Saturday, August 11, 2007

Notes From Steven Isserlis Masterclass

Just got out of the Steven Isserlis Masterclass, which was of course, beyond amazing!!!

His knowledge of the music is unbelievable (to the point where he knows and can play every orchestra part to all the concertos he taught on the cello from memory & he even knows every dynamic & articulation marking in the music)

I'm still amazed by his bow grip - I've never seen anyone else with the same technique & he's got such a relaxed/free character, always insistent on listening to the music... anyway, here are my notes from it:


Haydn D

-Smile w/ opening
-play long notes like a keyboard (with dimmuendo)
-Question & antecedant
-What are the important notes? Always know the answer to this
-Sentences & clauses - always head to the main word
-Dance & Laugh
-"Not work, just a conversation"
-You must enjoy what you're playing for the audience to enjoy it:
-This means you can't worry about technique
-You must listen (both to your own playing & to the orchestra) to achieve this
-Quest for the dominant
-[observation: he always has a narrative for what's going on]
-"We don't want to know you've practiced scales"

-Main way of phrasing on string instruments is bow speed
-Listen to the "heartbeat" of the orchestra
-Isserlis thinks it's a love song
-What does an accent mean? (Isserlise thinks it means vibrato in Schumann)
-If any note is not beautiful, you diminish the whole phrase
-As musicians we have to be detectives
-[Look for the form within the music]
-Question & Answer
-Listen to the Bass
-Different Characters: Introvert & Extrovert

Saint-Saens Concerto

-Romantic Temperamnet, but classically written out
-First phrase is one line headed straight for the next thunder crash
-Come down in dymanics in spots, but don't lose the articulation
-[observation: on 3rd finger vibratos in the upper register, he lifts is 1st & 2nd fingers off of the fingerboard & puts his 2nd over his third for a wider, reinforced vibrato]
-Create variety with bow speed
-Match vibrato & bow speed - Especially in lighter/lyrical passages
-"We don't want to know you've practiced"
-[In points w/ chords, examine the harmony & melody]

-We have to listen to what we play
-We achieve this by always focusing on a point out in the audience (for example, an exit sign or a cute girl) [observation: this causes the spine to be straight & basically achieves the same thing as the Alexander Technique... It dramatically improves the sound too...]
-Note the use of the Neapolitan in the harmony
-The Beatles often used it
-"As far as I'm concerned, If you've looked down, you've missed the note anyway, because you're not listening"

It was an amazing class ... I'm going to take some time to integrate his approach (in-depth knowledge of the score & harmony, coupled with always listening & being aware of the other voices & themes) into my playing...

For now though, I have to go practice before rehearsal... It's the very last day of summit... I still have a few more masterclass notes to post up & then at some point, I'll also post reflections, as it's been an amazing journey through 2 weeks...

Anyway, off to the practice room...


Anonymous said...

I'd still check out the Alexander Technique at

Mike Lunapiena said...

Definitely! I attended a workshop at school about the Alexander Technique - it was amazing to say the least...

What it comes down to is that one needs to develop a comprehensive understanding of muscle tension & ease of motion... Alexander Technique seems like an amazing way to do it... it's too bad that it's not the standard in music education.

Thank you for the advice.