Amid a packed audience (standing room only) filled with young and old alike, Stephen Hough taught an energizing masterclass in Faulkner on the afternoon of January 22. A masterclass–where an expert in a field comes and gives an informal lesson to students–is a unique forum to share both the musicality and brilliance of the students and teacher participating, as well as a behind-the-scenes process in learning a piece.
Andrew Liu and Christina Bae, both ‘19s studying under Hopkins Resident in Artist Sally Pinkas, first performed their pieces (selections from Schumann’s Études Symphoniques and Prokofiev’s 4th Sonata, respectively) to Hough as he looked over the scores. With pianos side by side, Hough then worked with each student to help them better understand their pieces.
Beginning with the Schumann, Hough worked with Andrew, at times giving technique suggestions (“keep those thumbs light”) and humorous critiques of the editors’ fingering notation, and sharing stories of Schumann and how this work echos a previous work of his. He spoke of how as musicians should aim for the borderline of sane and crazy while playing a piece, just as Schumann did (joking that Schumann was on the right side of crazy when he wrote this piece); of how certain chords should sound like tinkering bells or impish sprites; and of how a certain accent written here or there creates an entirely different narrative for the etude.
A lot of the lesson was an informal call and response, where Hough would show a particular sound of a passage he wanted Andrew to get, and Andrew would mimic said passage in understanding.
Christina underwent the same process with her Prokofiev sonata, though at the end of her performance Hough admitted that this was his first time hearing the piece! That didn’t limit him though: whether demonstrating how to truly bring out the climax of the movement through more espressivo in the left hand, or characterizing a repeated figuration of notes as “a leering clown,” Hough challenged Christina to bring the piece to its musical and technical limits, all the while virtuosically sight-reading a piece he had never seen before.
It was incredible how, within the span of a little more than a half hour, I saw both pianists grow as musicians immensely from their brief lessons with this engaging master pianist. Hough finished with a brief Q & A that was both insightful (referring to the challenge of repeated notes on unfamiliar pianos while touring) and motivating (how even if you only have a short time, say fifteen minutes, to practice, if you have immense focus during this time those short periods are still very useful). This was a masterclass that was truly inspiring for both the students and audience alike.
Photos and video by Max von Hippel ’19