. Because look, what she’s doing is so amazing, because where you come in …
So that is there all the time. Should we do it one more time. So let’s try the first ending. So you are going to do … No, not necessary. So here’s the secret. For those of you who are musicians and players, before you begin a piece that that starts slowly, think of a passage in the movement which goes fast, before you start. Then make a ritardando, into the beginning. And the first note is usually the end of the previous music that happened before the piece started. So the piece is getting … two, three, four.
Now, can you imagine? It’s like a string quartet. This is string quartet writing. Here we go.
Are you listening? Are you enjoying it? Do you love her? I love you, darling. Please don’t ever …
This is a particularly interesting person at the back.
When we make a mistake, there’s a way. When we make a mistake, we go like this. How fascinating. Like that. It’s a very useful thing. If you make a mistake, don’t go, oh, like that. Go. How fascinating. That’s a how fascinating. But you’re doing beautifully.
We have now got to know you, as a result of the way you are playing. We know you now, a bit. So now the big thing for you, and it’s hard because you’re busy, you’re in school, you’ve got good grades. You’ve got to please your teacher. You’ve got to do better than all the other violas so you win the competition, all of that. But actually, that’s not what Schubert wrote the piece for. He wrote it for love, and he died at 31, because you don’t have much time. Isn’t this incredible? This man dead at 31, having written some of the greatest music ever written and told people about life things that they never were able to find out otherwise.
It’s incredible. All right, we’re going to go to the end of the part and then we’re going to stop, because we have so much to do, but let’s just do the passage. You do need the music occasionally. Yeah, occasionally.
Yep, okay. I had a very amusing experience with Yo-yo Ma. He played concerts my with the Boston Philharmonic often, and he always sat at the back for the symphony. The second half. He would play. And every time I looked over at him, he was looking up like this. And then I would look again. He was looking up and I said to him afterwards, wow, you must have played Brahms second a lot. He said, oh, I’ve never played it. How did you do that? Well, it was very simple what he did. He would look down occasionally to pick up some notes like this, and then he would look up.
So by chance, every time I looked over at him, he was looking up, because that was 90% of the time. Most musicians look down and occasionally look up. So it’s the opposite. So if you need the music, which you really don’t, but if you do, just look down occasionally, don’t stare at it. And people with glasses think they need to stare into the middle distance. They don’t.
Have you ever played without your glasses?
What do you see?
No one. Which is helpful.
Okay. The clue to his life, right? We just unlocked the clue to his life. All right? So keep your glasses on, but don’t hide behind them. Use them to see. That’s actually what they’re intended for, and not the music and not your fingers. It’s to see the world and to take in the world. When you start to do this Dominic, you are going to be unstoppable, because you’re a great musician. You are so full of music. That thing that Thomas told me about, because I wasn’t watching you particularly, he was watching you in the Tchaikovsky. He said it was like an explosion of emotion coming in you. You remember that opening of the Tchaikovsky with the great horn solo? The viola player is the most important. But now give it away. Give it away. Give it away. So can we just try somewhere there where we got to? Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And if you could play the … Where is that? Yeah, yeah.
Right. Joy. Yeah. No, no, but in between. In between, right. Here we go. Try. And not too slow. Two, three.
And they came from Connecticut.
That’s great. Bravo.
Tell him what you just saw. Somebody. Give him a message. What did you just get from that?
Yeah. It was fantastic. But that is, doesn’t tell us much. It’s lovely that you think it’s fantastic. What did you really get? Joy. He’s changed. He has changed his whole persona. He’s changed his whole persona. Whoa. Pretty good. Pretty good. Yes. And he opened up the music to us. He opened up the music to us. Anything else? Total immersion. Beautiful. Anything else? Connection. What? Connection.
You should write a big notice like this, this size. Connection, and put it on your mirror. So you don’t see yourself. You see the possibility of connection. And look, thank you all for coming out this morning to be here so that he can discover this incredibly important lesson.
Because if you hadn’t been here and he’d just been in this room alone, we wouldn’t have had it. And that’s true of concerts too. Thank you, when you come to a concert. The concert we are doing on Friday, we wanted people to come. You remember what an experience it was. Because the last time we did the youth orchestra concert, we made it free, because somebody gave us $20,000 and said, make it free. So we made it free, and we turned away 400 people from Symphony Hall because there was no room for them. They were four deep for six blocks outside wanting tickets. So this time we made half the hall free. And we have a waiting list of about thousand people. We want to come? We want to come. We want to come. Isn’t that great? Classical music is not dying. If they tell you, say, not dying on the contrary, you ain’t seen nothing yet. All right? But this is what has to happen in order to make our art come alive, right? So bravo, good.