"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, Journey of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano masterclass, piano masterclasses, piano playing, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano playing and the singing tone, piano practicing, piano student, piano study, piano teacher, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano technique, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, playing piano, practicing piano, practicing piano with relaxation, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, supple wrist in piano playing, teaching piano, teaching piano to children, technique, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Irina Gorin, creator of Tales of a Musical Journey, shares her thoughts about braving a new piano teaching universe

From Irina Gorin:

“An expert is a person who makes all mistakes possible in a very specific field and learns from those mistakes. So I could probably consider myself getting close to being an expert in teaching children. But I hope there are many more mistakes and learning experiences ahead.”

This riveting quote set in motion a series of thoughtful answers to questions I posed to Irina Gorin, creator of Tales of a Musical Journey.

A master teacher with decades of experience, she’s been riding a crest of success with two self-published volumes that have earned acclaim from piano instructors around the world. Satisfied parents, too, are chiming in with their testimonials, forming a choir of praise. All are inspired by two volumes that introduce beginners as young as 4-years old to the “Magical Kingdom of Sounds.” Immersed in a fairy-tale universe, they encounter characters such as King Meter, Fairy Musicalina, Princess Melody, and Prince Rhythm who lead the way with enchantment and imagination.

A child’s progress will be nursed along in carefully conceived baby steps with a fundamental goal of teaching the singing tone and how to physically produce it. Learning in this environment with absorption of musical concepts comes quite naturally. I know, first-hand, because of my experience using Gorin’s Book I with Rina, who began piano lessons at age 4.

(P.S. My review of this material will be published in the Fall 2012 Convention issue of the California Music Teacher Magazine)

***

To widen our understanding of Irina’s motivation to pave a new pedagogical path for beginning piano students, she agreed to answer the following questions.

1) Tell us about your own training in Russia and how it influenced your approach to teaching?

I graduated from a music school, college and conservatory in the Ukraine. (It took more than 20 years of intensive training in total). Teaching was a favorite interest of mine from a very young age. And while performing never was my goal, I did well with those opportunities during my student years. In particular, I enjoyed accompanying and chamber music; playing duets and performing in ensembles. To this day I relish duet-playing with my students, and accompanying them when they study concertos.

I took intensive teaching courses (a total of 8 semesters) in college and conservatory and started working as a teacher at the age of 17. My first teaching experience was at college, where I observed my instructor mentoring the same student every week. The second lesson of the week I would teach this student on my own while my instructor would evaluate progress and move on to the next step in the learning process. In this way, I worked with the same pupil in coordination with my instructor for a total of 2 years, following the child’s progress from a late beginner level to early advanced.

In summary, living in the Ukraine afforded a vast opportunity to observe many master teachers in the lesson environment while it also exposed me to a variety of master classes, concerts, lectures, workshops, not to mention hundreds of books on piano pedagogy.

Eventually, I worked for years in a children’s music school beside 60 piano teachers who were of different ages, backgrounds and experiences. In this stimulating environment, there were joint recitals, discussions, and classes that continued to feed my growing interest in teaching.

2) What prompted you to create your own creative learning materials, given the vast array of popular method books out on the market?

As piano teachers, we always strive to help students make the most progress possible.

We want them to read notes fluently, develop good technical skills, perform confidently and expressively, and above all, we want them to enjoy playing piano and classical music.

These goals are realistic ones if we have the right tools to approach our students in the very early stages of piano study. One tool is a good method book that can size down the presentation of complicated musical ideas, and make them digestible, interesting, logically connected, as well as visually and musically attractive. At the same time, teacher satisfaction with the materials is a high priority.

For more than 30 years of teaching, I had been in search of such an ideal set of method books.

I should backtrack a bit by saying that in the Ukraine where I studied and taught, there were no method books at all. All the materials the teachers had were selected books with no pictures or words to the songs.

