"...one of the last pianists in the grand romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Rubinstein"
MASTER CLASSES WITH BARBARA NISSMAN
IN HER OWN WORDS
First of all, I enjoy giving master classes. The exchange of ideas, the give and take that occurs between students as well as the observing public, and the challenge of trying to bring out the best that each individual can offer is exciting! To hear an interpretation develop, ripen, and focus becomes a magical experience for both the student and the teacher. A fresh outlook, another point of view, and a new way of solving problems provide learning tools for everyone, myself included.
There are no prescribed formulas to follow in a public lesson because every student is unique. Each arrives with their personal gifts, various levels of talent for the instrument, and an individual set of technical and musical problems to overcome. The master class teacher must quickly assess the personality and level of the student and determine the most direct way to proceed so these talents can be encouraged.
For me, the key to shaping an interpretation begins with an intimate knowledge of form. The student should know how a piece holds together. When I approach a new work, I am not concerned initially about details. These will follow once the structure has been clarified and the design mold established. Once form is understood, the craftsmanship of the composer can be appreciated and an inner logic defined. Very often, students fail to see the forest for the trees. They have been consumed with mastering the technical challenges to the extent that the overall work makes no sense. Ultimately, they must know how each part fits into the whole to create a complete picture.
The performer's job is to try to realize the journey and the pathway the composer walked. Working within the short time allotted to each student, I try to help them give shape to the structure, identify the dramatic climaxes, and define the musical direction. It is the performer's responsibility to clarify what is written in the score and to make it as accessible as possible to the listener. We function as middlemen between the composer and his public. However, in order to communicate as directly as possible, we must do our homework. Experimentation always takes place: perhaps a change of tempo, a change of attitude, an emotional insight, and/or a suggestion about color or pedaling. But always, we are listening and hoping to get a little closer to the composer's intention.
Artists always borrow from each other. Certainly, no two artists approach a composition in exactly the same way. An idea in one performer's hands can be transformed and given new life by another. It can never be said that there is only one interpretation that is valid. Isn't that why we go to hear many performances of the same work, or come back to hear our favorite artist perform the same composition many times over? A master class brings in a fresh breeze; it provides an inspiration to go forward and embrace the joyful challenge of making music.
Hopefully, I can share some of the experience I have gained in my many years as a performer and also many years ago as a master class participant. The purpose of my visit as a guest artist/teacher is to focus and sharpen the ears, enhance the insight, and, above all, to give a young student the necessary tools and freedom to clarify their own pathway to the next level.