CONVERSATION WITH NATHANIEL ROSEN
by TIM JANOF
Rosen, former Teaching Assistant for Gregor Piatigorsky at the University
of Southern California, is renowned for being the only American cellist
to ever win the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. Mr. Rosen is in much
demand as a soloist, recording artist, and chamber musician. He teaches
at the Manhattan School of Music and the Thomas More College in New Hampshire.
Chopin Sonata Op. 65, Largo from Rosen's Reverie
CD (RealAudio compression 420k)
courtesy of JMR Music (888) JMR-1919 or after May 1st at www.jmrcds.com
TJ: Eleonore Schoenfeld, Professor of Cello at USC, was your first teacher.
What was she like?
NR: I studied cello with her from the beginning, starting with open strings.
She was well organized and patient, but still very demanding. Because of
this, she has become one of the best in the business. The finest young talents
from all over the world seek her guidance.
She stressed the fundamentals of cello playing at all times, i.e. intonation,
good tone production, a well-organized approach, and a progressive approach
to technical advancement. All the things that exemplified her playing were
passed on to her students, which is what all good teachers do.
When I was 12 years old she encouraged me to change teachers. She thought
it was time I had some new input, which is a remarkable thing for a teacher
TJ: Was this when you went to study with Piatigorsky?
NR: Not quite. Miss Schoenfeld intended that I study with Gabor Rejto. At
that time, the formation of what was to be called the Institute for Special
Musical Studies at USC, whose teachers were to be Heifetz, Primrose, and
Piatigorsky, had not yet been announced. But before I made the switch to
Gabor Rejto, the Piatigorsky appointment to the USC faculty was announced.
My father thought that I had a good chance of being accepted, since Piatigorsky
had heard me in a trio when he was a judge of the Coleman Chamber Music
Competition the previous year. Incidentally, the trio, which was coached
by Miss Schoenfeld, included myself, Glenn Dicterow, now the concertmaster
of the New York Philharmonic, and Hans Boepple, now professor at Santa Rosa
State College in California. My father was hoping that Piatigorsky would
be willing to take on a 13 year old student in his master class, which he
And so I began my new life as a member of the Piatigorsky class, going down
to USC all day twice a week, missing school. From that time on, I was busy
slithering through junior high and high school, while my real life and my
real challenge was in the Piatigorsky class. The class was a very difficult
environment for me because I was expected to do things that I didn't understand,
let alone how to do them. But Piatigorsky was very patient.
He kept me on the same two pieces for the entire first year -- the Goltermann
Concerto No. 1 in A minor and the Piatti Caprice No. 8. He wanted me to
learn how to play the cello, not just learn repertoire, which is the right
thing for a 13-year-old. I also had plenty of musical inspiration elsewhere.
I played chamber music every Friday night with my father and his friends.
TJ: How did you feel about playing the same two pieces for a year?
NR: I just was hoping that I would get them learned so that I could move
on to something else.
Piatigorsky told me the greatest thing that any teacher has ever told me.
"If you don't get bored, I don't get bored." And he was as good
as his word.
He wanted me to play heroic music like a hero, and he wanted me to play
the virtuoso music like a great juggler. He always said that learning to
play the cello is like learning to drive a car (this is coming from a man
that learned to drive a car when he was over 50). If you learn how to do
it properly, you can go anywhere. And with a cello, it's the same. If you
learn to play it properly, you can play anything. The people that have the
most difficulty are those that have to re-learn how to play every time they
learn a new piece. The corollary to this is that, if you learn to play the
cello really well, you will tend to make the teacher superfluous, which
was his goal, that his students would become their own teachers.
TJ: Did he demonstrate in lessons?
NR: Yes. He would seize someone's cello and purely express himself with
it. It came out richly and fully without any apparent concern for whether
or not everything came out technically perfect or not. It just sounded like
that was how the music was supposed to sound and mean. He was oblivious
to whether or not there would be a scratch or a scrape, or whether the fingerboard
was a little different or a little bigger or smaller. Every cello seemed
to fit his idea of how the music was supposed to go. Whereas so many others
try and fit their musical ideas to the cello, he just fit the cello to his
TJ: That must have been amazing! Did he dictate interpretations to you?
NR: No. That was another thing that set him apart from other teachers. He
wanted us to find our own bowings and fingerings first, and then he would
show us what was good about them or not so good. The purpose being that
merely prescribing in advance the proper bowings and fingerings would never
teach his students to deal with these matters on their own. They would always
be looking for somebody to tell them what bowing and fingering to use. They
would never learn how to find them for themselves, so that they could best
express their own musical ideas.