The typical first lesson would start like this:

This is the keyboard with white and black keys. Here are the notes ABCDEFG–so let’s play them. Then the teacher would take a student’s hand in her hand and play and name the notes in the middle octave. Following this introduction, the teacher and student played an easy tune on one note with finger # 3, then two notes, and moved on to songs with more fingers and more notes. (A creative teacher could vary this approach)

When I moved to USA in 1993, I was thrilled to discover method books such as as Alfred, Thompson, Bastien, Faber and Faber.

They had pictures; they had words to the songs, and moreover, CD’s with accompaniments. I was amazed by how easy it was to teach students starting with 5-finger positions. It seemed logical and convenient.

So I started teaching all my students with Faber and Faber’s Piano Adventures which soon became my favorite. For certain, these books made my work as a teacher less burdensome. (especially with my lack of an adequate English vocabulary)

But in a short time, I started seeing some big obstacles associated with these materials.

1. Students could not read or play music that was not in a 5-finger position.

With such patterns the five fingers are strictly fixed to certain notes in each position. Very quickly the students realize that they only need to pay attention to the fingerings so there’s no point in “reading” the notes because the same fingers are always “glued” to the same keys.

Sooner or later, however, the students and teachers will have to abandon these playing patterns, at a point when the pupil will suddenly realize that he has not acquired enough skills to read the notes. (The old trick of identifying the notes by fingering will not work when the student proceeds to learn the classical repertoire)

2. Another method-book related weakness was in the realm of technique, despite the existence of an entire album devoted it. Students who were exposed only to this material, had not developed a good hand position.

With fingers being constantly fixed in 5-finger positions for months and sometimes years at a time, young hands became immobile which led to a permanently strained, stiff and clumsy physical approach to playing–along with collapsing fingers and sterile tone.

3. While mentoring young children who had been submerged in these method books for too long, I had the challenge of teaching them to play expressively.

Students exposed to the five-finger positions, could care less about artistry, expression, and tone production.

In addition, the existing piano books did not explore feelings, or different approaches to tone production.

I must admit that part of the problem was tied to the prevalence of digital pianos, where touch could not affect tone.

Nevertheless, method books, likewise didn’t flesh out aspects of tone production. They emphasized loud and soft sounds (p and f) which hadn’t much to do with playing expressively.

So I was concerned with what had happened to feelings of sadness or happiness–being cheerful or gloomy. These were emotions children felt and understood by the age of 4.

4. Another difficulty with the standard method materials, was my having to use 4 or 5 different books in one short 30-minute lesson. These included SEPARATE Theory, Technique, Performance, Rhythm, Popular collections, etc.

Unfortunately, with the arsenal of method books required, many parents refused to buy the Theory, Technique or Performance book. They complained that it was too expensive, or that one or two books were enough. (By the way, I still can’t comprehend how technique and artistry can be separated out from the Lesson or Performance volumes)

As a result, as soon as students transitioned to the classical repertoire, they quit piano lessons, because the learning challenge became overwhelming!

It was devastating! I couldn’t return to the Russian teaching approach with its dry, visually unattractive materials. And besides the Russian selected books moved along too briskly. But I also couldn’t continue using American method books, having experienced unsuccessful results.

So that’s when I started thinking about creating my own method book using a combination of both Russian and American pedagogical approaches, bringing out the best in both.

My goal was to combine learning good technical habits with entertaining and fun musical material, using pictures, stories, and lyrics to the songs that would help students absorb complicated musical concepts. But I knew what a huge undertaking lay before me, and to that point I never had the time for it.

Two years ago, four siblings of my existing students asked to begin piano lessons and all of them were 4-years old. Because I had never taught such young children before (usually starting students at 6 or 7 years old) I couldn’t even imagine teaching them with the existing methods on the market.

So it seemed to be my calling, to make my dream come true.

I started writing several chapters for every lesson, and by the end of the school year I had written two books that make up Tales of a Musical Journey. I also created a supplemental kit for Book 1 and videotaped all my lessons with beginners. With the help of a media professional, I created a DVD with 3.5 hours of lesson excerpts that corresponded to each chapter of Book 1.

