Violinist Viktoria Grigoreva conducted a master class for violin students from the college and community with the assistance of pianist Cynthia Huard on Monday, May 12, 2014. Professor Grigoreva teaches at the Royal College of Music in London and is much in demand worldwide as a teacher and performer.
Middlebury College offered the opportunity to participate in the master class to serious community students and enrolled college students. I feel so fortunate to be included in the serious community student category. While I am a violin teacher, I see myself as well as a student. The study of the violin is a lifelong practice. Much the same as professors attend conferences to learn from their peers, music professionals attend master classes to see masters teach and to also be the student.
Students rehearsed their performances ahead of time with the magician accompanist Cynthia Huard. Playing with Cynthia is a sublime experience as she is able to support the performer through whatever intent they imagine with the music.
The format of the master class reveals the practice of teaching and uncovers techniques that can be applied to technical challenges that musicians face on an ongoing basis, not just in the repertoire examined, but for all musical challenges. Sometimes as a participant or observer we can uncover a new practice strategy or performance tool that we can use right away. As a teacher seeing a particular piece taught can provide a new perspective on our own teaching practice for that piece. Seeing a student cautiously play their piece then offered a few practical tips and noting of their strengths can result in a subsequent and almost instantaneous vibrant and magical performance. Following Ms. Grigorev’s insights a student playing of the Mendelssohn concerto became an exciting and engaging performance of the same piece by the same player. Sometimes we need to be shown the skills we already have and be persuaded that as players it is not enough just to have the skills, but to know how and when to apply them.
The college’s sponsorship of this master class was an opportunity for me to to perform and glean insights from a teacher able to instantly pick up on learning styles, draw out the strengths of the performer and offer practical techniques to improve on strengths and approach challenges. The picture on the left is not me, but Harry Louis Rich (’14 Feb) who also played. It was clear from his adept performance that Mr. Rich has benefited from great teaching and a devoted violin practice. It was remarkable how nuanced suggestions from Ms. Grigorev brought his piece alive. Slight suggestions for modification of the use of his existing skills, technique and perspective made the piece more interesting and engaging to listen to but did not seem to change the performers intentions.
I decided to play the Brahms D-Minor Violin Sonata for the master class. Following the master class I begged for a private lesson with Ms. Grigoreva which she granted. I feel bouyed by the master class and lesson and more motivated to study and teach than ever. And my Brahms will be more interesting for it as well. The master class was inspirational and trans formative for me as a player and teacher.
The experience of playing a challenging and not quite baked piece on stage is both terrifying and exhilarating. Ms. Grigoreva’s suggestions to me and to all participants were thoughtful, practical and built on our strengths as players. What was most useful were her questions, intended to help us teach ourselves. Below are some of her excellent suggestions from today’s class:
- In practice, repeat things as many times as you need.
- The Violin is a very physical instrument. The physical repetition is important for integration.
- Make difficult passages easy. Begin with the bow phrasing, without the notes, then add one note at a time. Stop between sequences if that helps prepare, then work on decreasing the stop time between sequences. Practice playing each sequence 3x in a row.
- Use vibrato when you are prone to rush off a note to keep yourself from running away.
- Consider the phrase, not the sequence of notes.
- Conserve bow when you need it later for a sforzando.
- Look at the bow instead of the notes to count (track) distribution of long slurred notes.
- Visually the bow should move like a circle.
- Ease shifting by leaving the first finger down and moving the whole hand as the elbow bends.
- To maintain an expression, do not change the speed of the bow at the bow-change.
- When starting to bow from above the string, make sure the lift is part of the bowing, don’t wait.
- Experiment with using vibrato speed changes to change the expression.
- While there are exceptions to the rule, the fingering of harmonics is to use the finger for the previous note.
- For dotted repeating melodic passages, take out the dots to ensure the dynamic and bow division are dealt with, then add in the dots.
- Practice (tricky) spizzicato passages with a legato bowing and legato passages with a spizzicato or detache bow.
- Practice without the notes, just the bow movement to deal with the phrase before adding the notes. For fast slurred passages, just play the first note of the sequence. When this is sounding good, add in the second note, then the third, etc.
- What can you do to feel less cautious?
- What is the most important note in this passage? Which phrase needs to be more important? How is it more important?
- What do you want to improve about your playing of the piece?
- Whatever you mean, make sure it is clear.
- Expressivo is not always more, but perhaps a different color.