Carl Stross

Beethoven orchestral masterclass with Maxim Vengerov

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Thank you!!  How brilliant to have an entire orchestra available as a training aid for solo violinists.  All as it should be.  :ph34r::lol::)

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I cannot help but notice Vengerov is giving some kind of running commentary as to "what's happening in the music"  -  stuff about Fate and the Soul being liberated...

Really? How desirable is it that a young performer is fed that kind of stuff?

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The emotional aspect of great music can not be ignored, and the motivations are equally important. The greatest composers were able to not just express their emotions, but evoke emotion from us. It is entirely necessary to say what was motivating a composer at the time. That’s why Shostakovich grieves in a way that we can feel deeply, while for instance, Tchaikovsky comes across as a spoiled baby, and other composers move us not at all.

To ignore such things is to render the music merely mechanical, and that lack of emotion is the worst thing about most performances today. So I’m happy that Vengerov is discussinh such things.

Edited by PhilipKT

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2 hours ago, Herman West said:

I cannot help but notice Vengerov is giving some kind of running commentary as to "what's happening in the music"  -  stuff about Fate and the Soul being liberated...

Really? How desirable is it that a young performer is fed that kind of stuff?

Very.

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On 10/12/2020 at 7:12 PM, PhilipKT said:

The emotional aspect of great music can not be ignored, and the motivations are equally important. The greatest composers were able to not just express their emotions, but evoke emotion from us. It is entirely necessary to say what was motivating a composer at the time. That’s why Shostakovich grieves in a way that we can feel deeply, while for instance, Tchaikovsky comes across as a spoiled baby, and other composers move us not at all.

To ignore such things is to render the music merely mechanical, and that lack of emotion is the worst thing about most performances today. So I’m happy that Vengerov is discussinh such things.

I wasn't saying a performer should not have strong feelings about what the music he or she is playing is "about" for him.

I'm just not sure that a teacher or mentor should tell a student what to picture while playing the music. I'd think this is a part of artistic freedom and imagination.

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1 hour ago, Herman West said:

I wasn't saying a performer should not have strong feelings about what the music he or she is playing is "about" for him.

I'm just not sure that a teacher or mentor should tell a student what to picture while playing the music. I'd think this is a part of artistic freedom and imagination.

I agree 100%

On 10/12/2020 at 6:12 PM, PhilipKT said:

The emotional aspect of great music can not be ignored, and the motivations are equally important. The greatest composers were able to not just express their emotions, but evoke emotion from us. It is entirely necessary to say what was motivating a composer at the time. That’s why Shostakovich grieves in a way that we can feel deeply, while for instance, Tchaikovsky comes across as a spoiled baby, and other composers move us not at all.

To ignore such things is to render the music merely mechanical, and that lack of emotion is the worst thing about most performances today. So I’m happy that Vengerov is discussinh such things.

Philip, I confess I'm shocked. We are only able to guess from very incomplete information "what was motivating a composer at the time" and for anyone to dictate that as if it were established fact is highly presumptuous. We should all be humble enough to realise that our reaction to music is entirely personal and subjective, neither "right" nor "wrong". For a teacher to encourage a pupil to see the merits of a composer or a piece is fine and desirable in reasonable doses, to denigrate either is simply poisonous

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On 10/12/2020 at 4:30 PM, Herman West said:

I cannot help but notice Vengerov is giving some kind of running commentary as to "what's happening in the music"  -  stuff about Fate and the Soul being liberated...

Really? How desirable is it that a young performer is fed that kind of stuff?

Very desirable. It short-circuits the process of building an interpretation in a ( musically ) logical, consistent way. Should not be the end of things, just a step, a first attempt to a perspective. The alternative would be dry, often misguided  "analysis" or that kind of direct playing of the score which most of the time means nothing because it's unfiltered and uninformed. Another aspect and maybe the most important is that an interpretative artist should be capable of understanding, digesting and running away with other people's ideas and also, of imitating.  

One needs to be weary of doing one's own thing at least in the beginning. 

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2 hours ago, matesic said:

I agree 100%

Philip, I confess I'm shocked. We are only able to guess from very incomplete information "what was motivating a composer at the time" and for anyone to dictate that as if it were established fact is highly presumptuous. We should all be humble enough to realise that our reaction to music is entirely personal and subjective, neither "right" nor "wrong". For a teacher to encourage a pupil to see the merits of a composer or a piece is fine and desirable in reasonable doses, to denigrate either is simply poisonous

Welcome to Music History.

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4 hours ago, Herman West said:

1. I wasn't saying a performer should not have strong feelings about what the music he or she is playing is "about" for him.

