A Masterclass with Brian Ganz

Because of severe winter weather on February 27, 2008, the Brian Ganz master class scheduled for that date was postponed until March 24. Some of the performers who had originally planned to play for Brian were not available on the re-scheduled date, giving members on the waiting list a chance to play. Here are the performers and the works they played.

  • Joyce Morton, Beethoven Sonata in C minor, Op. 111, Maestos, Allegro con brio ed appassionato
  • Yasunari Ishii, Bach Prelude and Fugue in B flat major, WTC Book I
  • Victor Dyni, MacDowell Second Modern Suite, Op. 14, Prelude
  • Raye Haug, Schubert Sonata in A minor, Op. 143-D784, Andante
  • Cole Mallard, Chopin Mazurka in G minor, Op. 67, No. 2
  • Serena Tan, Mozart Rondo in A minor, K 511 (ABA only)

As usual, Brian was complimentary to all who performed, and he had some specific suggestions for each pianist.

Brian asked Joyce if there was any particular passage that seemed elusive or difficult to play. When Joyce pointed to a passage, Brian explained his "Magic Four" approach to practice in which a pianist re-writes a difficult passage by varying volume and articulation. Here are the four progressions:

  1. Forte staccato (1-2 minutes maximum), followed by relaxation and loosening exercises for fingers and wrists
  2. Piano legato
  3. Piano staccato (1-2 minutes max), followed by relaxation and loosening exercises for fingers and wrists
  4. Mezzo forte legato

Brian advised that when practicing short passages to never stop playing at the end of a measure. Rather, go on to the next beat to avoid seams between practice sections. Also start in the middle of sections rather than at the beginning. This is a good practice strategy to reduce reliance on continuity alone.

Brian suggested to Raye that she explore doing more with the forte dynamic, saying "It has to hurt a bit more! Make your listener long for the forte." Brian suggested that she pay attention to the harmonic rhythm, which is the speed with which the harmony changes, and he encouraged her to make non-harmonic elements like crescendos, trills and extra melody notes more important.

Following Yasunari's performance, Brian commented that song and dance elements are generally present in music. Dance is staccato; the song legato. In the Bach Yasunari played, the music is mostly dance. Upon observing that Yasunari incorporated some interesting and unusual slurring, Brian commented " That's valid if a performer has some logical reasoning for articulation choices." Brian noted the double dotting of notes in the Bach, saying that such rhythm communicates majesty in Baroque music and suggesting that Yasunari incorporate the majesty suggested by this rhythmic feature into his performance.

"This is challenging counterpoint", Brian noted about Victor's selection. He advised Victor to practice the "VATT" technigue--i.e., voices alone, then together. He also suggested that Victor follow the contour of this difficult piece with extreme musicianship, playing inner voices even softer.

Brian suggested that the beautiful singing quality of the Chopin Mazurka played by Cole Mallard can be emphasized by subdueing non-melody voices. He suggested keeping the pedaling clean, changing it even more often than Chopin indicated, mentioning that Chopin was sometimes not careful in notating pedal markings. He also observed that the pedal on modern pianos is too "wet" to necessarily fullfill Chopin's intentions. Brian pointed out the difference in substantial grace notes, which are slow and occur on the beat, and faster ornamental grace notes, which are played before the beat. A Mazurka, Brian noted, is a distinct dance with movement and gesture on beat 1, and it will dance more if grace notes are ornamental.

Brian asked Serena to demonstrate some practice techniques for producing a pure, clean sound with no slurring, a technique required for playing Mozart. He advised that she listen for the silences in the music and that she change the pedal frequently, saying that silence and separation were crucial for Mozart. He noted the gracefulness of Mozart compositions and suggested that playing ornaments on the beat can help communicate that gracefulness.