3) How are your materials uniquely different?

As pianists and teachers, we know that the main principle of acquiring technical skills is having freedom and flexibility in all the parts of our upper body: arms, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Not a a single note can be played well on the piano if joints are stiff and muscles are tense.

Following the Russian pedagogic approach, I start teaching kids to play only one key at a time using finger #3, because this finger is in the middle of the hand, (the longest and the strongest), and when kids master the balancing of their hand by playing with this finger, it becomes much easier to use other fingers without tensing up unnecessary muscles.

Playing with only one finger also makes it easier to control and relax the shoulders, wrists, etc. which are extremely important in playing the piano.

In this endeavor, I focus on nurturing musical expression and creating a singing tone from the very beginning.

At the same time, a gradual process of learning notes ensures development of good sight-reading skills.

Intrinsic to my teaching, is using ONE book for technique, theory, etc. which saves lesson time and coordinates the materials so they are logically connected and well balanced.

4) I notice that you start children as young as 4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching very young children before they can read or write?

I approach teaching 4-year old students in the same way as I do with the 6-7 or older beginners. Some kids develop earlier and are ready to start piano lessons at a young age (the same applies to reading or math readiness). And while some need to wait until they’re more mature, say by 6 or 8, for others, it might be never, for that matter.

If young students are ready and progress well, and if families are seriously involved in lessons with follow-up home practice, then those kids will have the advantage of reaching certain milestones sooner then other kids their age.

I personally love working with this young age group, but it can sometimes be very emotionally draining. In the end, however, the joys of teaching children outweigh any negatives, so that’s why I continue to seed beginners and develop them to their full potential. It’s a unique privilege I cannot refuse.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/when-great-piano-teaching-must-be-recognized/

Gorin’s You Tube Channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/pianoteaching?ob=0&feature=results_main

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Practicing knotty piano passages, and tips on how to avoid fatigue while boosting technique (Videos)

At my You Tube Channel site, I routinely pick up comments daily, and the majority center on piano technique. While I lay no claim to being an expert in this complex universe, my trial and error practicing over decades has come with insights that I enjoy sharing.

Earlier today, I’d noticed the following note posted at my site that referred to a devilish strings of repeated notes found in Scarlatti’s D minor Toccata, K. 141:

“My God!

“I can’t believe I’ve found this video—I’ve been killing myself trying to loosen up my 3-2-1 repeated notes for this EXACT piece!

“You’ve helped me to try out new ideas because I was about ready to give up as I no longer take lessons and kept tensing up. I just couldn’t figure out just how to fix myself.”

He referenced one of my comments in passing.

“You mentioned getting fatigued doing the repeated notes later on in the piece…do you think that no matter how loose you are you will eventually get somewhat fatigued by the end of this piece?”

***

Naturally, I answered his final question, emphasizing the dangers of over-practicing knotty passages, especially those with redundant motions that could cause an overuse injury.

It becomes quickly apparent that if you keep playing 3-2-1 repeated note combinations for hours on end, even if you execute them with a supple wrist and relaxed, flowing arm, the oxygen to the cells is going to give out at some point.

Veda Kaplinksy, a Juilliard School Professor of Piano, had driven this point home loud and clear in one of her media interviews.

From ingesting her words of wisdom, it followed that a player should know when it’s time to take a breather. A few hours or more of needed break time would allow the muscles a period of rest and repair.

In the meantime, I had revisited two of my posted videos that might help those agonizing about those time-worn, bummer sections that required renewed fuels of relaxed energy.

The first dealt with those dizzying repeated notes in the Domenico Scarlatti Toccata and how to approach them. I used Martha Argerich as my role model, watching her motions as she generated perfectly formed scads of them. It looked like she was sweeping or dusting the keys.

