Teachers and their influence

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John F
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Teachers and their influence

Post by John F » Sun May 14, 2017 4:47 am

This is the first piece I've read by this writer that's really worth reading, maybe because it grows partly out of her own experience. Incidentally, another great teacher also encouraged his students to go to museums and acquire a broader perspective, indeed taking them there himself. He was Heinrich Neuhaus, master teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, whose pupils included Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter.

Immortal Fingertips: Music Teachers Live On Through Their Students
By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
MAY 12, 2017

The violinist Aaron Boyd was teaching a master class in Dallas on Friday, Feb. 17, when a student ensemble played a phrase of a Beethoven quartet in a way that made him start. Mr. Boyd, a member of the Escher String Quartet, had been distracted all week by thoughts of Eugene Phillips, his violin teacher from childhood, whom he knew to be ill.

Now, listening to the quartet he had been coaching, he was “struck by the thought that that was a Phillips sound,” Mr. Boyd recalled recently. “I realized at that moment that a personality as strong as his goes from us into others. I had this feeling that even when he dies, he has already become sound.” Later, he learned that Mr. Phillips had died that same day, at 97.

Few readers will be familiar with Mr. Phillips’s name, but he was a Renaissance man: a violinist who played in the Pittsburgh Symphony for nearly 40 years and continued working with students, composing, sketching and carving wood sculptures into his 90s. Thirty years ago, when I spent a year in Pittsburgh as an exchange student from Belgium, he was also my teacher.

We are used to talking about composers who live on through their music. But music teachers enjoy an almost genealogical immortality through their students, regardless of those pupils’ later fame. Because music making is practiced through the body, teachers imprint their students with the specific physical traits of their craft: gestures, tics and preferences that those students may in turn pass on to yet another generation.
That thought first occurred to me last year, when I heard of the death of Edith Hirshtal, a pianist I had taken a handful of lessons with seven years earlier. When I received the news, a book of Mozart sonatas was propped up on my piano, open to a page covered in her pencil markings. As I sat down to pick my way through the piece, I paid attention less to the printed notes than to her annotations and fingerings, thinking that with each wrist circle or tuck of a thumb behind ring finger, I was not so much executing them as embodying a tiny part of her. If this was true of a teacher with whom I had had only the briefest of interactions, how much richer are the legacies left by those who shape the core of our musical beings?
Dorothy DeLay, a contemporary of Mr. Phillips, died in 2002 and would have turned 100 in March; her star students included Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Anne Akiko Meyers and Philippe Quint. Presiding over a highly competitive teaching studio at the Juilliard School, Ms. DeLay inspired fierce loyalty in her charges, who sometimes referred to her as Mother DeLay. She, in turn, addressed them as “sugarplum.” A group of former sugarplums convened last month at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village to celebrate her centenary with performances and shared memories.

In a phone interview, Mr. Perlman recalled his initial shock when, at 13, he was first confronted with Ms. DeLay’s meticulously polite teaching style. His previous experiences had been forged by a Russian teacher in Israel who, as he described it, “adhered to the old-fashioned tradition of ‘I tell you what to do and you do it’ — with a smothering of guilt.” Ms. DeLay, by contrast, encouraged independent thinking, and urged her students to broaden their cultural horizons through visits to museums and concerts. “Because when you’re a fiddle player,” Mr. Perlman said, “you don’t just want to be a horse with blinders.”
In the case of Mr. Phillips, genetic and musical legacies merge in his sons, Daniel and Todd, who are both violinists. New Yorkers have frequent opportunities to hear them perform: Both are founding members of the Orion String Quartet, a fixture at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (as is Daniel’s wife, the flutist Tara Helen O’Connor). Todd Phillips also plays in the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, they were joined by other members of the family for a memorial concert for Mr. Phillips at a retirement community near Pittsburgh. While the DeLay tribute in Manhattan had showcased the bulletproof technique and tonal brilliance she had bequeathed to her students, the Phillips event offered generous helpings of Bach, including an arrestingly vulnerable and heartfelt Chaconne played by Daniel Phillips. Performances of some compositions by Eugene Phillips himself — which he typically wrote for his family and left unpublished — reflected an idiosyncratic wit blended with the influences of Schoenberg and Bartok.

