laurence lesser masterclass @ Colburn




  • half-step/whole-step connection between movement 1 (opening) and movement 2 (scherzo theme)….something yearning…and demonic
  • Armenian accent effect : armenians who came to russia for commerce were known for incorrectly placing accents in words (ex. syllable vs sy-LAH-ble) and this was soon reflected in Russian melodies. the performer was playing many of these two note gestures (da-DUM) rather than what Lesser feels was intended (DAH-dum)
  • PIZZ w/ MENACE! - basically demonstrated a pizz sul ponticello, joking that you’d have tons of rosin on your finger if doing it correctly. Lesser referenced Wagner’s ring cycle, imagining the sound of this pizz to be the hammers slamming against anvils deep underground where the dwarfs crafted the ring from the Rhinegold…something sinister about it

Trio Section

  • intentional romantic disconnect between the cello lyrical line and the undulations in the piano…be aware of this and it will help raise the effect of the passage
  • in this section, both da-DUM and DAH-dum stress patterns are used and should be properly identified
  • last pizz of the movement should be softest and slightly late…generating the feel of an unanswered question. Lesser compares it to evil : it is never finished. it is gone for the moment but you know it is still lurking out in the darkness

MVT III : Andante (note: i have decided this may be one of the most beautiful slow movements in cello literature)

    • the tenuto marked notes under the slur should not just be re-articulated, but should really be held for their longest possible length without disturbing the rhythmic drive
    • most of his focus in this movement was about employing rubato (which he referred to as “stealing a little bit as long as you give it back”). he discouraged trying to fit in perfectly with the piano and encouraged a little “futzing” with the rhythm within measures as long as it remained overall in time
    • highly encourages listening to the recording of this movement by rostropovich and vlad. horowitz playing for a good example of this. i’m pretty sure this is from a later year then the recording he referenced, but this is the above duo playing the third movement

Shostakovich : MVT II

  • character of the movement is in reaction to the relentless machine energy (“utter lack of humanity”) of the first movement with something that feels on the verge of tears
  • opening cello phrase : notes should always be strongest when they start and slightly decay (like a piano), no swells
  • Theme #2 : outburst (that is later used several times in the cadenza movement) can be played two different ways: out of tempo and a little faster, or in tempo. Lesser believes in tempo is much more artistically effective

Piatigorsky Quote ” Never play for the cellists in the audience…they always will have other ideas.”

Lesser’s Approach to problem solving : Figure out in your imagination (since this is where all music came from) what you want to say, then let the technique be the vehicle of help you share that…not vice versa.

  • Lesser is a big fan of “air bowing”, especially pointing out the discrepancies in how students will air bow a passage vs. how they actually execute it on the instrument

Beethoven Sonata A major : Mvt I (not much time left at this point…so the next notes are rather short)

-what does it mean to start a sonata alone?

  • discussion of “playing like a sphinx”, how the opening should be like a big question mark, leaving the listener wanting to know more (even though everyone has already heard this sonata many times)

-what is the point of the development?

  • feeling of lost, adrift at sea
  • look at all the tools the composer uses to return the listener to “home”
  • beethoven was a great dramatist…and performances of beethoven should represent this fact. lots of drama
  • the below theme in the development (starting on the G#) is a note for note quote from an aria in Bach’s St. John’s Passion

Lesser : Beethoven can be beautiful or ugly…but it should NEVER be ‘pretty.’

It was a great class…and I hope any of you who are learning these pieces or like Lesser find these notes helpful!