You can be sure after watching the You Tube video following mine, that her arms, wrists, and hands were very relaxed to pull off such an amazing performance!

In my second instruction, I used Burgmuller’s “La Chasse” as a springboard to explore ways of dividing the hands to advance articulation as well as an effective crescendo in an Allegro vivace frame.

After the introductory measures, I examined the repeated broken octaves in staccato and how to play them easily without tiring.

**
Amidst this whole terrain of practicing passages that require redundant motions with regular infusions of supple wrist-generated energy, I noted my last night’s revisit of Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1.

Having already exhausted everyone’s patience obsessing over the “killer” MIDDLE SECTION, I still enlisted it as a potential overuse injury stimulant–that is, if rest and repair breaks were not taken, one’s hands could feel like they were about to fall off.

But before I was completely shut down at my sixth playing, I preserved the first, and uploaded it to You Tube, feeling some progress had been made.

There will be further attempts to unshackle the death-defying mid-section as time permits.

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/a-dreaded-killer-middle-section-of-a-chopin-nocturne-and-how-to-deal-with-it-f-major-op-15-no-1-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/accept-where-you-are-in-your-piano-studies-know-your-limitations-but-still-strive-to-improve-video/

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Murray Perahia, pianist, is in a league of his own! (Videos)

Okay, so I borrowed a snatch from a movie title about a woman’s baseball team keeping the diamond percolating with energy during World War II. And Geena Davis did a superb job as the lead, but in all honesty, Murray Perahia does one up on her at the piano. His playing field encompasses 88 keys in black and white combination, and never have I experienced anything better in the way he channels Mozart. Watch the You Tube video attached. (I’m wearing out my pointer finger on replays, but it’s worth every mouse poke.)

Murray is interviewed about the Mozart Concerto no. 21 in C Major, K. 467, by Sir Dennis Forman, and both have engaging voices in a riveting dialog.

What jumps out at me, like a bulls-eye line drive between second and third base, is what Perahia says about rubato in lyrical movements–particularly the second one of Mozart 21.

Forman launches the discussion by asking “How much rubato should there be in a Mozart piano concerto?” (Rubato means flexible time)

Murray replies like he’s known the answer since birth.

“It’s a difficult question because rubato is just a natural rhythm. It’s the way one sings the pulse. It’s almost necessary for all kinds of lyrical music. The question is how much?” (Please, piano students, pay attention to this. Music cannot be metronomic. One must phrase like a singer.)

You can be sure when listening to Perahia play, as sampled in interspersed segments of rehearsals with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe that he means what he says. He translates his personal sense of rubato in all his music-making. (Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms to name more than a few composers he has communicated in an incomparably spiritual way)

And in this spirit, I’ll recount my memories of Murray when he was a classmate at the New York City High School of Performing Arts in the mid 60s.

He had no doubt a gene for playing the piano. It was so inborn, you could feel it like the placenta shed in a birthing room.

Murray, when asked to realize the Continuo for a Corelli Concerto Grosso would do it so lusciously that all heads turned in his direction, except for the conductor who was no rival to Perahia. When Murray, then a conducting student ascended the podium one day for his exam, we in the orchestra were catapulted into a region of music-making never experienced before.

In a word, we didn’t know what hit us. It was Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 and I was in the violin section, right up front within reach of Perahia’s hand. I don’t think he used a baton. I recall that Murray was red in the face as he drew every bit of blood and passion out of us–the same pathos as is revealed in rehearsal clips interspersing the Forman interview.

When Murray left the podium back in high school, we were sadly back to the usual hum drum baton-waving of our resident music director. Ugh. I won’t mention his name. May he R.I.P.

But many students couldn’t wait to stay after school for a snatch of Murray’s frequent chamber music rehearsals. I remember the Beethoven Triple Concerto practice as well as the Mendelssohn D minor Piano Trio.

On one occasion Murray was asked to sight read the Chopin E minor Piano concerto during an orchestra rehearsal in place of an absent student soloist. Needless to say, his performance was pulsating with passion, where it had otherwise been delivered in a mechanical way.

