Master Class with Violinist Li Lin - Starling-DeLay 2023

May 26, 2023, 1:31 AM · Violin pedagogue Li Lin doesn't let anyone breeze along in their comfort zone - this was clear from his master class Thursday at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at the Juilliard School.

He relentlessly shook things up, demanding that students get their entire bodies involved in making music, then insisting that the music they were creating would elicit a true response in a listener.

"If I'm thinking, 'Hmmm, nice violin playing,' that's not enough of a response," he said at one point. "Bring a tear to my eye, make me feel happy, or out of breath. Don't just play beautifully, get beyond it."

Lin has been on the violin faculty at The Juilliard School since 2014, and he also teaches at the Perlman Music Program and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A native of Guangzhou, China, he mentioned during the class that his father is a master of tai chi, and his teaching seemed to reflect some principles of that art, such as directing and balancing the flow of energy in the body.

That was one point of focus for the first young artist of the day, Kaycee Galano, who played the first movement from Bartók's Concerto No. 2, a mercurial piece with many sudden changes, sometimes bursting into motion and sound from near-stillness.

"In a way, it's too beautiful," he said of Galano's playing, saying that he wanted more definition on each note.

"I love you already," said pianist Pamela Viktoria Pyle, as he lifted the piano lid much higher. He positioned Galano right in front of the open lid and asked her to "respond from the sound coming out of the piano!" As she played, he started using music he was holding as a fan, wafting sound from inside the piano to Galano.

He also wanted her to connect her upper body and lower body. When playing the violin, "people sometimes feel the upper body alone," he said. "Don't play from the hand, play from the whole system!"

When it comes to vibrato, he asked her to think of pivoting at the elbow, and vibrate in a relaxed, centered way.

LiLin and KayceeGalano
Li Lin and Kaycee Galano.

He also wanted her to focus on communicating with the audience, suggesting two ways to do so: "You can embrace the audience, bring them to you, hug them in," he said, "or you can go out and get them."

"It's not about loudness, it's more about energy that comes from inside," Li said. Similarly, "It's not about feeling fast or slower - it's about the intention."

Next Qianru Elaine He played the third movement "Allegro" from Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor. While this is a Russian piece, Li said, it has a Spanish dance element. Spanish dance is different from say, French dance. French dance, he said, has a feeling of lift. But Spanish is all about the step and the stomp, and thus "we need to hear accents to create the character. “

Li Lin and Qianru He
Li Lin and Qianru He.

"Go right next to the piano and put your ear into it," Lu said. "You will discover many things. You will hear the information and take in much more than you can when analyzing from the sheet music.”

And to the body energy point, "You play from the arm - you need to also bend at the legs," he told her.

Li also made about about how we feel music: "You don't feel music by yourself," he said, "you feel it with the audience." He asked Qianru to "throw the sound, like a ball, all the way to the exit signs at the back of the room.”

Next Serin Isabelle Park played the first movement from the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Once she played it through without interruption, Li then pushed for more.

Li Lin and Serin Park
Li Lin and Serin Park

"Regardless of whether you are playing loud or soft, the whole violin should be alive, awake," he said. Could she feel the vibrato - feel it in the palm, under the chin? "Figure out how this violin behaves," he said. "Imagine that the walls are responding to you."

"When you go to a concert, do you go to get comfort? Or do you go to get inspiration?" Li asked. Then he answered his own question: "You go to get new energy that you don't often ge in real life."

He felt she was playing with too much comfort. "Close your eyes, see the music, hear it, physically feel music in the body, before you even play," Li said. "Don't make music, you let it be. “

The bow is extremely key to musical expression, he said: you use the speed of the bow for excitement, the pressure of the bow for intensity, and the contact point of the bow for color.

"When you force the bow, it sounds choked," Li said.

Tianyu Le played two movements from Bach's Sonata for Solo Violin No. 2 in A minor: the Grave and the Andante. He created a beautiful, resonant sound, with a nicely sculpted interpretation.

Li started by being extremely particular about intonation, to get every note perfectly in tune.

"If you hear harmonically, the piece will come through," Li said. He urged Tianyu to find enjoyment in playing very much in tune. "How often do you turn off the light and practice," Li asked. "You would enjoy it."

Li said that the Andante felt slow - "slow means you are not feeding me information constantly," Li said. "It can be slow but still very vivid and alive. I want to feel like it's breathtaking."

Li Lin and Tianyu Liu
Li Lin and Tianyu Liu.

The Andante movement has a melody over pulsing notes, and Li wanted Tianyu to sustain that melody in the bow. To do so, he urged a different approach to the pulsing notes: don't actually do a string crossing, as that can cause you to lose the line. Instead just "squeeze" the double stops with the bow hand.

For the "Grave" movement, he said, "you don't start the piece, the piece is already there."

When starting the beginning of a piece such as the Grave, "You feel the vibrations in the air, you smell the piece, and then you take it over.

The last performance came from Calvin Alexander, who played an incredibly impressive"Fantasia on Themes from Gounod's Faust, by Wieniawski - a piece that involves quite a lot of technique: harmonics, ricochet, octaves, very high playing and much more.

Li Lin and Calvin Alexander
Li Lin and Calvin Alexander.

Li complimented Calvin's intelligent and organized playing and had just a few notes.

"You release too much - you create something beautiful and then you release it," he said.

He also talked about musical gesture: that in chamber music you open the door, in order to let someone else in. It's different in solo music, where you have to stay on top at all times and keep your part very intact.

In all, it was a very imaginative master class, with full commitment from Li. Much food for thought!

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May 27, 2023 at 03:14 PM ·

Food for thought? Perhaps. But also, a need to be wary.

One of the original proponents of movement during music making was pianist Abigail Whiteside, who was a New York pedagogue during the 1940's and early 50's. She advocated bringing rhythm AND melody to an optimum whole, and that to facilitate rhythm, the body had to be moving. I was lucky enough to take piano lessons from two Whiteside students. From my perspective, it was a fascinating and effective philosophy and methodology that could result in stunningly beautiful music making.

Indeed, movement while playing was essential to her teachings, but only just enough movement to enable rhythm to free-flow through the body and become integral to the music. No movement throttles the music, placing too much emphasis on just fingers as the means to produce music.

Correspondingly, too much movement, that is, deliberate movement for its own sake, can quickly descend into mannerisms and artificiality which become an interruption and a disruption to the music making process.

May 29, 2023 at 01:07 AM · I agree with Neil.

Also I would love it if these master classes were on YouTube.

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