JANOS STARKER MASTER CLASS REPORT
by Tim Finholt
The following are my notes from master classes at the University of Washington on December 2, 4, and 8, 1999.
- Each finger must be independent. You must be sensitive to the natural changes that happen when you go from finger to finger, which requires a relaxed hand. Don't lock the hand into a fixed position.
- Intonation is improved when you shift from position to position, not from finger to finger.
- There are two types of fingering technique: "sostenuto," which is the transfer of weight from one finger to another in slower notes, and "keyboard," which is used more in fast playing to efficiently go from note to note, lifting and dropping fingers on their respective notes. We are continually going between these two styles, depending on the musical context.
- The left shoulder must not lose its mobility.
- Better intonation and even articulation is achieved when you don't change the angle at which each finger approaches the string. This evens up the vibrato as well.
- Vibrato -- Don't turn your hand over itself.
- "Intonation is a question of conscience." -- Pablo Casals
- There are two basic types of left hand positions: perpendicular to the fingerboard and slanted backwards. A perpendicular hand is more old-fashioned, but it can be helpful for achieving good intonation in the lower positions. The slanted hand can be helpful because, if used throughout the length of the fingerboard, there is no break or difference in sound as you go from lower to higher positions.
- Adjust your arm position depending on what string you are on.
- The thumb is good for feeling changes of positions. If you clutch with the thumb, you will lose this sensitivity.
- Only the playing finger needs to be in playing tension. The others may remain above their notes, but they should be relaxed.
- There are three classes of positions on the cello: 4-finger positions (lower positions), 3-finger positions (5th through 7th positions), and thumb positions. The 3-finger positions tend to be where people get lost.
- What to do with the thumb in thumb positions: Some like to hold the thumb down on the strings since it provides security. The downside of this is that overtones are dampened, thus reducing the resonance of the cello. Some keep the thumb off the strings, but this is less secure. The technique of the 21st Century will be to place the thumb underneath the fingerboard, which maintains the advantages of both and eliminates the disadvantages.
- Never clench the fingers together. There should always be a gap between the fingers.
- Shifting -- You have several decisions to make when you shift. Do you slide with the finger that plays the notes before the shift or with the finger you will end up on? Do you slide before the bow change or after? Do you shift using a two-action motion (with a recoil of the arm prior to the actual slide) or do you use a single-action shift (just from point A to point B without any preparatory motion)? You have to decide which note donates time for travelling, the note before or the note after the shift.
- Shifting -- When shifting back to a lower position, move the arm back, not just the hand. Slide the first finger to the next position and drop the playing finger down.
- When you have lots of fast position changes, stay closer to the string with the hand.
- Thumb -- Don't rigidly plant the thumb behind the second finger. Feel the connection between the thumb and each playing finger. Notice how your thumb naturally adjusts its position depending on your arm position.
- Big interval shifts -- Slide to the upper note. Don't try to hit it from the air.
Right Hand/Bow Arm
- In fast notes, swing the hand with the lower arm. Don't lock the wrist.
- The upper arm must be in constant motion.
- For a good bounce in fast notes, don't tighten the thumb and first finger.
- Always prepare for the coming change in bow direction. This means pronating the wrist as you approach the tip. Always lead the hand with the arm, don't lead the arm with the hand.
- A string player's biggest problem is that the bow speed is constantly changing. If evenness of tone is crucial, you might consider changing the bowings such that bow speed can remain consistent.
- Never let the thumb and first finger get locked into place.
- The third finger is more in contact with the bow when we are in the lower half of the bow. The first finger is more in contact with the bow when we are in the upper half of the bow.
- If you just use pressure with bowing, the bow will not maintain its point of contact, i.e. it will slide up and down the string.
- Bend the right thumb before attacking triple stop chords, like in the beginning of the Dvorak Concerto. This ensures that the thumb remains flexible.
- Counter-pressure -- Push the cello with the left knee as you near the tip on the A and D strings. Push the cello with the right knee as you near the tip on the C and G strings. This reduces the energy necessary to maintain your sound as you near the tip by sharing the work with your legs.
- Finger functions -- the thumb helps with control in the lower half; the first finger helps with control in the upper half; the second finger is for balance; the third finger is for control in the lower half; the fourth finger is for balance. Pull the bow with the third finger in the lower half. Push the bow with the first finger and pronate the wrist on the upbow.
- Don't grip the bow. Keep the thumb loose.
- The arm should determine the motion, not the hand. The hand follows the arm.
- If you press with the first finger when playing fast notes in the lower half, the arm and hand become a single unit, with creates constricting tension.
- Haydn C Major Concerto -- Pet peeve: the last movement is too often a speed contest, which lessens the ability to bring out the musical moments (he likes to sing in the slurs). This movement is a dance, not a race.
- Don't end phrases on a consonant.
- Schelomo -- Where did that accent come from on the opening A? Starker doesn't do it. He likes the idea that the music is "coming out of the desert."
- Tempo changes begin on the upbeat, not precisely where the tempo change is notated.
- An obsession with a big sound prevents a variety of sounds.
- Certain notes need to be vibrated differently. Those with a higher overtone content, i.e. those that have more sympathetic vibrations, like C, G, D, A, E, need less vibrato, since they tend to project more readily. Those will less overtone content require more vibrato, like D-flat, since they tend to be less resonant. Awareness of this will help to produce evenly ascending and descending lines.
- Schumann Concerto (m. 165-m. 175) -- Phrase when you have larger interval jumps, like when you go to the C string for one note.
- Rococo Variations (Fitzenhagen version) -- All eighth notes in the opening statement should have the same character.
- Rococo Variations (Fitzenhagen version) -- The 6th Variation is the "memory variation" and therefore should have a suspended, distant character. It doesn't need to be belted out operatically. "We don't always need to sing. Sometimes we just hum."
- What creates the sound of a virtuoso? The number of notes played in a single musical impulse. The more notes you group together, the more virtuosic you sound. If you do too few, the music will sound beat-y and amateurish.
- Haydn C Major Concerto (slow movement) -- Play in quarter notes, not eighth notes.
- In order to create evenness of sound, avoid bows that require drastic changes in bow speed.
- Dvorak Concerto (1st movement) -- Play the triple stops as a single chord. Don't break into two double stops.
- Dvorak Concerto (1st movement) -- Starker changes the notes and rhythm of the ascending chromatic octaves so that the orchestra knows when to come in.
- Don't hunch over the cello, and don't twist your back. This will result in back pain problems later.
- If you have long arms, you might try the Tortelier end-pin.
- Sarcastic advice -- The key to commercial success: extreme quickness, extreme slowness, extreme loudness, extreme inaudibility.
- The goal is to play with evenly distributed tension, not to play without tension. Tension must not be allowed to build up in any single part of your body.
- Breathing is one of the best things to do in order to prevent the build-up of tension. A good exercise is to enforce this is to say the word "and" before each phrase or musically separable module begins.
- Always anticipate the next note. This will serve you well because anticipation is part of music itself.
- Whenever two joints meet, they should form a curve, not an angle. Angles block the line of power.
- Sense of pulse -- A good exercise to help with maintaining a sense of pulse is to alternately lift each foot off the floor. The metronome is not as good because the beat isn't integrated into the body's motion; it just keeps clicking away with or without you.
- Old master class trick -- Somebody always plays better the second time, which makes the master look like some sort of magician.
- Good exercise for finding proper arm positions -- While keeping your forearms parallel to the floor, roll your elbows back and then over your shoulders, clenching the whole time. Release the tension and your arms will be in the proper position, not too low and not too high.