Not to forget Perahia’s easy reading of a symphonic score as he was perched at the piano. Imagine one pianist gulping all those instruments, and rendering a composite of sections in a masterful way.

As observers, we were awestruck!

***

Here’s a Perahia anecdote just for good fun.

One day, our high school conductor asked Murray to pick up a viola (where on earth did he get one?) and play in the orchestra.

Oh my, what a sight to behold. Murray looked extremely ill-at-ease with the over-sized violin, I mean viola, under his chin. And as quickly as he managed to hold it in place with his left hand on the scroll, the alarm went off for a fire drill and thankfully the instrument was neatly tucked back into its case. I think Perahia was relieved–perhaps saved by the bells!

**

Flash forward to Fresno, 1981. Perahia came for his one and only concert to the boonies here, and it was memorable for us, but probably a big pain for him. The unkind Fresno Bee reviewer at the time, went off on a tangent about Murray’s posture at the piano and devoted little space to the substance of his performance.

What else could I expect?

The Bee has since relieved all music critics of their duties, probably due to budget trimming. Instead, the newspaper assigns one arts editor to interview those booked for Keyboard Concerts or the Fresno Philharmonic.

You might say that I’ve appointed myself as a volunteer music commentator through my occasional Letters to Editor which have been published about performances that filled my ears with pleasure.

The last pianist I qvelled about was Nareh Arghamanyan who played magnificently, with Schumann’s Carnaval as her tour de force featured selection.

But back in the 80s, I made sure to challenge the reviewer who wasted time ruminating about Perahia’s comportment at the piano. (Nothing to speak about compared to Lang Lang). My Letter got into the Bee without a hitch and the rest is history.

So after Murray performed on our now defunct Community Concerts series, which also featured Bulgarian acrobats and puppets from Transylvania, he was scheduled to give a Master Class, and guess who popped up at the recital hall at Fresno State University.

Yours truly, 3 weeks short of delivering baby number 3, and intending to play Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, movement 1 for Murray. You might say it was a “staged” class reunion, though Perahia was a year ahead of me at Performing Arts.

I can’t precisely recall everything Murray said about the composition, but I do remember meeting him the night before at a dinner party held in his honor.

As an invited guest, I ambled over to Perahia, and showed him, in advance, the Master Class list of students and pieces.

He gazed down at the roster, quickly noticing the composer Wilbur Straight.

Thinking quickly on my feet, I asked Murray what he might offer in the way of advice about playing this music.

Wryly, he said, “I’ll tell him to play it straight.”

In a New York Times review written about Murray’s 2009 recital in Avery Fisher Hall, Anthony Tommasini took Perahia to task for not programming contemporary music. Would this same arts editor have listed STRAIGHT among neglected modern-day composers?

From what I heard of STRAIGHT’s music, I would draw a straight line right through his name and substitute J.S. Bach.

Speaking of, listen to the Bach’s E Minor Partita performed by Perahia in Berlin, December 20011.

After sampling this display of consummate artistry, I’m convinced more than ever that the pianist is in a league of his own.

***

Related Link:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/when-a-ny-times-music-critic-and-reader-clash-over-a-piano-recital/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/my-new-york-city-high-school-of-performing-arts-fame-yearbook-and-what-i-found/

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A Little Dog Chasing its Tail: Cyprien Katsaris celebrates Chopin in this inspired Masterclass (Waltz, Op. 64 no. 1)

Cyprien Katsaris is a teacher’s teacher and pianist’s pianist. His prowess is on full display in a masterclass with a young girl who plays the Chopin Waltz, op. 64 no. 1. (Kudos to the Masterclass Media Foundation for adding this gem to its roster)

Like Boris Berman, Katsaris has a unique talent for transforming mechanical playing into something artistic, styled and very communicative.