TJ: You mentioned that Heifetz and Primrose were also at the Institute for
Special Musical Studies. I presume you were in chamber classes with Heifetz
and Primrose. Did you enjoy working with Heifetz?
NR: Heifetz was an inspiring chamber music coach. It was just wonderful.
In chamber music, even more than in his violin teaching, he taught by demonstration.
He was also very involved with how to do things in chamber music. For instance,
he discussed the proper role of each instrument, and he always wanted the
first violinist to take on the leadership role.
NR: I remember there was one Chinese student, now in the Chicago Symphony,
who had recently come over to study with him from Beijing. She didn't know
any English at the time. It was very difficult linguistically and culturally
for her to do what Mr. Heifetz wanted her to do, which was to lead the group.
She was playing first violin and he wanted her to lead in many ways, not
only musically and gesturally, but he also wanted her to be able to say,
"Let's start at letter B," or something like that. He tried to
explain to her that she had to say, "Let's start at letter B."
But he could never get her to do anything more than nod and agree. It became
very funny and finally he gave up, laughed, and we went on to something
TJ: Was he as imperious as is often portrayed.
NR: Not in the way you imply. Of course he was imperious in the sense that
he was an emperor, which he truly was. He was "Heifetz," after
all. But I wouldn't say "imperious," because it has negative connotations.
I would say "imperial." He behaved as an emperor should and the
people around him behaved as imperial subjects. He was a great chamber music
coach and it was thrilling to play with him. Chamber music sessions with
him were some of the greatest moments of my life, of which they number many,
not only in class but at parties and in public.
TJ: How about William Primrose, the legendary violist?
NR: My coaching with him was more limited because he stayed in Los Angeles
only for one year before he accepted a job at Indiana University. I think
Heifetz was angry with him for breaking up a good thing. But people have
to do what they have to do.
TJ: Let's talk about the Tchaikovsky Competition. When you won it, the United
States and the Soviet Union were still in the throes of the Cold War. You
were thrust into the role of an American hero.
NR: And a Jewish one too, which was very important at that time because
there was a wave of anti-Jewish persecution in Russia. The reporters from
the television networks were very eager for me to talk about such matters.
I didn't really have my act together and I thought it would be a distinct
betrayal to criticize my hosts for their politics. In the following years,
I got my act a little more together, but it was too late to do any good
because it was no longer news. If I had been a little more busy with politics,
I might not have been as busy with the cello and I might not have won that
TJ: When you were practicing for the competition and when you won, were
you thinking that you were carrying a banner for America?
NR: I definitely carried the banner for America. I'm the only American cellist
ever to win the Tchaikovsky Competition. I was very proud of that. It was
a great victory and I did it against all odds. I feel very fortunate to
have done it. I also feel proud that I surmounted the odds, and I also surmounted
all the negative advice that I was getting from just about everybody. And
if the reporters had asked me the same question they asked me then, regarding
how I feel about Jewish persecution, I know what I'd say now. I would say
it's not to the corrupt and evil political system of the Soviet Union that
I appeal when I play there, it's to the great Russian musical tradition.
I didn't quite have it together in my head at the time, but I gave it a
lot of thought later, and that's still how I feel.
TJ: Casals often harped on the notion of "expressive intonation,"
that each note has a unique function within a given key and that each note
must be slightly adjusted up or down to perform this function, i.e. leading
tones must be raised slightly higher. What do you think of the concept of
NR: I don't believe in it. I think it's a false concept. I think the whole
idea that there are different ideas of intonation is a minefield. Casals
dominated every chamber music situation that he was in. What would he have
done if somebody had said, "I don't agree with you. I don't hear it
that high?" And then what if another musician says, "I hear it
lower." Who's going to decide who's right? The fact is that, if people
practice their scales in an orderly manner, they will all come to the same
idea of where the note is supposed to go. That decision is predicated not
only on practicing the scales, but on practicing arpeggios, thirds, etc.
You can't do all those things and have a different ideal of intonation.
All the tones, if they're based on a harmonic framework, will gradually
come to their center, to their proper place, and everyone will play together.
I never have trouble playing in tune with my colleagues who deal with the
fundamentals such as scale practice, arpeggio practice, and double stops,
particularly thirds. I only have difficulty playing in tune with people
that make an ideology out of expressive intonation. Piatigorsky didn't talk
about that stuff. He wanted things to be in tune. Period.
