Ruiz-Bernal Mini-Master Class for Pianists, April 27, 2013

by Louise Crane

On the lovely spring Saturday afternoon of April 27, Gabriel Ruiz-Bernal conducted the second of AMSF's "experimental" mini- master classes, this one for advanced beginning and intermediate pianists. The class was a good demonstration of the difference a master class can make. As students followed Gabriel's advice, they played more confidently, and their music was more convincing.

Bonnie Gracer led off with a pretty Scarlatti sonata in G Major (K431, L83). When Bonnie apologized for missing notes and hesitating because she is still learning the piece, Gabriel said that to become more confident, one has to have more control. Without control, anxiety builds up and leads to failings. Gabriel explained that a key to gaining control of a piece is to learn it within a concept. For instance, analyze the arpeggios. (Bonnie's selection opens with several repeated G Major arpeggios). Figure out the harmonic structure. Bringing more musical sense to a piece will make it easier to learn and memorize. Gabriel demonstrated with several G Major chords, noting that some have tension while in others "you're at home." He then played a few measures of the Bach C Major prelude which he said he hadn't played in years, but because he remembered the harmonic structure, he could retrieve it from his memory and play it.

Gabriel Ruiz-Bernal 2013

Gabriel Ruiz-Bernal instructs mini-master class participants.

Francoise Straver-Postic next played a Chopin Nocturne in c minor (post.). Gabriel suggested that Francoise would get more flow in her playing if she changed the way she moved at the piano. The sharp, fast attack works for Bach and Scarlatti and even for Mozart, but not for Chopin. You will get more flow if you pretend you are in a tank of water. Slow playing will allow you to make more connections, making your playing more legato. To do this, move your hand along with your fingers; when you do, you also move the center of gravity. "Make your hand travel with your fingers," he said. "That will give you more control." He warned her not to improvise fingering when playing in public or "you will fail." "Sometimes you missed notes," he commented, "because your fingering was too superficial. You had not committed your finger to that note."

The last student was Louise Crane, who played Arvo Part's Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka (Variations on the Healing of Arinushka 1975), a set of six variations, the first three in a minor and the last three in A Major. For Louise, Gabriel repeated his advice to Francoise, to move the hand with the fingers to get a flowing sound. To this he added coming up with a "vision". What is the composer trying to say? The child Arinuschka is ill but she recovers. So, there is worry and anxiety in a minor, but she recovers and the music moves to a sunny A Major. "Constructing a 'vision' will help you play the piece with more conviction," he said.

An email from one of the participants later in the day summed up the class with Gabriel by saying: "He was fabulous."