This is what great teaching is about. (“play with a smile, let yourself go, forget everything around you…”)

The young student opens with an efficient, note perfect reading of the famous “Minute” Waltz, though in fact, the composition had no association with time or beating the clock. Katsaris frames it by relating the true details surrounding the work. It evoked the story of a charming little dog chasing its tail in a circular motion which Chopin noticed when in the company of his paramour, Georges Sands.

In a whimsical way, Katsaris gives impetus to release the spirit to the muse, and abandon tight, typed out playing. The little girl responds, and in short order, she’s soaring with fancy free musical expression and nuance. It’s a remarkable transformation.

Once she’s begun to shape phrases in the first part of the Waltz so they’ve surrendered an angular dimension that impeded a lilting musical flow, Katsaris works wonders in the middle section.

“Caress” the little dog, with short and then longer strokes, he says, as he demonstrates. Katsaris has a bounty of imaginative catch words and gestures to unleash full blown musical expression without inhibition.

It’s a universal challenge for musicians. While they must master notes, attend to proper fingering, and follow the composer’s dynamic markings, they should not sacrifice a spiritual awakening in the process.

Katsaris plies phrases, sculpts lines, and dances through the Waltz as he tells his enchanting stories. Such wisdom imparted with compelling charm, lures the child into a magical musical space.

It works miracles, and Chopin’s music lives forever in our hearts.

Bio, Cyprien Katsaris:

http://www.cyprienkatsaris.net/en/component/content/article/134-biographie.html

“Cyprien Katsaris, the French-Cypriot pianist and composer, was born on May 5th 1951 in Marseilles. He first began to play the piano at the age of four, in Cameroon where he spent his childhood. His first teacher was Marie-Gabrielle Louwerse.

“A graduate of the Paris Conservatoire where he studied piano with Aline van Barentzen and Monique de la Bruchollerie (piano First Prize, 1969), as well as chamber music with René Leroy and Jean Hubeau (First Prize, 1970), he won the International Young Interpreters Rostrum-UNESCO (Bratislava 1977), the First Prize in the International Cziffra Competition (Versailles 1974) and he was the only western-European prize-winner at the 1972 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Competition. He was also awarded the Albert Roussel Foundation Prize (Paris 1970) and the Alex de Vries Foundation Prize (Antwerp 1972).

“He gave his first public concert in Paris, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 8 May 1966, as a “Knight” of the youth competition “The Kingdom of Music”; he performed the Hungarian Fantasy by Franz Liszt, with the Orchestre Symphonique d’Ile-de-France conducted by René-Pierre Chouteau.

“His major international career includes performances with the world’s greatest orchestras, most notably The Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, SWR Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra Washington D.C., Detroit Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Toronto Symphony, The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Residenz Orchestra Den Haag, Brabant Orchestra, The NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo), Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Korean Chamber Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Bucharest George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, Milan RAI Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, The Oxford Philomusica, The Auckland Philharmonia and The City of Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra whose inaugural concert’s and subsequent tour he was the featured soloist (1978). He has collaborated with conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Mstslav Rostropovich, Sir Simon Rattle, Myung Whun Chung, Christoph von Dohnányi, Charles Dutoit, Antal Dorati, Ivan Fischer, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Kent Nagano, James Conlon, Sir Charles Mackerras, Rudolf Barshai, Sandor Végh, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Leif Segerstam, Dmitri Kitajenko, Andrey Boreyko, Christopher Warren-Green, Zdeněk Mácal, Xian Zhang, Paul Mann, Marios Papadopoulos… and Karl Münchinger, who on the festive occasion of his farewell concert in 1986, with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, personally invited Mr. Katsaris to perform the Haydn D major Concerto.

In addition to his activities as a soloist he founded the “Katsaris Piano Quintet”. This has received a very enthusiastic response from both the press and audiences in the Americas, Europe and Japan….”

