The March 19th Teachers' Master Class was skillfully led
by our master teacher Joseph Kalichstein -
world-renowned pianist, chamber musician, and veteran instructor from Juilliard.
The Alacorde Piano Trio began the March 19th Teachers' Master Class with the Allegro (first) movement of Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op.1, No.1.
After praising their performance, Mr. Kalichstein's first comment was, "I want to talk mostly about how to make the music not sound all the same." He continued: "A lot has to do with bowing: how to inflect the phrase. I hate the phrase, 'Play it as it comes.' You, the string player, are the One 'making it come.' The bow has to sing, whether down- or up-bow. Let's talk a little about tempo: sometimes think in 2, sometimes in 4; for strength of rhythm, 2 is too light, I lose 'con brio.' Beethoven was young, 25, but he was still Beethoven. I would start in four witha strong 2nd beat. The chord has nothing to do with the character of the next six notes. Don't think 'piano.' Play with alacrity. Don't reach for (run to) the downbeat. The pianist must be a conductor. You are establishing tempo. It is a conversation."
To the cellist, who accented the end of a phrase: "Don't let the bow decide your music. You would never sing it like that. Give yourself a very strong 2. Don't run and don't 'be musical.' You want to feel the beat." "I notice that [both strings] play your bows always in the same place on the strings - in the comfort zone. If you have to blend with a very loud piano, you might want to change where the bow plays in relation to the bridge."
To the pianist: "When we get nervous, we put the pedal down. None of your fingers have equal strength. The 4th finger was created to hang from the 3rd. Let the 5th finger live. The passage goes from a very brilliant to an almost rude character. You should be saying, 'I can take you to a new landscape. Look what I have to show you as a result of that bridge.' Melt into that new theme. Do not play the 'mf' here the same way you would play the beginning 'mf.' Play in context: not all staccatos are created equal. I would emphasize the viola line more."
The Alacorde Trio then played the Andante espressivo (second) movement of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66.
Mr. Kalichstein said "Very touching, beautiful, the simplicity, leave it alone. Don't interfere with the magic of this music. Let it flow, live. Articulation of the soprano is different than the articulation of the repeated note." To the pianist: "In general, use your arm just like they use the bow. I agree with you, a little turbulence in here, but don't let it change the tempo. Honesty is not always the best policy. Mendelssohn's pianos were smaller. We sometimes must choose between two evils. Every conductor knows the soprano rules. Think of your lilt at the beginning. Don't let the difficulty change the character. I want you to conquer the fear; a lot of it is the pedal that has to coordinate with the melody. The short note belongs to the long note; the important note is not the long but the short note. Don't 'be a pianist.' Don't think about going to the end... let it happen." "When you fly over the equator, you don't see a line; I don't want to hear the bar line."
Benjamin Cooper performed the Allegro assai (first) movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata).
Mr. Kalichstein commented: "A lot of the things you do are wonderful. However, when you play soft, you lose the character of the piece. Give me some adjectives to describe this piece. Yes, passionate, which may include sinister, not calm. When the Recap comes, underneath the melody we hear repeated notes. Don't play dreamy. The word 'assai' today means 'somewhat,' but in Beethoven's time it meant 'very.' In our time 'allegro assai' does not mean 'very fast.' You gave me a tempo here and you already changed it. You are trying to scare the audience. When actors speak in a whisper, the softer the more tense it is. You are taking me on a nasty [intense] trip. This is no place for freedom or 'nice.'
"The opening 'C' comes from nowhere. I don't mean to imply a metronome. You never want a sound to stop as if someone gagged you. As a rule, get to a note long before time to play it... Do not try to catch the bus. In bar 13, if you are going to divide the beats, you are not preparing. Be ready with all three notes. Get into the next position quicker than the eye can see. Don't be impatient. Put your third finger on B-flat; avoid the fourth finger. Your thumb must be there ahead of the tempo. Be dramatic but not angry. Pedal the chord at the end of bar 14. Be lackadaisical about the pedal in bar 16; get to the top. You cannot be democratic - dividing equally is not good. Actively touch the pedal in bar 24 - don't hold the pedal.
"Beethoven doesn't want 'nice' in bar 26. Regarding the repeated note in the left hand, don't let the key come up all the way. Do not use lots of hand motion; on the repeated note, finger switch 3 to 1 or 3-2-1; look where your wrist is on the repeated note... a quick gesture of the wrist. In bars 32 and 33, you are getting friendly slowly. It is a long road. Still prepare. As Janus is the two-headed symbol for January, the A-flat in bar 35 is the beginning and also the end of a passage. Think legato. Play the tune beautifully - try playing a single note - sing the soprano only with your 5th finger. "You are treating the rhythm in bar 35 [16th note followed by a dotted quarter note] like Cinderella - not your real daughter. The short note belongs to the long note afterwards. Always start with the ear; your ears are the master. Octaves do not mean 'no beautiful tune.' Octaves are melody, too. Relax your wrist, your body, light thumb. You would never sing the passage like that. In bar 51, you have to wiggle [rotate] your arm... low wrist. The passage has to be like fireworks... you can't afford to stop."
Michelle Kuo played Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 (Polonaise héroïque).
Michelle had no technical issues with this piece. The middle section of the Polonaise seemed to be played effortlessly, and she demonstrated strength and stamina in the octave section. Mr. Kalichstein spoke about interpretation: "The last two bars shouldn't be faster than the theme - be true to the term 'heroic.' When Chopin doesn't write pedal, he does not mean no pedal. Pedaling has to do with harmony. Think of how an orchestra sounds. In bar 1, celebrate. Create a little storm - legato, crescendo. Listen to the balance between left and right hands in the first octave. Use one pedal per quarter note. The short parallel sixths chromatic scales in the introduction build up little by little - a harbinger of the climax to come. Make bars 5 and 6 more exciting than the earlier passage; don't go back to the first bar's 'piano.' At the end of bar 13 and in bar 14, bring out your left hand thumb.
"Since this is Chopin, do not hit. Use your right hand E-flat to F for the crescendo into the majestic tune beginning in bar 17. Raise your arm with exuberance; follow the thrust through the first note in the measure with a grand gesture to give impetus to the beginning of this first theme." [Some of you may remember Arthur Rubinstein's right arm soaring high above the keyboard after playing the dotted eighth note on the first beat of measure 17. The visual impact of the gesture plus the power and sound that it generated enhanced his performance.] "He looked like the emperor of the world. In bar 17 imagine the left hand a drum. You are nervous about the thirds. Listen to the voicing. Almost don't rearticulate the D-flat in bar 21. No 4th finger in the bar 25 trills. In bar 30, don't rush. In bar 33, if you don't want to leave the keys with a gesture, free the wrist. Don't tell me you're bored; you should be expressing 'Look at all this land I own.' In bar 83 do not speed up; no pedal yet."
The audience was electrified by Mr. Kalichstein's comments and we all went home delighted to have heard the performances of our Teachers' Master Class musicians.
Congratulations to the teachers who participated in this unique opportunity!
Photography and layout, Nancy Modell
Hostess and Writer, Beverly Shea