Friday, 31 October 2008

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED: Murray Perahia Masterclass @ Yong Siew Toh Conservatory

Saturday 25 October 2008
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall

Three very fortunate piano students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory had the rare privilege of performing for Murray Perahia in his two-hour long masterclass at the conservatory’s concert hall. The venue was filled to the rafters, with the audience straining to gain whatever pearls of wisdom that fell from the master’s lips.

First, AndrĂ© Kwon Cheo Yong (Korea) played the first movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor (Op.11) with Azariah Tan (Singapore) on the second piano. Prize-winner AndrĂ© is a perceptive and sensitive musician armed with a very strong technique, so Perahia had little to quibble about the technical aspects of the reading. Instead he focused on varying the colour and expression in the two main themes, the first being storm-tossed and agitated, and the second more lyrical and flowing. Contrasts and differentiation of mood and tonal colour was what made a performance interesting. He also introduced the concept of appoggiatura, those grace notes which gave a note a particular sighing effect, a device favoured by the Romantics. Music that suggested agitation of the heart needed regular changes of colour, and he illustrated that by playing for long stretches. What a treat.

The duo then exchanged places with Azariah Tan taking the lead in the Larghetto slow movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor (Op.21). Azariah was praised for his poetic and lovely playing. Perahia quoted Schumann’s aphorism of Chopin’s music as “guns buried in roses” (actually it’s “cannons in flowers”), the projection of storminess beneath a pretty exterior, as well as Chopin’s love for Italian bel canto operas. The music in this movement was to be an outward expression of love eternal, as if saying “I will love you forever”. The opera analogy also came up when he brought up the placement of a singer standing in front of the piano; the right hand which sings the melody should come out stronger than the accompanying left hand. Simple but effective advice.

After a performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No.31 in A flat major (Op.110) by Abigail Sin (Singapore), Perahia homed in on things philosophical. He mentioned Immanuel Kant’s quote on “the starry sky above” and the “moral compass within”, the search for the divine being and proof of a benevolent God. The opening chorale of chords was the key statement, one which asked the question, “God, are you there?” The rest of the movement would be a development of this theme. He was less concerned with Abigail’s scintillating fingers, but rather the metaphorical meaning and story behind the notes. All programmes must be informed by musical thinking and one must take time to find heaven, seemed to be his take home message.

Unsurprisingly, Perahia was besieged with questions, including a couple of inane ones, as well as unrequited requests to play pieces on the piano. “I’ve done enough playing last night!” he quipped. He did however illustrate on the piano the idea of dissonance and the resolution it deserves. Here are some sound bites:

“Colours are the results of emotional feelings. Colours have to change because emotions change.”

“A great piece of music expresses great feelings.”

“Craftsmen build with one brick at a time. Artists see the whole picture as it is. Composers see music in long and long phrases.”

When asked to advise young musicians, their parents and teachers, Perahia’s final exhortation was, “Keep the love of music alive. Love is more important than studying or practising. Try to make all practice fun, and avoid drudgery. Listen to everything because you love music, and try to recognise greatness in music when you hear it.”

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