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/inspiring-masterclasses-of-boris-berman-russian-pianist-videos/

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A Piano Masterclass in a universal language

Into the wee hours of the morning I was mesmerized by a Masterclass conducted by Dimitri Bashkirov at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris, France. The great Russian virtuoso and teacher, a descendant of the Leschetizky era by his student association with the legendary piano master’s wife, communicated in Russian with a third-party French translator. But no language barrier existed that required an interpreter. Bashkirov’s physical gestures, conducting motions, and singing were ample expressions of a universal musical language.

The ongoing French translation and a few cameo appearances made by a woman who rattled off promotions for the Event sponsored by Arcadia Musica, were the only annoying distractions.

A Yamaha grand piano sounding a bit too angular and brassy to communicate Brahms Fantasies, Op. 116, was artfully handled by student, Nathanael Gouin, who did his best to work his way around the instrument’s limitations. Bashkirov’s overtly rounded arm motions helped him overcome any tendency toward percussive playing and at one point the singer/conductor/player wrapped into one, pressed his hands against the student’s back to illustrate a supple wrist total weight-charged entry into chords. His directions were perfectly transmitted sans Francais.

Bashkirov’s teaching and playing have an Old World flavor. His perception of the piano as an orchestra with immense voicing and color capabilities is revealed in his recordings. If there’s a Russian School of playing, as epitomized in the artistry of Richter and Gilels, I see a tie in here:

To conclude here are excerpts from William Boone’s interview with Bashkirov (Italics and bold emphases are mine)

Utrecht, 24 October 2003

“Although he won a major piano competition (Marguérite Long/Jacques Thibaud) in Paris in 1955, Dmitri Bashkirov is not best known as a concert pianist. He suffered from the severe Soviet regime and was not allowed to travel abroad until the early 90’s. However, in the meantime, he gave many concerts in his native Russia and built a solid reputation as a teacher who trained many famous, sometimes internationally acclaimed pianists such as Arcadi Volodos, Nikolai Demidenko and Jonathan Gilad. He currently teaches at the Queen Sofia Academy in Madrid. He also gives worldwide master classes. I attended a few of his lessons between 21 and 23 October 2003, when he visited Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Utrecht….”

“Bashkirov emphasized what counted most for him; absolute fidelity to the printed score(s) and consistent ideas about tempi. He frequently stopped students to point out that Chopin or Liszt (to whom his master classes were dedicated) hadn’t written any change of tempi in their scores. He was genuinely surprised when a Russian student, who had just played Chopin’s 4th Scherzo in a very whimsical way, asked him: “But do you want to hear all the notes?

“On the other hand, he was sometimes flexible and acknowledged that pianists were allowed to freely interpret indications like “piano”or “forte”in a score, as long as they realized what a composer had originally written down. He emphasized that such indications can sometimes be relative and only get their true sense in the context of an entire composition.

“Furthermore, he put a lot of emphasis on the harmonic aspects of a composition. With a lot of pianists, left hand passages in Chopin’s and Liszt’s music tend to remain unnoticed. Bashkirov showed that you should not just play the melody, but that you should above all emphasize the harmonic audacities of both Chopin’s and Liszt’s writing.

“His diverse knowledge was impressive. He was particularly able to convey compositional elements in Liszt’s music and how these should be reflected in the interpretation. He explained for example how the last bars of the transcription “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”(after a song by Schubert) should sound “clear as water”. To another student who started the Etude “Chasse Neige”, inspired by falling snow flakes with great effect, he said: “Why do you play with so much emotion? This piece is about nature!”

“Of course he made a lot of other interesting comments, that proved useful for students or amateur pianists.
* Never play a recurrent motive the same way twice.
* When you phrase, always think of the last note, because this will enable you to see the phrase as an arch or build up tension.
* Try to always hear the sound inside yourself, play with your ears instead of your fingers.
* Always play with color and imagination, there is not one “piano”or one “forte,” there are 40 different “fortes”or “pianos.”
* A pianist has to make a piano sing. If you move your hand forward on the touches, you will get a more beautiful cantabile sound.