My good friend Carlos Kalmar, music director of the Oregon Symphony, made me arrive early here in beautiful Portland, as early as I never had to arrive before a performance: three days in advance. And since I was too stressed out with other stuff, I didn’t even realize until I got here, that I could have stayed two days longer at home.Somehow he wanted to rehearse the Schumann with me already on Thursday, even though the concert wasn’t until today, Saturday. And because for once I didn’t question my manager’s information, I booked my flight for Wednesday, although the Lufthansa direct flight from Frankfurt would have “delivered” me in time to the afternoon rehearsal on Thursday, or Friday….
Do I mind? No, I took advantage of my time away from wife and child, practiced a lot, found a victim to play tennis with, and yesterday I taught for about five hours, two private students, and one masterclass. No, I don’t teach for a living, I just do it once every other month if somebody asks for a lesson, and as much as I love it, I am happy that I don’t have to do it every day.
It is so hard, so tiring and it demands so much creative energy to listen and come up with sensible stuff to say to these youngsters with a variety of problems. I always feel awful, because I can’t really help anybody in one or even half hour time. And as much as I would love to just work on musical things, I can’t because the technical problems stand in 99% of cases between the players and the music. How can I talk about a musical line if the problems in the bow-arm forbid the players to play legato. My duty as the teacher is, to help the student overcome technical problems to be able to play music.
One thing which struck me yesterday was the fact that with one exception every student played a piece which was much too hard for them: twice the Dvorak, Elgar, Saint-Saens and Shostakovich No.1 – only the young boy with the Faure Elegy actually managed the piece. And what is the result? Besides rather poor intonation they get so tense that their problems get bigger the longer they practice. Only way out of this dilemma would be to take many steps back, go back to the basics and play pieces like Romberg Sonatas or Klengel Concertos.
Don’t take me wrong, I am not blaming these very sweet students for that – it is the responsability of every teacher to give their students the tools how to solve problems, and in most cases yesterday they didn’t even know that they had problems.Â But what bothered me most was the lack of musical statement. I felt everybody was using some tricks and mannerisms to actually say nothing – except in the Faure I didn’t feel any deeper emotion, never mind the technical inefficiencies.
No, I didn’t say anything like that, how could I? I don’t want to turn anybody away from playing an instrument, but when I think that most of them want to do this professionally, I get scared. I was impressed how confident these youngsters sat behind their instruments. They didn’t show any nerves which could be seen as a good thing, but maybe also as a complete unawareness of their actual level of playing. Maybe there is too much praise for the kids of today and not enough truth?
As parents we are fighting a tough war against all the distractions being thrown at the kids of today: computer and video games, TV, playstations, you name it. And if we are in the lucky situation that they actually do sit down to play music, how harsh are we allowed to be? Even if we tell them nicely that they have to work much harder because they suck, don’t we push them right in the arms of these distractions which are so much more rewarding to consume?
But if my father wouldn’t have told me every other week that I played incredibly out of tune, I would not have been aware of it, I would not have worked as hard as I did. So what am I supposed to do in a masterclass like that? I felt ashamed after yesterday, because I worked hard to make them play better, but at the end they didn’t, and I missed the chance to actually be truthful. Why? Because it would have hurt them, and they wouldn’t have like it, and they wouldn’t have liked me for it – and what else does one want but being liked….