2. I'm just not sure that a teacher or mentor should tell a student what to picture while playing the music.

3. I'd think this is a part of artistic freedom and imagination.

1. What were you saying ? Often THE COMPOSERS did not have strong feelings.   Anyway, many performers have very weak feelings. :) Sometimes no feelings. They often hate the bloody piece because it's rubbish. But they're payed to reproduce it, they spent the money etc...

Forget the feelings. Take the piece, place it in a musical context and "explain" it to the public in an engaging way. That's good enough.

 

2. When you're sure get back to us. I'm curious what you think. I'd let a student run away in some short, musically trivial piece. I wouldn't let him get lost in B's C/to. Would you trust their musical instincts that much ? Why ? In the end, how much did they learn from Lady Gaga ?

3. Those are good if one is endowed with a degree of creative quality in sufficient measure to takle B's C/to.  Most people do fine with Twinkle Twinkle but their "artistry" seems insufficient for the heavier stuff.  

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This is not the only Vengerov master class where he paints a picture for the student and audience, to help the player realize that the performance should be so much more than just playing the right notes.  I'm sure we all agree that this is very helpful advice.  Vengerov's mental pictures are merely examples or suggestions, there are lots of potential stories that might apply.

 

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As a teacher, I believe that part of my duty is to impart what I see behind the music.  Now, sometimes, I am wrong.  I do not think that this does the students any disservice.  

In fact, if a music student is intelligent and accomplished enough to be pursuing his/her music career, I find it hard to believe that the student is so weak of his/her own free will and creativity to form a personal picture around a piece of music.  I mean, if this were true and we shouldn't be teaching students any of our own biases, good or bad, then is the alternative method to simply point out intonation and skill issues only?  

I personally attended many masterclasses, and watch many online, just for the simple fact that I want to see what the masterclass teacher is thinking and feeling.  I frankly don't need the masterclass instructor to tell me "that's out of tune," or "you are standing the wrong way."  I want to know and see why the instructor plays a certain passage the way they do.

Lastly, a blank slate approach is impractical and unlikely to work.  We have so many online resources that there is very little doubt that if you are playing the Beethoven vln cto for a master class, chances are extremely high that you have listened to MANY performances and already have your own thought process.  Well....unless the student only listened to midi recordings lol

Look at Vivaldi's Four Seasons for example.  Now, put aside the debate as to whether Vivaldi himself wrote the accompanying sonnets.  Even with the occasional words/phrases like "barking dog," and "cuckoo," I am pretty sure there is still a lot left in the performer's imagination to figure out what kind of dog, or what a cuckoo sounds like.  Trust me, I have heard many a times when a performer played those "cuckoo" passages as if they were channeling Woody Woodpecker.  

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4 hours ago, matesic said:

I agree 100%

Philip, I confess I'm shocked. We are only able to guess from very incomplete information "what was motivating a composer at the time" and for anyone to dictate that as if it were established fact is highly presumptuous. We should all be humble enough to realise that our reaction to music is entirely personal and subjective, neither "right" nor "wrong". For a teacher to encourage a pupil to see the merits of a composer or a piece is fine and desirable in reasonable doses, to denigrate either is simply poisonous

Sometimes we know exactly the motivation for a particular piece. Dvorak, in the United States, was lonely and homesick, and that attitude permeates his cello Concerto, so we have some concrete info.

Sometimes we do not, and it is acceptable to extrapolate. I have a whole program applied to the Shostakovich first cello Concerto. It is a very effective explanation For the inspiration behind the music. I don’t know whether it is completely accurate or not and I stress that when I teach the piece my students, but it works.

Every piece Has an inspiration, even if the piece itself means nothing, if it’s just absolute music. Bach’s Music is certainly not programmatic, it tells no particular story, but it does have an inspiration, and that inspiration is Bach’s divine vision. 
I teach a lovely little unknown piece by an obscure composer named Godard. It’s an insignificant but pretty little piece, and when I teach it I ask the student What he wants to convey. Not what story does he want to tell, but what emotion does he want to share. In order to share it he must first feel it himself, And in order to feel it there has to be a reason for it.

There is always inspiration behind a piece of music, even if the music itself is just absolute music and means nothing beyond itself. It is good to know that inspiration. There is additionally often specific meaning to a piece, and It is good to know that when the information is available.

But when the information is not available it is in appropriate, often even necessary, to think about the composers emotional intent, And use that to enhance the performance.

A performance without emotion is merely mechanical. And we want to avoid that.

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4 hours ago, matesic said:

We should all be humble enough to realise that our reaction to music is entirely personal and subjective, neither "right" nor "wrong". For a teacher to encourage a pupil to see the merits of a composer or a piece is fine and desirable in reasonable doses, to denigrate either is simply poisonous

What did I say that denigrated anything? I’m not advocating “denigrating either [composer or piece,]” and curious why you said that. If the piece has no merit we won’t be working on it anyway, and if the piece is good, it doesn’t matter whether the composer had merit. Chapuis and Godard certainly weren’t major composers yet I teach some of their pieces Regularly.

