A real performance: “You don’t just have to nail it, but show us that you’ve nailed it”


Mid-August marks the end of summer festivals, academies, workshops and camps where music performance students get a chance to grow artistically (and usually personally, as well) outside of their regular environment.

Some of the musical learning is bare-bones stuff, like how to play with two or three others in a chamber environment, or adapt to playing in an orchestra. There’s a lot of learning of notes, but the real fun is what happens once the notes are there.

It’s much like a masterclass writ large: a heady brew of anticipation and fear and bonding over little epiphanies.

By coincidence, I’ve heard twice this week how a good musician is like a good actor. The first was in conversation with French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on Monday. The second time was watching a masterclass on YouTube, given in Las Vegas (of all places) by Chicagoan star violinist, Rachel Barton Pine.

At one point, about 18 minutes into the first video of the masterclass, Pine explains to the student what playing softly means in different contexts. For the soloist, it is something that still has to reach the back row of the audience — something the teacher describes as the equivalent of an actor’s stage whisper: quiet, but not really.

An onlooker can get as much out of a masterclass, like being reminded about the incredible amount of detail work behind what we applaud from the comfort of a nicely padded seat. The experience also helps sharpen our tools for critical listening.

Pine is a plainspoken, unaffected teacher who packs a lot into an hour. If you want to skip some of the student’s performance of the Wienawski, the lesson begins at the 8-1/2 minute mark:

Part 2 offers up some nicely played Sarasate. The interaction starts at the 8 minute mark:

John Terauds

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