Brian Ganz Master Class, July 25, 2010

Kaplan and Brian

Brian used the occasion of Harriet Kaplan's playing of the beautiful Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2, to remind us to think about the relationship of one phrase to another. Awareness of the progression helps us make more sense of what's going on and enables us to take advantage of opportunities to highlight changes and emphasize tensions and other elements that make a piece more meaningful. During his comments, Brian evoked the playful yet instructive image of a couple of cherubs blowing air under one's arms to gently lift and then lower them onto the keyboard with the full weight of the arms resting on the keyboard. And he encouraged using "ghost playing"--i.e., lightly depressing piano keys while making little or no sound--as practice in allowing a singing voice to emerge while keeping accompanyment in the background.


Cleary and Ganz

Following Adrienne Cleary's playing of Chopin's Etude, Op. 25, No. 2, Brian discussed the importance of fortifying one's playing with an understanding of the structure and theory upon which the music we play is built. An understanding of this structure helps us play long, well-shaped phrases and allows us to bring out nuances and moments of expressive beauty. Brian mentioned that the modern piano, with its metal frame, projects more than the pianos of Chopin's time. Don't be afraid to use pedal when playing Chopin to make the sound more legato, but you may need to ease up on the pedal in sections marked for long pedals to avoid blurring.


Ganz with Flashlights

Tom Haug's performance of Rachmaninoff's Prelude, Op. 32, No. 5 was literally the calm before the storm. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy this lovely piece before strong wind and torrential rain left us sitting in the dark. With his training as a musician, Brian is a superb multi-tasker, as demonstrated here as he wields flashlights to illuminate a discussion augmented by candle power.

The control required for the delicate and rapid fingering required to play this piece prompted Brian to advise us to create in our minds a graphic awareness of what the hand does in playing such passages. Brian further emphasized that an underlying knowledge of theory will serve us well. The more "hard wiring" in your mind, the more connections, the better able you will be to interpret your music. "If you can hear it, you can ultimately play it. Take it apart; hear each layer, then put it back together."


Baldwin and Ganz

Donna Baldwin's performance of the Bach/Rachmaninoff Prelude, Violin Concerto in E Major led Brian to discuss transparency. What do you really want to come through? Pick a spot in your music. Is that the way you want it? What type of dynamic do you want? Density becomes opaque. Decide what you want to come through, and let the rest be transparent. Don't necessarily interpret an accent to mean loud. An occasional burst of aggression can be effective without excessive volume. Brian reminded us to keep in mind the "spirit of dance" in Bach. To lighten the approach and avoid abrupt entrances, think of entrances in terms of "round" rather than "square".


Rollwagen and Ganz

Before she began to play, Florence Rollwagen stated that she had an agenda. She chose two very different short pieces to play with the goal of having them sound very different without a distinguishable performer's signature. The two pieces she chose were good ones to accomplish her agenda--Ravel's Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn and Granados' Andaluzia, Op. 5, No. 5. Brian suggested that dancing to music playing through one's mind is good practice in keeping the music moving once you sit down at the piano to play. Don't get so engrossed in the beautiful sound that you let the momentum slow too much, he advised.


Kim and Ganz

Yongin Kim was obviously relieved after her performance of Schumann's Fantasiestucke, Op. 12, Nos. 1 and 2. Well, who wouldn't be? Oops, Brian saw that too, and reminded us all to watch our body language at the end of a performance. After some back and forth with Yongin, Brian advised her to "fearlessly rush up to that wall and give it a try." Wall successfully scaled.


Cleary with Ganz

Ah, the smile of a grateful performer. Thank you Brian for helping us grow in musical understanding and move closer to our performance goals.