My father is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever come across. Since more or less 50 years he has tought the violin, starting at the tender age of 17, and now, after retiring from playing in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for 43 years, he will still have his students at the UdK in Berlin as well as his work with the German Youth Orchestra to make a smooth transition into full retirement (as if this would ever happenâ€¦). His dedication and enthusiasm for teaching has made a very big impression on me with a very funny affect: I love to teach, and I grab any possibility of a masterclass to teach – nevertheless because of my father’s dedication I refuse to take a teaching position. I would not be able to fulfill it with the same responsability and care he has shown and which I am convinced is necessary; students seek and need a lot of attention and help, and with me travelling extensively and trying to be as dedicated a father as I can be, I know some of the three things (family, playing, teaching) if not all three would suffer.
This said it might explain why I agreed to accept to teach two masterclasses and play two concerts in two rather different cities within 34 hours this passed weekend: on Saturday I tought four (highly gifted) cellists from the New World Symphony from 11am-2pm in Miami Beach, playedÂ the same evening the second concert of our Haydn D Major, flew Sunday very early (after a delightful late-night party with the young players of this highly inspiring orchestra – their Brahms IV had great passion and emotion in a way of a youth orchestra, but with the perfection of a professional group) to Montreal, rehearsed with Cecile Licad and played an afternoon recital, attended the reception afterwards and then tought 4 students of Matt Haimowitz from 7-9pm.
To be honest I feel rather inadequate at teaching; I know that I can analyze technical problems very well, and because of the excellent teachers I had (especially Markus Nyikos in Berlin) I can also explain and solve them. But as soon as it comes to music I feel much less able to help the players. Different reasons: first of all I don’t really like any kind of pretentious talk about music – using metaphors and images which sound good in theory and might make the teacher look good don’t really help the student much, at least in my experience. Well, let me rephrase it: I have heard numerous times empty musical comments from teachers, conductors and musicians in my life that I have become a bit allergic against meaningless images. But there are some who are masters in using them, and I have greatest respect when somebody manages to put a musical thought into words in a way, that a gifted student (or orchestra musician) can actually change the way he or her plays a certain phrase.
Carlos Kleiber was brilliant in talking to his orchestras, at least what I saw in one video of him rehearsing “Die Fledermaus” (“you have to play as if you are a bit drunk, not too much though, you still have to be able to drive a car” or “play with nicotin”), and also recently Andris Nelsons used some very vivid and clear images to describe to the City of Birmingham Orchestra the introduction of the Dvorak Concerto. I am not so good with words, and often I find myself taking the students instrument and trying to show them different ways of playing a certain phrase which I am really not so happy with; by showing them what I’d do I might limit their creativity to come up with their own ideas. As much as I don’t want them to copy some recordings, I also don’t want them to copy me. Yesterday for example there was a young woman playing the first movement of the Chopin Sonata. She played very well, but for my taste it lacked a bit imagination and freedom. Oh, I tried my best to explain what I was looking for, and I felt incredibly lame and unable to bring my point across.
Finally I took her cello and played a bit with her pianist – but I was not happy with myself, I should have managed to use rather strong images Ã¡ la Carlos Kleiber instead of week playing. Music is language without words – and it is a great art to use words to describe it, much easier to just play it (if you speak the languageâ€¦ :)). Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I LOVED teaching these really lovely, open and talented students, I just wished I could have done more for them. It is also tough to have so little time to say something meaningful. You have to be incredibly precise, no beating around the bush for too long, put the finger where it hurts as gentle as possible and then fix it in 20 minutes. Impossible? No, nothing is impossible, but a challenge for sure. The nice (and a bit cowardish) thing is, that the next morning I leave town and don’t carry any responsibility for what I have said the night before. One day I might not have the energy to jump back and fourth like a maniac anymore, ready to settle down – but right now I have my hands full with giving justice to raising a little boy.
Oh, I almost forgot to say something about the recital in Montreal, organized by the LMMC, the ladies musical morning club, founded in 1892! They treated us really well, if just every concert could be so nicely organized and cared for. The ladies of the board provided us with delicious cheese, sweets and and all kinds of drinks backstage, and just the care and love leading up to the concert were really inspiring to give all on stage in front of a wonderfully attentive and quiet audience. After a first half of all Beethoven (g minor and A Major) we played Janaceks Pohadka and for the first time the Prokofiev Sonata together, and I must admit, this was by far the best version of that piece I have ever played. Cecile, whom I had just heard doing Prokofievs 3rd Pianoconcerto in the Philippines, played the piano part with so much subtle sarcasm, bittersweet irony and great drama that I almost forgot about the rather fulfilling Beethoven in the first half.
I adore playing with my two so very different pianists Cecile and Steven, and it pains me how few recitals we get to play. Now it would have been great to do the same program a couple of times, but no, I had to fly back to Germany instead, preparing for my Boccherini Concerti next week in Frankfurt and Giessen… Lining up several recitals is becoming harder and harder, since there are fewer and fewer recital series around; the smaller presenters prefer the personal contact with the artist, but unfortunately I am a very poor networker, never staying in touch with anybody and thus not pushing for concerts whatsoever. Whatever I play is arranged by my managers – if it wasn’t for them, I would be sitting home, doing nothing. Thanks, my dear managers! 🙂