MEA members filled the Chase Room at the Madison Library to hear Dr. Kaplinsky, chair of The Juilliard School piano department, coach four talented "Young Artists." For more about Dr. Kaplinsky's impressive career click here. Dr. Kaplinsky began with a heartwarming tribute to music teachers, emphasizing the importance and significance of their work.
First, Irene Koc, pupil of Julia Lam, performed Études-Tableaux, Opus 33, No. 2 and No. 6, by Rachmaninoff. Her expressiveness and fluidity belied their difficulty. Dr. Kaplinsky posed this question: "What is the biggest challenge? Music is all about character." Character governs interpretation. To help discover that character, examine the score and ask why a composer chose a particular melodic or harmonic feature.
The essential nature of Étude No. 2 is an expressive dialogue between female and male voices above a patterned accompaniment. The character of the soprano, with its unusual opening melodic leap, is very poignant, while the lower voice seems more pressing and insistent. The busy accompaniment cannot overwhelm their "conversation."
Dr. Kaplinsky recommended isolating each element in the piece. Then listen. Where is the melody going? To produce a rich tone without percussive sound, transfer weight to the finger and slow the descent of the key. Link the melody tones in a continuous line, and think of dynamic indications as being on a continuum, not at preset levels. Dr. Kaplinsky remarked that the notes in the persistent left hand figure are not of equal importance. Hear the rhythm expressed only by the thumb, and, linking weak to strong counts, keep the pulse elastic.
In the Étude Opus 33 No. 6, the character is explosive. Opening with subdued dyads, non allegro, it bursts, presto, into frenetic fast right hand triplets suffused with chromaticism, over a leaping bass of single tones, imposing octaves, or jumping chords, only to subside at the end, pianissimo. The pianist strives to maintain this frenzy with dynamic shaping of phrasing, strategic pedaling, and precise articulation.
After her fine performances, Irene Koc said that she appreciated Dr. Kaplinsky's good, precise, and intricate explanations, her straightforward, direct manner, and her passion for coaching.
Next, Joshua Velez, pupil of Beverly Anderson, performed the first movement (Allegro) of Beethoven's Sonata in F minor, Op. 2 No. 1. He had prepared to play a Villa Lobos piece, but Dr. Veda heard him warming up with the Beethoven and asked Joshua if he would play that instead! It was remarkable that he was able to make that last minute substitution. Joshua showed a great understanding of the music, but Dr. Kaplinsky sharpened this with her discussion of the Beethoven sforzando. "Get it!" she demanded. "The score rules!" she exclaimed. Study the score and determine the function of a particular marking or notation. In m. 22, the E-flat oscillating octaves in the bass clash with the F-flat in the right hand, so the sforzando need not be very loud. The dissonance is already shocking. Here, the sf adds spice; it is witty, not nasty. Prepare the sf by making a slight crescendo before it. You may also add emphasis without increasing volume by slightly delaying an attack.
Dr. Veda alluded to the Viennese School of "sturm und drang" (storm and stress) in discussing the soaring opening bars, and the complementary legato arpeggio of the calmer second theme. She urged Joshua to think of the direction of the phrase, the musical sentence, paragraph, and even chapter. Later, Joshua expressed his gratitude for master class experience. He was thankful for the perspective he had gained, particularly about "thinking of where the music is going."
Albert Gu, pupil of Julia Lam, then played the first movement (Allegro, ma non troppo) of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 in D minor. He had a good concept of this demanding work, but we learned how it could be infused with so much more nuance. Dr. Kaplinsky's main thrust was this: "Rhythmically Entitled is not a good designation." Some pianists go too far in their individualism. While the character of this movement is one of changing moods and changing tempos, reflecting the composer's interest in ballet, only by adherence to the score can the composer's intentions be realized. She advised, "long notes must get full count; there is a reason for each long note." She suggested that Albert play across the bar lines, but keep the pulse slightly variable because "we do not have a pulse like a metronome." The scherzando sections must be treated differently from those marked tristemente or serioso. Be meticulous with syncopation, precise rhythm, and limited pedal. In the opening bars, non legato, pedal sparingly. The second theme contrasts with the first; its lyrical line is deep and the accompaniment is shallow. Dr. Kaplinsky suggested that Albert think about the mood changes in movie music and relate that to this piece. Then, set specific goals for your practicing to achieve the appropriate interpretation of each section. Albert later expressed his appreciation for the master class experience, and vowed to be more introspective and rhythmically attentive.
Finally, Robert Argasinski, pupil of Sophia Agranovich, performed Liszt's Transcendental Étude No. 4, "Mazeppa" to an astounded audience. "It is a macho piece," said Dr. Kaplinsky. Here, her theme was, "Listen, and Play Right," that is, capture the essence of the piece. Keyboard strategies are required. From the opening bars, where she recommended swinging to the right to drive each chord to the top note, to other sections where she advised balancing the hands by playing the left hand softer, right hand louder, her focus was on bringing out the right notes. She also suggested experimentation with fingering, like substituting a stronger finger for the fourth to improve articulation.
Robert commented: "This Master Class with Ms. Kaplinsky was very instructive and full of positive reinforcement. It not only shed light on my own piece, but also gave me insight on musicianship and classical music in general. Ms. Kaplinsky took complex musical ideas and themes and condensed them into simple metaphors. She was very understanding and straightforward. I really enjoyed hearing her feedback and hope to put it to practice. My Master Class with Ms. Kaplinsky inspired me to continue my career in music and to reach new heights."
Beverly Anderson, teacher of Joshua Velez, told me that this was his first Master Class experience. It was great for him to hear the other students and it was a wonderful experience to interact with a world-class teacher. Congratulations to each of the teachers and their respective students, and resounding applause to the outstanding Dr. Veda Kaplinsky!
L-R: Irene Koc, Albert Gu, Teacher: Julia Lam, Joshua Velez, Teacher: Beverly Anderson, Robert Argasinski, Veda Kaplinsky, Teacher: Sophia Agranovich
Written by Bertha Mandel
Photography, Lisa Gonzalez