Jerome Lowenthal Master Class for the AMTL

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Donald Isler
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Jerome Lowenthal Master Class for the AMTL

Post by Donald Isler » Sun Sep 22, 2013 8:30 pm

Jerome Lowenthal Master Class for the Associated Music Teachers League
Steinway Hall, New York City
Saturday, September 21st, 2013

List of Repertoire, and Pianists

Beethoven - Sonata No. 26, Op. 81a, "Les Adieux" - first movement
Serina Chang - student of Elena Belli

Schumann - Abegg Variations, Op. 1
Marina Lee - student of Miyoko N. Lotto

Chopin - Polonaise in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 26, No. 1
Hannah Kulis - student of Marcia Eckert

Liszt - Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S. 514
Keika Mori - student of Miyoko N. Lotto

Jerome Lowenthal gave a marvelous Master Class last night for the Associated Music Teachers League. In addition to having an ongoing worldwide career as a pianist who continues to learn, and perform new repertoire, Mr. Lowenthal is also one of the most important and prestigious American teachers of pianists today, having served on the College faculty of the Juilliard School for 22 years, and on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West for 43 years. His own teachers included Olga Samaroff-Stokowski, William Kapell, Edward Steuermann and Alfred Cortot.

If one was not aware that he had worked with these luminaries of the past, and if the biographical information in the program hadn't indicated his birth year, one would never suspect that Mr. Lowenthal is 81 years old. As one who remembers his work as a pianist and lecturer going back, say fifteen years or so, I can say that he has not changed at all. He not only looks the same as he did then, he still often jumps about, exhorting the students to "dance more," or sound more playful, and is as stimulating and provocative a speaker as ever. Perhaps most impressively, he is still in fantastic shape pianistically. Indeed, he frequently sat down at the keyboard to make his points, not shying away from the hardest passagework, even offering a performance of a variant of the Mephisto Waltz unknown to most people who haven't studied the score.

In addition, he has the Master Class format worked out so well that one could imagine other teachers learning that from him, too. Each student began by performing her entire piece, and was applauded by the audience afterwards. Mr. Lowenthal then stepped forward, said some encouraging words, and started conversing with the performer about the history of her piece, and, sometimes, the story behind it. When indicating what he thought could be improved, and sometimes playing the specific area several times, and asking the performer to do likewise, he offered only positive reinforcement; never any negative comments. He also had each performer play through some long passages from time to time without interruption, and then let her play again to the end of the work, at which point she was heartily applauded once again by the audience, with Mr. Lowenthal joining in.

All of the students who performed started from a position of strength, having learned their pieces very well, indeed.

Sixteen-year-old Serina Chang played the first movement of the Beethoven "Les Adieux" Sonata with ease, and a very natural flow. She showed a nice sensitivity to color in the chords of the Introduction. Mr. Lowenthal encouraged her to do interesting things with voicing, and to look for even more mystery and drama in the music.

The youngest performer, Marina Lee, showed remarkable control over the technical difficulties of the Schumann Abegg Variations, especially for a twelve-year-old, and showed some other nice musical touches, such as getting just the right sound at the beginning of the slow variation in A-Flat Major. Mr. Lowenthal said that when Schumann wrote this work he was still thinking of himself as a virtuoso (before having to abandon performing because of a hand injury); thus the flashy displays in some parts of the work. He also spoke of voicing, encouraging the perfomer to lean more on the upper octave when playing right-hand melodies.

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Kulis impressed this listener as a pianist who already has the makings of a fine Chopin pianist. She plays expressively, has a wide dynamic range, understands rhythmic freedom without being undisciplined, and played some parts of the work particularly well, such as getting just the right mood at the beginning of the D-Flat Major section. Mr. Lowenthal pointed out a tenor voice which he thought should be played more prominently, and worked with her to achieve even greater subtlety in playing the polonaise rhythm.

Keika Mori, the seventeen-year-old last performer, gave a powerhouse reading of the Mephisto Waltz No. 1. She easily produced a huge sound and had a natural, organic sounding rubato. Mr. Lowenthal told the story of Faust, and the story behind the Mephisto Waltz, demonstrating his musical points with great wit, and pianistic brilliance.

There followed a fine reception at which one could meet, and speak with Mr. Lowenthal.

This event, chaired by Marina Obukovsky, has to count as one of the most memorable experiences in my many years of membership in the Associated Music Teachers League.

Donald Isler
Donald Isler

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