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That is not permissible: Menahem Pressler’s masterclass

March 4, 2016 by norman lebrecht

12 comments.


This is a genuine masterclass, an opportunity to read chamber music with a pianist who played 55 years in the world’s most successful piano trio.

The recording is a little grainy but the Mendelssohn wisdom is indispensable.

Just watch. And witness a transformation.
menahem pressler berlin


Comments (12)

  1. Jon H says:

    You [public] are going to clap anyway… but that’s not Mendelssohn.
    Leaving concerts and overhearing reactions I know there’s a minority of people who really understand good playing – the majority of people a lot goes over their heads. Sometimes it passes over critics’ heads too. Of course for classical music there’s a huge learning curve anyway – to know all classical music the way Pressler knows this repertoire is pretty much impossible. There’s also a minority of people who can recognize that level of music making blindfolded – they know it’s Berlin Phil – so it must be good sort of thing. But to know it, wherever it happens, is a skill not as many people have – wish there were more sometimes.

  2. Talking the talk says:

    Thankyou for posting this- it’s wonderful to see this quality of music making happening.

    Would that he were available to to coach a number of our current performing artists, as very sadly for me, when musicians of his time and culture have all gone, it seems so will that knowledge and understanding of how to look into a score with a level of imagination and artistry that lets these great composers voices shine out, as it begins to here. Thanks again

  3. cherrera says:

    1) Masterclasses should be held in private. The popular (uninformed) audience thinks it’s a spectator sport, where they get to see the student performers get beat up by the teacher, and a bad teacher thinks it’s a one-man show (not here, but still, an audience brings out the the showy-off side of people).

    2) So much of conservatory teaching is the teacher telling the students how to play, the students are no more than automatons executing the orders of the teacher. Yes, it transmits centuries of tradition and knowledge, but is that what classical music is about, teaching generation after generation how to play like the previous generation? I am afraid so, classical musicians are the ultimate cover musicians: nothing is theirs.

    1. Talking the talk says:

      Not sure what your point is? You don’t want these wonderful composers music to be heard? But if I’m, mistaken and you do, then surely teaching students the art of looking deeply into a score, training them to develop all their intuitive artistry in the service of the greater voice of the composer-as we see here- is helpful?

      A better class of teaching does this and encourages the student to develop their artistic potential in service to the composer. As Leinsdorf put it, to be the composers advocate -not just a unquestioning and routine regurgitation of tradition and/or the previous performing generation, but a contemporaneous voice.

      In my experience this doesn’t always happen.

    2. cherrera says:

      3) I always wonder how the professors of these students feel as they watch their students being shredded by the masterclass artist. In a very real sense, the persons who are really being critiqued are the professors of these students, both as to their interpretations (why the students play that way) and as to their teaching skills (why they allow their students to play that way). And doesn’t that undermine the authority of the professor when the students get back to their classrooms? (Thanks a lot, prof, for telling us to use this fingering, Menachem Pressler thought it was too facile and soulless.)

      1. Simone says:

        Masterclasses are meant to be useful for the students, not to pamper their professors’ ego. If a professor can’t accept that there are better musicians than him out there (or simply musicians with a different background or experience), he better not ask his students how the masterclass went.

  4. Annabelle Weidenfeld says:

    I don’t think Cherrera is right in assuming an audience thinks of a masterclass as a spectator sport or that a teacher thinks of it as a one man show. Unless you are a music lover and want to learn, I don’t think you go to a masterclass. Even the most passionate and informed music lover will learn more about listening, let alone about playing, when attending a masterclass and especially a Pressler masterclass. How much of what he explains and comments strike you when you first hear the students play? Would you have thought of changing this dynamic, that phrasing to make such a difference to the beauty of the performance and the love for the music? Pressler is a great and unique teacher. Once when a colleague commented to him on hearing one of his students play “Menahem, you have created a little Pressler there”, he was dismayed and resolved to play less in his classes to avoid imitation. The objective of a great teacher is to open the soul and ears of the student to find his own way, to feel the love that Pressler has and express it in a way that is unique to him. After more than sixty years at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, where he is teaching to this day at 92, and giving masterclasses throughout the world, there are Pressler students touched by that magic and teaching future generations to love what they play and to strive to do it justice.

  5. Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Wonderful playing and teaching. I wonder though how Mr. Pressler knows what is and isn’t Mendelssohn. Would another master teacher have offered different advice?

    1. Simone says:

      To some extent, experience, culture and a lot of study will let him know if not what Mendelssohn exactly is, certainly what Mendelssohn isn’t. And most probably yes, another master teacher would have offered different advice. This might be confusing for the student, but after the masterclass he can choose what he wants to keep of what he was taught. Teachers will always say many different and often contrasting things (in any field, not just music). Students will steal something from a teacher and something else from another one.

  6. Jeanne Swack says:

    One well-known visiting artist was actually cruel to our students and made at least one cry (and it had nothing to do with playing). I attended a summer course with my last flute teacher before starting my doctoral program in musicology and studying with him. He described one older player’s playing to the class as “high school sh..t”. He pointed out my hand tremor to the class (it’s a cerebellar tremor; I have it all the time and played fine anyway). But he was mentally ill and it was a tragic case. Still, it was horrible that he said those things to the class. At least it wasn’t open to the public. And a very famous violinist spouted historical nonsense in a master class here a few years ago.

  7. Andrew says:

    Is that David Finckel turning pages?

  8. Annabelle Weidenfeld says:

    Yes it is!


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