TJ: When you say you don't believe in expressive intonation, are you saying
that, for instance, there is only one F# on the D-string, the first F# above
the open D string, no matter what key you're in?
NR: Yes, I am. I think that F# is the note you play with the third finger
in first position on the D string that forms a perfect minor third with
the open A string.
TJ: You do not believe that, in the key of G Major, the F#, because it is
the leading tone in the key of G, is a little higher than the F# in the
key of F# Major?
NR: I don't even think you have to deal with that. For instance, let's say,
in the key of G Major, you play a dominant chord and then a tonic chord
in the following way: first finger on the C string on D, first finger on
the G string on A, third finger on the D string on F#, and open A, and it
sounds right. Then you play just G with open string, and G with your fourth
finger on the D string in unison to form an octave as the next chord. Your
F# will be part of the dominant-tonic progression. It will also be a leading
tone. The relationship with the open A string dictates where the F# must
be, there is no choice.
Now let's play in a different key, in the key of f# minor: the fourth finger
on the C string on F#, the fourth finger also splatted across the G string
on C#, second finger on the F# on the D string, and once again the open
A string. Because of the open A string again, the F# on the D string is
dictated to be in the same place as it was in the key of G. This also dictates
how you play F# with the fourth finger on the C string in order to sound
in tune, with the F# an octave above.
With these two examples, you will have just played the F# in two different
keys, and they will sound in tune, even though the F# hasn't changed. I
simply do not believe that it's a different note. It's the same note.
TJ: The expressive intonation crowd might respond by saying that the open
A string can actually be considered as "out of tune" in some keys,
and that you must alter your intonation to make an allowance for the open
A string, which cannot be changed.
Let me put another twist in this issue. There are some cellists who tune
their strings to what is known as "tight fifths," where, for instance,
the C string is tuned slightly high. This is done because, if they don't,
the C string will not be in tune with the violinist's E string. Though the
cello may be in tune with itself, it won't be in tune with the violin. Doesn't
this suggest that perhaps there is some truth to the idea of expressive
NR: I generally tune my C string a touch high so that I am in tune with
the violinist. You may have something here. I have my own ideology about
what playing in tune means. I believe in daily scale practice, because that's
what keeps your ear "clear," keeping your ear going in the same
direction as everybody else who does it. There is very little disagreement
about such things as a scale in thirds, where you'll often find yourself
playing a G or a D or something that compares with an open string. Most
disagreements about intonation, in my opinion, have less to do with expressive
intonation than just failure to practice the fundamentals.
I also think that too often talking about expressive intonation or differences
of opinion is just a way to indulge in what I call power politics, which
is all around us in the chamber music field. It's not around us in the orchestral
field because the conductor is the boss; there is an established hierarchy
in orchestras. But in the chamber music field I tend to avoid playing in
groups where I know the first violinist expects to be the big boss, and
I cleave toward chamber music groups where I'm happy to be merely guided
by the first violin.
TJ: Let's talk about Bach. I want to start with a statement made in an article
by Richard Taruskin in the January 1995 issue of "Strings" magazine.
He said the following: Pablo Casals "did for Bach's Cello Suites what
Chaliapin did for the role of Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky's opera: revived
them from the dead, made them a classic, created their performance practice,
and, as interpretations of consummate authority inevitably will, ruined
them for generations to come."
Do you agree with this statement?
NR: Not at all. That's like saying anything that's good ruins it for somebody
else. That's like saying that Henry Aaron spoiled the home run for everybody
else. Stupid! And Casals is not responsible for abuses of Bach that occur
because of untalented imitations of his playing. You can't blame Heifetz
for abuses of the violin literature that are untalented imitations of his
way either. We are all richer for great art and great artists, we're not
poorer because they did something wonderfully. What I hear from that quote
is that "Casals spoiled Bach." How can he say that? Some lesser
musicians may have spoiled it because they were so enamored with Casals'
way of playing and rightly so. I can't help but be enamored with his Bach
Suite recordings. Some of his Suites I prefer over others, but there has
been nothing that is so full of character and personality and beauty. They're
still my favorite records of these works. I don't think you can blame somebody
for doing something beautiful. That's putting the wrong spin on it. You
can certainly blame people for doing something ugly that is a rather poor
imitation of an influential artist.
