Thanks to MEA Second Vice President Beverly Shea for the coordinating the great lineup of performers and repertoire for the 2018 Teachers’ Master Class! We were fortunate to hear Mozart, Chopin and Schubert works played by three of our fine MEA pianists, with violin and cello joining for a Shubert Trio treat. President Nancy Modell introduced Mr. Jerome Lowenthal as our wise, thoughtful and caring Master Class teacher, and complimented this morning’s brave musicians for volunteering to perform.
Beverly, the meeting’s hostess, then made some extemporaneous remarks about Mr. Lowenthal’s extensive résumé. He studied with Olga Samaroff-Stokowski in Philadelphia, William Kapell and Edward Steuermann at Juilliard, Alfred Cortot in Paris, and (“if you’re not bowled over already,”) Arthur Rubenstein in Los Angeles. In a nod to having world-class teachers on two coasts and in Europe, she noted “he’s a lucky fella!”
“OK, we are starting with Mozart!” declared Mr. Lowenthal, reviewing the beautiful program that Beverly and Gerry Shea created. Helen Ryba, piano teacher and vocal coach at the Workshop for the Arts in Westfield, stepped up to the Steinway grand to play the second and third movements of Mozart’s Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311. Her Andante con espressione playing of the second movement filled the room; it was an intimate performance, at times serene and peaceful. Then on to the third movement, the exciting and swift paced Rondeau. Mr. Lowenthal praised Helen’s “beautiful playing of a beautiful sonata.”
He shared some thoughts on interpretation. Regarding dynamics in the second moment, he encouraged making more of the dynamic contrasts. “They can be underplayed. Mozart notes piano and forte in the score, we have to decide how ‘piano’ and how ‘forte’ we want to play.” He complimented Helen on observing those dynamic contrasts, and encouraged her to be even more assertive with them. Demonstrating, he sang “I AM LOUD!” in a forte voice while playing along, then “I am soft.” at a whisper, matching his vocal dynamics at the piano for effect. For another specific phrase, he suggested making a greater contrast between p and f so that the forte is “startling.” Later, a softening of the left hand was recommended in order to bring out “the beautiful second theme.”
On to the Rondeau! Mr. Lowenthal encouraged playing the opening in a way that “gets a conversation going. Try a question and answer style of playing, and give the conversation a chance to breathe.” He demonstrated the three-chord statement this way: “I would play this as a ‘now good-bye’ phrase,” playing the first chord on the word now, the second chord on good, and the third chord on bye. Observing the swift runs, he noted, “You have terrific fingers; don’t let them tell you how to play.” Nearing the end of the movement he advised, “I would exploit the dramatic color of the minor here. In Mozart, the difference between major and minor, … it’s an important thing, always.” Mr. Lowenthal thanked Helen and the audience applauded her for her excellent performance.
Florence Liu, our second pianist, played the first movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58. Florence is a teacher at the extension division of the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University, and a past Co-Chair of MEA’s annual Piano Competition. Her powerful performance let us feel the grandeur of the Allegro maestoso. Her command of the score and technical challenges brought Chopin’s piece to life, conveying the story with grace and soaring musicality. Mr. Lowenthal commented, “Excellent performance of this really difficult work.”
On to his ideas for playing this sonata: “I think you can differentiate more the different lines of the music.” He demonstrated at the piano his approach to the dramatic opening, with its “very startling” beginning. He suggested observing the rests by lifting the pedal. (“Chopin always releases the pedal early. That gives breathing to the music.”) He also recommended making the left-hand imitation clearer by weighing on it a bit more. Regarding the double note passages, “Take a little time, be very expressive. Slow down a little bit so that one understands.”
Then he stated humorously, “The person who wrote ‘Start less here’ [over the crescendo in the score] is somebody I agree with.” Expanding, he noted, “The rule is: when you see the word crescendo, get softer; when you see diminuendo, get louder; when you see accelerando, get slower; and when you see ritardando, get faster.” Later we were reminded “Chopin is very specific in his manuscripts, so when you see it, do it! It’s a question of harmonic logic.” As Florence worked through score, trying out his onthe- spot musical suggestions, he often remarked of her playing, “That was beautiful. That was terrific!” He concluded by explaining Chopin’s musical intent for the end of the movement. “He wants f, then ff. The final chord ending with the third on top gives a feeling of going on [to the next movement].” Florence received enthusiastic applause for her wonderful playing.
Finally, our trio of violin, cello and piano took their places and tuned up for a performance of the Allegro moderato movement of Schubert’s Trio No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 99. Pianist and MEA member Patricia Merlucci, violinist Millie Calistri-Yeh and cellist Randy Calistri-Yeh shared with us the beauty of Schubert’s composition. Patricia is a private piano teacher, elementary band instructor for Wayne Public Schools, and serves as pianist for the Livingston Symphony and as Music Director for Holy Trinity Church in Westfield. Millie is first violinist in the Livingston Symphony Orchestra (NJ) and the Synergismus Duo. Randy is principal cellist of the Livingston Symphony Orchestra and the Synergismus Duo. We listened intently to the musical conversation going on between the violin, cello, and piano, and enjoyed experiencing the trio up close in the intimate Chase Room. Mr. Lowenthal praised the group’s performance, noting this was “very serious playing of a wonderful piece.”
He offered some suggestions to keep in mind when performing this work. Commenting that Shubert’s notation is notorious for showing no differentiation between accents and diminuendo, he said, “Accents are very important, so you have to make your own decisions. On the other hand, don’t make accents where they are not.” He noted the string players were “making the accents very well” and suggested just removing some of the added accents. To achieve a better sound balance between the piano and strings, he asked rhetorically “Do I think you should close the piano? No, I think you should open the piano! This is a piece written for piano, violin, and cello, so if you close the piano it mutes the sound.” He went right to it, lifting the Steinway lid to full open, then worked with the group on achieving that balance. “I don’t hear you enough” he said to the violinist at one point, and the players worked together to adjust the piano and cello volumes there. When the melody moved to the cello, he reminded us that the piano provides the harmonic support in a trio. The trio worked on that together, and Patricia provided that support resulting in a beautiful interpretation of the passage. He also suggested players listen a bit more to each other, adjusting the balance as the melody moves from one instrument to another. He gave us a quick theory lesson on the augmented 6th chord at the end of the movement, “which is, in a way, the most important chord in music. It’s the [tantalizing] chord that both the Classical and Romantic composers use when they want to say something special.” The audience applauded and thanked Patricia, Millie and Randy for a wonderful performance.
The meeting finished on a lighthearted note as Mr. Lowenthal spoke of a universal concern for musicians. “Ladies and gentleman, when you have learned a wrong note, it’s yours for life. You’ll never get rid of it; 50 years from now you’ll still play the same note, unless you say to yourself ‘No, no, I will not play that damn note again!’” The audience laughed and applauded knowingly, as the room was filled with musicians who have all been there! Beverly ended the session with the ever-fun surprise singing of Happy Birthday to our Master Teacher, in honor of his February 11th birthdate. The impromptu audience-turnedchorus sang with gusto, and Mr. Lowenthal was gracious in his thanks to all.
After the meeting, members and guests enjoyed socializing and conversing with the players, Master Teacher Lowenthal, and other attendees. We thank Hospitality Chair Karen Dann Sundquist for providing the refreshments. Bravo MEA Master Class teachers! Kudos for your wonderful performances! We were lucky folks to be in the midst of such great music and musicians.
Lisa Gonzalez, writer
Nancy Modell, photos and page design
Beverly Shea, Hostess