piano

Historic Masterclass: Gina Bachauer mentors young Yefim Bronfman (1973)

I was practicing well past 2 a.m.–in fairyland, as it happened, rekindling Grieg’s Dancing elves, (Op. 12, No. 4) when I took a break to check comparative tempos of the greats on You Tube. In my rapid transit through renderings of Rubinstein (41 seconds), same for Richter, I stumbled a upon a gem from the Jerusalem Music Center that sidetracked my pursuit of the perfect Elfin pacing. It became dwarfed by a small screen collaboration between mentor, Gina Bachauer, and 15 year old, Yefim Bronfman, an emigre to Israel from Tashkent. I surmise that the historic pedagogical coupling was memorialized given the promise of this prodigous teenager.

There’s something about a young prodigy who plays the piano like he’s experiencing a first sunrise as he sits beside a teacher whose artistry has ripened over time. The fledgling possesses a raw big talent that the matriarch molds and shapes. Her demonstrations at the keyboard are ethereal and in harmony with an ultra responsive student whom she has taken under her wing.

The Life of Gina Bachauer

https://yefimbronfman.com/

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Bachauer, mentor, and Bronfman, student: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491

These written notes below flowed from my immersion in Bachauer’s keyboard demonstrations, comments, and instruction as pertained to her interaction with Bronfman. They frame her philospohy about interpretation, tone production, phrasing and much more:

“Let your whole arm glide to a much better sound.” Bachauer skims over the keys with her hands in a forward movement. …”Think it over,” she says, “then forget it, so it will be completely natural…too much is not in good taste– the opposite is not enough– do this motion, caress the notes. Yes, the embellishment sounds better going up,” as she sings the shape of a line and plays.

“Sometimes you use your staccato a bit too much–you need a beautiful legato,” which she demonstrates, bringing heaven down to earth.

Young Bronfman provides a blissful response at the keyboard. His teacher taps his arm as a reminder of where the energy is coming from.

“Yes use your arm for the legato–it enables more control and beautiful phrasing. Not so heavy in the sequences, but lighter. She sings, pauses and says, “even more legato– Practice the legato without pedal first.”

She models a ritenuto that is not exaggerated but perfectly tasteful. It’s silky and gorgeous. Yefim returns to the piano bench from which he has been temporarily displaced, floating into the recap of the first movement’s theme.

Bachauer fleshes out sighing pairs of eighth notes that mimic the woodwinds. She mentors about the dialog between piano and orchestra. More singing and playing by the matriarch, as Yefim gives up his seat once again and is otherwise reticent but giving nods of approval.

“I don’t like so much legato in the opening to the last movement,” Bachauer insists. She prods Bronfman to find the “climaxes” of phrases. When he realizes these, the music soars with its peaks, and contrasting valleys.

“In my imagination, it must sound this way, with ‘character.'” She demonstrates the lilt of dotted-8th/16th rhythms. “Everything in music must say something.” She implies that the rhythmic figure must not be agressively played with a Forte. If done in this way, it would be like a pianist saying, “look what I can do.” (In other words, she discourages showing off!)

About a transition with a soprano and alto line: “It’s like two people living in separate apartments. They must have separate voices.” She demonstrates an alto beneath the soprano. The playing is two-tiered: Two voices or “two different floors completely…And if you do a beautiful diminuendo, you don’t need to make a rallentando.

Her decades of studying, performing, teaching have earned her internatioal respect and well deserved adulation.

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Gina Bachauer passed away in 1976 at the age of 63. An international competition dedicated to her memory lives on.

The following samples of the artist’s playing enlarge the historic framing of her work with Yefim Bronfman.

Click the you tube links for both samples as instructed:

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Bronfman

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