I neither said nor implied that an approach to music is not subjective. I DID say, when speaking of the Shostakovich, that the program I apply to it is my own, and it works. 
So your shock has no basis, and you may relax and go about your day.

:-)

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On 10/12/2020 at 6:12 PM, PhilipKT said:

 Tchaikovsky comes across as a spoiled baby, and other composers move us not at all.

Not denigration?

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4 minutes ago, matesic said:

Not denigration?

Not at all. That’s exactly how he comes across. Listen to Tchaikovsky 5 and Shostakovich 5 And you will hear the difference between the quality of their grief.

I’m not saying that Tchaikovsky is not a worthwhile composer. I am saying that he wasn’t very deep. I don’t think that’s a denigration so much as an awareness. We go to certain composers seeking certain things, because some composers provide them and others don’t.

Edited by PhilipKT

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1 hour ago, violinnewb said:

In fact, if a music student is intelligent and accomplished enough to be pursuing his/her music career, I find it hard to believe that the student is so weak of his/her own free will and creativity to form a personal picture around a piece of music.  I mean, if this were true and we shouldn't be teaching students any of our own biases, good or bad, then is the alternative method to simply point out intonation and skill issues only?  

This is an incredibly deep can of worms. :)   Might be worth it's own thread.  

However, unless you re-write this passage which at first sight I might misinterpret, there are tons and tons of "accomplished" musicians who absolutely can not form a personal picture around a piece of music. Nor do they feel a need to. Nor were they told to. I really don't have an opinion on this but I noticed that interpreters often exaggerate inspiration over quality reproduction. A lot of classical music needs only be reproduced decently and it'll work. 

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On 10/12/2020 at 1:12 PM, PhilipKT said:

The emotional aspect of great music can not be ignored, and the motivations are equally important. The greatest composers were able to not just express their emotions, but evoke emotion from us. It is entirely necessary to say what was motivating a composer at the time. That’s why Shostakovich grieves in a way that we can feel deeply, while for instance, Tchaikovsky comes across as a spoiled baby, and other composers move us not at all.

To ignore such things is to render the music merely mechanical, and that lack of emotion is the worst thing about most performances today. So I’m happy that Vengerov is discussinh such things.

 

1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

Sometimes we know exactly the motivation for a particular piece. Dvorak, in the United States, was lonely and homesick, and that attitude permeates his cello Concerto, so we have some concrete info.

Sometimes we do not, and it is acceptable to extrapolate. I have a whole program applied to the Shostakovich first cello Concerto. It is a very effective explanation For the inspiration behind the music. I don’t know whether it is completely accurate or not and I stress that when I teach the piece my students, but it works.

Every piece Has an inspiration, even if the piece itself means nothing, if it’s just absolute music. Bach’s Music is certainly not programmatic, it tells no particular story, but it does have an inspiration, and that inspiration is Bach’s divine vision. 
I teach a lovely little unknown piece by an obscure composer named Godard. It’s an insignificant but pretty little piece, and when I teach it I ask the student What he wants to convey. Not what story does he want to tell, but what emotion does he want to share. In order to share it he must first feel it himself, And in order to feel it there has to be a reason for it.

There is always inspiration behind a piece of music, even if the music itself is just absolute music and means nothing beyond itself. It is good to know that inspiration. There is additionally often specific meaning to a piece, and It is good to know that when the information is available.

But when the information is not available it is in appropriate, often even necessary, to think about the composers emotional intent, And use that to enhance the performance.

A performance without emotion is merely mechanical. And we want to avoid that.

 

Good stuff.  I'll repeat the anecdote my friend gave me about appreciating Tchaikovsky.  He studied in Moscow and he studied in Berlin.  In Berlin, Johannes Brahms is the "deep" composer, with subtle emotional nuances, and a clear, curious personality.  Meanwhile, to the Germans, Tchaikovsky writes good melodies.

In Moscow, it's the opposite of course.  Tchaikovsky is a torrent of truth, a master symphonist, while Brahms is regarded as a cold academic by the Russians.

As for emotional language when teaching, my pedagogical lineage includes theories on emotion like this:

(Karen Tuttle's 5 Principle Emotions: Love Joy Anger Fear and Sorrow)

Karen-Tuttles-Compendium-of-the-Five-Human-Emotions.thumb.jpg.3ea27a41a7830c34a161569deea6d715.jpg

 

I would compare it to method acting.  It's one way to be an effective performer, it's not the only way.

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1 hour ago, Carl Stross said:

This is an incredibly deep can of worms. :)   Might be worth it's own thread.  