TJ: I have your recently released recordings of the Bach Suites. I compared
yours with those of Casals, Lynn Harrell, Rostropovich, Tortelier, Fournier,
Bylsma, Yo-Yo Ma, and Starker. I compared the amount of time each movement
takes in each set of recordings. I noticed that all of your preludes, for
instance, except for one are slower than everybody else's. In fact, you
were slowest or second slowest a majority of the time. Was this a conscious
decision on your part, or did they just come out that way?
NR: No, it's not a conscious decision! I play the music the way I think
it should go and hope it sounds good. I haven't heard anybody complain that
they're too slow. It's not how slow or how fast, it's how you make it fast,
or how you make it slow. There can be two artists that play a piece with
the same exact basic tempo. One of them can sound too fast and the other
can sound too slow, but neither of them may sound just right. Then a third
person can do the same tempo and sound perfect. It's a matter of how the
time is filled with events. I certainly think that there is a tempo that's
too fast and a tempo that's too slow. But, within a certain framework, there
are only performances that sound too fast or too slow.
TJ: What I find interesting is that we often point to Casals as the icon
of Romanticism, and therefore assume that he must play with very slow, emotionally
self-indulgent tempos. It turns out that this is not true at all. In fact,
he uses some of the fastest tempos of all the Bach Suite recordings.
NR: Yes, because he bounces right along most of the time. You also hear
the same thing said about Heifetz, that he represents a Romantic approach
toward Baroque music. But the fact is, if you listen to his recording of
the Bach concertos, you'll find that he plays with a brightness, lilt, and
rhythmic bounce that so many of the performance practice folks are busy
promoting today. I think that, rather than being a throwback to the late
19th century, you'll often find that Heifetz is a precursor of the future.
People are so busy listening to Heifetz with these preconceptions that they
can't even hear this.
TJ: I have a couple more granular questions about your recordings of the
Bach Suites. In the Sixth Suite, I notice that you chose not to take some
of the repeats. Why?
NR: That's true. In the early Bach suites I took more repeats, while in
the late suites I generally took fewer. They were starting to feel a little
long with all repeats. For instance, when I listen to other cellists play
the Allemande in D major, I generally don't know what it's all about, though
I know what it's about for myself. I think the Allemande is like Bach's
Air on the G String without the accompaniment. The absence of the accompaniment
makes it a little bit long if you take all the repeats. But I think it's
a beautiful melody and it does imply a certain harmonic motion underneath
it, as if it were actually there. I often hear people playing the Allemande
very jerky as if they've read some faulty treatise on Baroque music, that
it's all ornamental, which always sounds wrong to me.
TJ: You don't believe that the 32nd notes are actually written out ornaments?
NR: No, I don't. Do you think that the Air on the G String is written out
TJ: No, the Air is more melodic..
NR: Yes, that's what I think too. This also applies to the Allemande in
D Major. There are ornamental aspects, of course, but you have to think
of it rhythmically and melodically. You're in much better shape than if
you think of it ornamentally. If you think of it ornamentally, you're more
likely to ruin the rhythm, and nobody will feel like it's an Air melody.
Let me digress for a moment. People often talk about the notion that these
pieces are dance movements. They're not dance movements! They are works
for unaccompanied cello which have, with the exception of the Preludes,
titles of dance movements.
TJ: But they do retain the dance form implied in the titles.
NR: Yes, they have the titles of Renaissance dances that had not been danced
for hundreds of years before Bach! People weren't dancing allemandes in
Bach's time. They were just convenient musical forms whose French titles
TJ: Perhaps. But they do retain the general characteristics of each dance
form, particularly in the earlier Suites. For instance, the Sarabandes are
always in 3 with the emphasis on the second beat, which is in line with
the definition of a sarabande.
NR: Yes, except in the 5th Suite. But sarabandes weren't danced in Bach's
time either. Granted, some of the movements are more dance-like. Some of
the gigues are quite dance-like, and other movements are more or less dance-like.
But I often read reviews of recordings where the critic says, "This
is dance music, it has to sound like dance music." It isn't dance music!
It is music which uses titles of dance forms which were obsolete even in
People are looking for rules that they can spread, even if they're false
rules. My feeling is you must always look for the melody, particularly in
the more complex later suites, where there are more chordal accompanying
figures. With few exceptions, you mustn't sacrifice the melody for anything.
