Pinchas Zukerman isn’t perfect and he seems proud of that.
“Don’t be afraid to play out of the box,” he tells MRU Conservatory violinist Isabella Perron. “Let me tell you when it’s too far.” In this masterclass, the celebrated violinist and conductor plays from memory to demonstrate. He mentions that the tone is, “fine for Brahms,” which he played last night as a featured soloist for the 40th Anniversary concert of the Calgary Civic Symphony, “but this is Bobby Schumann.”
His nicknamed reference clearly indicates how intimately he knows the composer.
Perron, a Grand Prize winner at the Canadian Music Competition, goes toe to toe with the maestro, who has been featured under the baton of fellow greats including Leonard Berstein and has been Music Director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra since 1999. He mentors effectively, pushing harder when he senses her talent. “That’s a bad habit,” he warns about a vibrato technique she employed. “What are you… fifteen? At 17 it’ll be worse.” She makes the correction with ease and they carry on.
“Let’s play the Bach,” he requests. She shifts gears as they discuss finding the tempo. Not just the tempo that was conceived by the composer, but the one that’s right for her. “Find your colour,” he continues, “find your DNA.” The directions are seemingly on a profound and professional level while the teenager takes it in stride.
The onlooking handful of fortunate students at the MRU Conservatory’s TransAlta Pavillion in the Taylor Centre for Performing Arts are indeed getting a life lesson in music performance. Zukerman addresses the classroom, “Playing perfect is wrong.” The stunned silence is followed by an explanation of how dynamics and emotion are the goal, mistakes are forgivable if they are in service of the musical idea. “Digital recording has ruined that,” he emphasizes, “Music should not be bland.”
After this afternoon, you can be sure that Isabella will remember that.