A Masterclass with Brian Ganz

by Donna Baldwin

On February 1, 2009, AMSF presented its annual Brian Ganz Master Class, which was hosted by Carol Barth. The program was as follows:

  • Hala Tomey - Bach Italian Concerto, Presto
  • Linda Armstrong - Haydn Sonata in F Major, Hob XVI: 23, Allegro moderato
  • Nelson Clapp - Liszt Consolation No 5 in E Major
  • Ellen Tenenbaum - Chopin Waltzes, Op 64, Nos. 2 & 3 in C-Sharp Minor and A-Flat Major
  • Diane Cormicle - Chopin Mazurkas, Op 30, No. 1 in C Minor and Op 41 No 2 in E Minor
  • Yasunari Ishii - Chopin Sonata in B minor, Op 58, Finale: Presto, ma non tanto

Performers and observers commented that this master class was one of the best they had ever participated in. Brian also noted that the level of performance was extremely high. In addition to providing detailed feedback about individual performance issues, Brian also shared the following broader comments that might be helpful to others.

Performance Anxiety - It's a good idea to get together with others to perform for each other. Perform once a week for someone other than your teacher to confront your nerves. Make friends with your nervousness. It can give way to excitement instead of fear. Our inner metronome is the heart. When we're nervous, it's faster, so reduce your tempo from where you think it should be, take a deep breath, and then intensify what you're trying to achieve in terms of dynamics and other expression. Analyzing your music thoroughly can help support you when performing under nerves. Keep going no matter what. Don't try to correct mistakes. When playing with a score, keep your eyes on the music most of the time and only glance at your hands from time to time.

Bench Maintenance - You'll extend the life your artist's bench if you stand before adjusting it.

Contrast in Sonata-Allegro Form - Sonata-Allegro form has two main themes. When the first theme moves to a second key (where the exposition ends), that's where the second theme begins. The second theme contrasts with the first. Pay attention to emphasizing contrast between themes. Echo effects can be effective in creating contrast. If you play an echo effect the first time, try something different on the repeat. Practicing should always include experimentation. Try different effects, like deceptive dynamics at a deceptive cadence. Often in Classical music, if there's no slur, the note can be played detached, which is another way to create contrast.

Playing from Memory - If playing from memory, put down the music stand, because you'll be able to hear yourself better, and it's visually more pleasing to the audience. When a piece is memorized, always consult the score at some point when practicing, and study it every day, looking for something new each time. Errors can creep in if you don't consult the score regularly.

Choosing Editions - Using edited editions is like having a lesson with the editor. However, if you're using an edited edition, it's useful to also get an urtext edition as a reference.

Definitions - Andante means moving. Andantino means a little faster than andante. Con anima means with soul, and shouldn't be confused with animato, which means more animated. Dolce means sweet. Piacere means pleasure.

Making More Sound - More weight is needed to get a bigger sound. Try playing a cluster of any five notes and start playing at pianissimo and gradually grow louder, using arm weight. Feel like your forearm is playing the note through your wrist. Release and relax your arm. The weight comes from your upper body through your forearm. It's a whip-like action. Keep a relaxed wrist. You can practice a loud passage and give a separate stroke to each note. Then do the same thing every other note. Then do every six notes. Then give micro swings to get relaxation while also getting power.

Playing with Tension - When you play with tension in your upper body, it's hard to get lateral movement to be able to hit notes. When your shoulders are relaxed, your arms are free to move. Don't let your shoulders rise for no reason. When your muscles are tense, they may recruit other muscles and compound your tension. It's okay to act the music, i.e. dancing with the music while you play, if you're aware of it and are in control of it.

Voicing - When playing music with rich counterpoint, you have to decide what voices to bring out. Work for balance so we hear the primary material. To facilitate voicing, you could rearrange the music by, for example, taking some of the right hand notes with the left hand to help play difficult passages.