^z 5th August 2023 at 6:15am

Kenneth Slowak taught a master class at the Levine School of Music on 22 May 2001. A master class, for those who haven't witnessed one, is a chance for music students to perform a piece and get immediate feedback from an expert. Sometimes the criticism is scathing, a flamethrower blast crafted to show who's the master and who isn't. In the best of cases, however, a master class is a high-bandwidth learning opportunity for the performers and for everyone who has a chance to listen in. Slowak's was such a class — gentle, fun-filled, productive, and inspirational. Among his remarks:

  • "Excessive vibrato is like a highly emotional recitation of the alphabet — and equally nauseating." (quoting from The Strad, 1916)
  • "The instrument shouldn't dictate what the music says. You should dictate. And sometimes you have to fight against the instrument, and it doesn't feel good."
  • "We modern players tend to make every note important. The Baroque ideal is to look for the important notes and then play them importantly."
  • "There are many more notes that are humorous than are beautiful in this piece."
  • "There's the temptation to show what a great flute player you are — but in this part, it's the piano that should be in front."
  • "If the word had been invented at that time, I would call it 'jazzy'."
  • "He was one of the greatest cellists who ever walked the face of the planet ... and when he played that piece, every note of the first 16 was so beautiful that you would have paid the full price of admission to the concert just to hear it. But when all the notes are equally beautiful, you can't hear the tension that Bach wrote there."
  • "I feel that we begin at sea level — or "C" level (^_^) — calm and smooth. Then we move up, add some sharps and flats, and it gets that first big explosion. Think of waves on the ocean."
  • "That's a long note, and you played it vibrato. It's like, 'You can vibrate, so you should?' I don't think so! You see, that sounds like A Cello and A Piano. What if we were all part of a single sound?"
  • "The nice thing about [deciding how to play] this is that you have about 70 more years to make up your mind."

Near the end of his final commentary, on a Beethoven trio for violin, cello, and piano, Kenneth Slowak told a story about how Beethoven and a rival used to meet for competitive improvisational duels. At one such encounter, Ludwig took his opponent's cello music, ostentatiously turned it upside down, and proceeded on the spot to build a brilliant piece from it. "That's the kind of humor, wit — almost vulgarity — that you need to put into this piece!" Slowak suggested.

And that was how he taught the class ... with humor and wit, that is. Masterfully.

Monday, June 04, 2001 at 05:47:37 (EDT) = 2001-06-04

TopicArt - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles

(correlates: ParkwayDelay, GoForBaroque, PianoRecital, ...)