You have to keep the melody going. In order to do that, you have to have
a firm rhythmic underpinning. You have to play with a tone quality and connection
that is appropriate to melodic playing. In other words, you have to think
vocally, and not so much ornamentally. I don't feel that the presence or
absence of ornaments has much influence upon the musical and spiritual worth
of what somebody is playing. As a matter of fact, sometimes I can tell when
a performer is thinking about what ornament they're supposed to be playing,
which generally detracts from the performance more than just about anything
for me. When I hear people trying to be politically correct with their ornaments,
I want to leave the hall.
TJ: One last question on your Bach Suite recordings. I noticed that often
you don't start your trills on the upper note of the trill, as is often
NR: Ah, yes! I don't like to spout rules, but let me give you one of mine.
I hate being made aware of which note I'm starting the trill on. I don't
like to hear somebody pushing out that upper note of the trill so that they
can claim immunity from prosecution. It doesn't always fit the music. For
instance, if the written note before the trill is the same as the basic
note of the trill, then it's nice to start with the upper note, but not
in such a way that you're ramming it down people's throats. But if the note
before the trill is the upper note of the trill, it's inadvisable to start
on that note again! The only reason for playing the upper note first is
to start the trill without repeating a note. I don't see any reason to start
with the upper note, unless the preceding note is identical to the fundamental
note of the trill.
Another reason to start with an upper note trill is, not because somebody
wrote it in a book with which one may either agree or disagree, but because
the upper note of trills is frequently out of tune. Paul Rosenthal's idea
is that if you play the upper note first, you are more likely to play a
true whole step or a true half step, as the case may be. And so that's a
good reason. But I would prefer not to be made aware of it by hearing a
long, on the beat, appoggiatura, the way so many people do. It's very tiresome,
very irritating, and I don't like it.
TJ: Many readers will find this conversation to be very "sacrilegious."
NR: I should hope so! Listen, I believe in God and God didn't tell me to
do that. In fact, I'm certain he told me NOT to start on the upper note.
TJ: It's difficult to refute that kind of "footnote." Let's move
to another topic. Do you think Pablo Casals could succeed today?
NR: Definitely. But we must not forget that artists are the sum total of
what they are and what they have heard. In a sense, you can't ask that question
any more than you can ask what would have happened if somebody had killed
both Hitler and Stalin in 1930? Would we be happy people and all be successful
cellists today? You're playing with time by asking that question. If Casals
was a young man now, he would hear all the recordings of Heifetz, instead
of just hearing the young Heifetz when he was an old man. The influences
upon him would be different.
Fritz Kreisler would succeed now, too. People like that walk a different
earth than the rest of us. They are more musical. People like Yehudi Menuhin,
Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Serge
Rachmaninoff are more musical than everybody else. That's why the world
is drawn to them, even to this day. I think that, whenever somebody has
a unique voice on a string instrument, and if a great personality emerges,
he or she will be successful.
TJ: One often hears complaints about the lack of individuality in today's
musicians. Do you agree with this?
NR: I have heard that so often, not only from my fellow judges in competitions,
but even in my role as member of an orchestral audition committee, when
I was principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony. If you can believe it,
I have heard complaints from orchestral audition committee colleagues that
an applicant for a section string position was lacking in personality. It
made me very angry to hear them complaining that a section string player
was lacking in personality in his audition. The only thing you can conceivably
complain about in an orchestral audition is that there's too much personality!
In contest juries it's quite different, of course. The judges complain about
a lack of personality in the playing until somebody actually does play with
a great deal of individuality, and then they don't like it. In my opinion,
they're often not complaining about the lack of personality and individuality.
They're really complaining about people who are not playing the way they
think it should go, because it's not the individuality they like.
Great personalities, unique voices, are always in short supply. I dare say
that the reason why Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra are at the top of their
professions is because you can always recognize their voices. The same thing
occurs when you hear Fritz Kreisler or Jascha Heifetz; they have that special
tone that identifies them. I don't think this is necessarily a thing of
the past, it's just rare.
TJ: Is there such thing as a wrong interpretation?
NR: Sure. Maybe it's just wrong for me, though. When I hear it, if I think
it sounds too fast or too slow, or if it sounds too heavy or too light,
then it is a wrong interpretation for me.
Interestingly, I have a Rachmaninoff and Kreisler recording of the Beethoven
Sonata No. 8 in G major that sounds very, very right to me. But when I follow
the score as they play, I notice that they do almost all the dynamics opposite
to what Beethoven wrote. They seem to be doing a crescendo when it says
diminuendo. They seem to be playing loud when it says soft, soft when it
says loud, and so on. And yet truly recreative artists like those two, in
addition to being great composers, are more musical than other people and
that's really the bottom line. They make things sound right, and they make
the right interpretation.