The afternoon brought back memories of my lessons on the top floor of the Phillipses’ home in the leafy Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The ground floor resonated with the sounds of the piano lessons given by his wife, Natalie. Upstairs, it smelled of linseed oil. Mr. Phillips’s father had been a violin maker, and the studio was filled with instruments that Mr. Philips would tinker with when he wasn’t composing, sketching, or carving. “I had this sense that their house was a portal to a larger world,” Mr. Boyd said. “A sense that this was a conservatory in the actual sense, as a place where people were grown.”

When I met him in 1987, Mr. Phillips had just retired from the Pittsburgh Symphony. His sons formed the Orion Quartet that year, and their swift success must have been one reason Mr. Phillips always seemed to be beaming. His most striking qualities were a radiant sense of humor, generosity and roving curiosity. At a time when a moat seemed to separate the historically informed early-music performance world from the mainstream music scene, Mr. Phillips photocopied pages from Leopold Mozart’s violin method and put Baroque bows in the hands of his teenage students. When we worked on the Telemann Fantasies for solo violin, I tried to bring to them the feathered strokes of Baroque style.

But Mr. Phillips also analyzed videos of Jascha Heifetz in performance, trying to pinpoint the way that great violinist produced fierce flights of virtuosity with a left-hand attack as light and springy as a cat’s paw. (Mr. Quint said that Ms. DeLay used to stun young violinists who idolized Heifetz out of their worshipful rigor, asking, “How do you make it sound better than Heifetz?”)
Speaking with Mr. Boyd and Alex Lee, another former Phillips student, I learned that the specifics of our lessons changed according to our teacher’s evolving passions. A type of scales that had been a fixture during my time was discarded a few years later in favor of new experiments. Mr. Boyd’s lessons started with scales executed to a funked-up metronome produced on a synthesizer set to a salsa rhythm. For a while Mr. Phillips became fascinated with the Alexander Technique, a system of posture realignment. When Mr. Lee, who is now 24 and a fellow with the New World Symphony in Miami, studied with Mr. Phillips, an anatomical skeleton had been added to the studio.

What remained constant was an emphasis on music-making that was generous, personal and true. Aesthetically, Mr. Phillips arose from a European lineage that favored honesty of expression over shiny perfection, a style whose stars included the pianist Artur Schnabel, the violinist Sandor Vegh and the cellist Pablo Casals. By contrast, when Daniel Phillips left Pittsburgh to study at Juilliard, he found that the emphasis there was “on having a beautiful big tone and playing quite perfectly,” he said in a phone interview. “My dad was more after the meaning of the gesture and the possibility of having a great array of tone colors, many of which don’t have to be pretty.”

That diversity of sound and freshness of expression continue to feed his musical family tree. Reflecting on his experience with the student quartet in Texas, Mr. Boyd speculated that in two generations, few people will recognize the name of his former teacher. “But his musical morals and ideals are passed on. He will exist as sound.” Mr. Lee said, “Teachers become your collective conscience.” He likened Mr. Phillips’s death to that of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” saying, “Obi-Wan doesn’t die so much as become one with the Force.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/arts ... dents.html
John Francis

jserraglio
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Re: Teachers and their influence

Post by jserraglio » Sun May 14, 2017 9:18 am

Another great teacher, and greatly-in-demand, who fathered notable musical progeny too (Alisa, cellist, Joshua conductor) and who I believe is still active. I have listened to all of his RCA LPs with the Cleveland Quartet I could lay my hands on. Not much has made it to CD. The YT video from 2016 demonstrates his diffident teaching style. The NYPL has an extensive archive of CQ materials. http://archives.nypl.org/mus/23782


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