However, unless you re-write this passage which at first sight I might misinterpret, there are tons and tons of "accomplished" musicians who absolutely can not form a personal picture around a piece of music. Nor do they feel a need to. Nor were they told to. I really don't have an opinion on this but I noticed that interpreters often exaggerate inspiration over quality reproduction. A lot of classical music needs only be reproduced decently and it'll work. 

This touches on what I said about mere mechanical performances. Every professional gives “quality reproduction,” and it “works,” but I find it very unsatisfying. A memorable performance must contain more than accuracy(unless the piece is one of those virtuosic showpieces where technical brilliance is itself the goal.) That’s why so many performances are described as “cold.” 

I am well aware of the exaggerated choreography of emotion that you describe. But those people are being fake. They are acting and it’s obvious. I have stories..

The image that is necessary need not be concrete. I certainly do not have a concrete image of God when I play divine music, but I have some Connection to the divine nonetheless, And that adds some thing to the music.


Even absolute music, music that means nothing outside of itself, is useless unless it evokes an emotional reaction.

I don’t think anyone will disagree that there is an emotional difference between happiness and joy, between cheerfulness and exultation, and so on. Mozart, even at his most casual, was at least cheerful. 

So if I understand him correctly, or her, I guess, I am with @violinnewb on this one

Edited by PhilipKT

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44 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

Not at all. That’s exactly how he comes across. Listen to Tchaikovsky 5 and Shostakovich 5 And you will hear the difference between the quality of their grief.

I’m not saying that Tchaikovsky is not a worthwhile composer. I am saying that he wasn’t very deep. I don’t think that’s a denigration so much as an awareness. We go to certain composers seeking certain things, because some composers provide them and others don’t.

When you say "quality of their grief" do you mean Shostakovich does "grief" better than Tchaikovsky, or do you mean Tchaik's "grief" is qualitatively different which I'd come closer to agreeing with. The term just isn't adequate to describe either of them and I don't think it's fair to rank them in respect of their "depth" either. For me Tchaik 6 conjures up feelings like panic, despair, terror. He can also conjure up feelings of unalloyed joy which I never get from Shostakovich. And I'm afraid to call him a "spoiled baby" is just a gratuitous jibe.

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1 hour ago, Carl Stross said:

This is an incredibly deep can of worms. :)   Might be worth it's own thread.  

However, unless you re-write this passage which at first sight I might misinterpret, there are tons and tons of "accomplished" musicians who absolutely can not form a personal picture around a piece of music. Nor do they feel a need to. Nor were they told to. I really don't have an opinion on this but I noticed that interpreters often exaggerate inspiration over quality reproduction. A lot of classical music needs only be reproduced decently and it'll work. 

Problem with your assertion is that one cannot truly know what is going on inside another's mind.  For instance, many will argue that Heifetz was more mechanical than not.  I personally like Heifetz style.  What I can tell from his playing does not necessarily mean I know what is inside his mind.  Who knows?  This is why I used the word "personal." By definition, unless they come straight out and tell you, you will never truly know.  And that is of course if they are even telling the truth.  And one cannot truly know that either.

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30 minutes ago, matesic said:

When you say "quality of their grief" do you mean Shostakovich does "grief" better than Tchaikovsky, or do you mean Tchaik's "grief" is qualitatively different which I'd come closer to agreeing with. The term just isn't adequate to describe either of them and I don't think it's fair to rank them in respect of their "depth" either. For me Tchaik 6 conjures up feelings like panic, despair, terror. He can also conjure up feelings of unalloyed joy which I never get from Shostakovich. And I'm afraid to call him a "spoiled baby" is just a gratuitous jibe.

That’s a fair question, let me try and answer it.

I think it goes without saying that what we get out of a performance depends in large part on what we take to a performance.

Most people here are educated, musically aware, emotionally mature listeners. We have had life experiences that include grief and joy as well as tragedy and exultation. Notice, please, the difference in degree.

Tchaikovsky’s music strikes a chord with the memories of shallow grief. Think of a teenage boy who has lost his first girlfriend. One of the books I have in my permanent library is called “men of music” and in their chapter on Haydn, they specifically say“ [with Haydn’s music] You cannot ‘wallow’ as you can with Tchaikovsky” 

But Shostakovich Touches the deepest tragedy we have experienced. In almost all of his music, even the “happiest” Such as the “festive overture,” We feel his overwhelming grief. He touches us in a way that Tchaikovsky doesn’t and, I contend, can’t. That is not to denigrate Tchaikovsky. Every composer, when he steps out of his genre, is in danger of failure. There is a reason we don’t hear operas by Haydn, for instance. Tchaikovsky is not a deep composer, and that’s no denigration. Neither was Mendelssohn, nor Rossini, nor many another we could name. Indeed, emotional depth is the rarest of the qualities of greatness.

No shame to not have it.

Edited by PhilipKT

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