Other people who slavishly follow everything that's on the printed page,
without even knowing what they're doing, may make it sound like a wrong
interpretation because they don't have the right feeling of rhythm, the
right feeling of melody, or the appropriate tone quality. It's hard to tell
what makes it right or wrong. I fall back on my perhaps inadequate ideal
that musical people play musically, while unmusical people play unmusically.
TJ: Rank the following items in order of importance to you as a soloist:
musicality, personality, technique, "taste," being faithful to
the composer, authenticity, and audience pleasure.
NR: Musicality and personality are things inside you. If you're playing
music, you are musical to a greater or lesser extent. Musicality and personality
are the most important. Otherwise, the audience won't enjoy it. In order
to make the music sound right, it has to be filtered through a strong personality.
You must have a tone quality that is representative of your character, your
Look at the really successful opera singers. It's the ones that have a unique
voice that are successful. Why has Maria Callas dominated the charts in
the last few years with the release of so many of her recordings and live
performances on CD? Why does the Callas industry seem to be continuing without
any letdown? It's because the sound itself is so compelling and unique and
individual. You always know when Callas is singing. Just like you can tell
when Pavarotti is singing, or when Kreisler is playing. That's what it is,
the unique voice. Callas remains popular even though on most of her recordings
she'll wobble on some of the high notes, whereas more consistently "excellent"
artists will be forgotten.
I'm not sure if technique even belongs on the list since technique is necessary
for everybody that plays an instrument; it's assumed that you can play your
instrument if you are a professional musician. You have to know how to put
your fingers and bow on the string, whether or not you are a soloist, playing
in an orchestra, or playing chamber music. I would also put audience pleasure
rather low on the list, because you must have the other items before you
can please the audience.
TJ: I can guess what you think about authenticity.
NR: Authenticity is a horrible word. It's just like saying some people are
authentic while others are not. It's actually a disgusting word to me because
it sounds very much like certain modern racist sentiments. For instance,
is this an authentic black man or isn't he? I hate that stuff. And I don't
like to see it in music either, as if somebody with a certain ideal about
how a certain era of music should be performed, is somehow more authentic
than somebody with a different one. I don't find that the predominant late
20th century style of playing baroque music to be more compelling than the
early 20th century style.
TJ: In other words, you don't like musical bigotry.
TJ: I imagine being faithful to the composer isn't too high on the list
NR: I don't have to worry about that. You know why?
NR: Because I trust myself. I trust that if I've studied the score and know
my part and have prepared my part faithfully, that I will not do what is
unfaithful to the score or unmusical or tasteless. I have to trust myself,
and I have every right to. And so I don't worry about those things. What
I concern myself mostly with is physical matters.
Musicians spend their practice time working on physical things after a certain
point. I dare say that, when Nathan Milstein was preparing his recitals
and concerto appearances as an old man and a great virtuoso, he wasn't busy
thinking, "Now, how is the Beethoven concerto supposed to go?"
He was busy making sure that all of his intelligence and passion went into
making sure that it sounded the way he meant it to sound. I don't think
he was doubting about how he meant it to sound. The doubts came only as,
"Can I, at my age, make it sound the way I want it?" And he could,
because he was great and he maintained his enthusiasm for his violin. He
knew how to work at it in a way that maximized his diminishing physical
resources. So that's what we do. I think people practice not only for their
technique, but to maximize their physical resources when they play, so that
they have a little cushion of security. That's what practicing is most of
the time. I think you have to get the music into your blood, and that either
takes a short time or it might take a long time. Then you have to make sure
that your fingers and your bow are operating properly, and that also might
take a long time or a short time.
Heifetz said that, in order to have 100 percent in the performance, you
must have 130 percent in your practice. You lose at least thirty percent
from all sorts of things like nerves, travel, acoustical insecurities, changes
in your instrument due to the climate, etc. So people that are hopefully
getting up to about 80 percent in their practice room and excusing themselves
the other 20 percent are actually going to wind up with about 50 percent.
The other thing he said is that, if you only have 30 minutes to practice
before a concert when you're on tour, do 20 minutes on scales, exercises
and etudes, and then do 10 minutes on the hard passages of the piece you're
going to play.
Oh darn, where did the time go for worrying about the composer's intentions?
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