An Evening on Art and Craft with Andrés Cárdenes

This past Wednesday my friend and I had the wonderful opportunity to be present at a violin master class at Carnegie Mellon University with the outstanding former PSO Concertmaster, Andrés Cárdenes. Mr. Cárdenes conducted his master class, (or as he said he likes to refer to the class as “a lab, where you experiment a bit, fail a bit, achieve a bit and take some risks”) with five of his students. The class in its entirety lasted 3 superb yet enlightening hours, if those two words can even share a sentence.

Cárdenes’ way of teaching could only be attained by a master of the violin as himself. As I attentively listened and watched the students play, Mr. Cárdenes would pick up his violin and silently finger the pieces on his violin in preparation to beneficially critique the students’ performance. I was astonished when he would point out a spot in a piece to the student that he wanted to fix or change and how he simply picked up his violin and started in the middle of a phrase so accurately. It was as if he was a recording and I simply pressed the skip button on the CD player to Schubert Fantasy and then to Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Concerto in the middle of the pieces. And when he would play the piece (s) how he wanted it to sound (more child-like and joyous, pretty, more nasty, or shape the note, and fix the overall tonality), it truly had come to life in the fullest!

Mr. Cárdenes made many excellent and valuable points. To name a few…. he was talking about repertoire and its true meaning. He was saying if someone hands him a list of their repertoire and he would say, “play the Glazunov Concerto”, “play Mozart 5” and they only play the first two bars because they do not remember it all, then it is not considered repertoire. Repertoire is music you always know that you can pick up anytime. Mr. Cárdenes certainly seemed to be in shape with his repertoire, as he knew every facet of every piece in every phrase that each student played. He told a short story about a lesson he had with Josef Gingold while working on Paganini’s Perpetual Motion. He said Mr. Gingold played the piece five times in a row to make sure he was in shape.

Another part of a point Cárdenes made was about the security you have about the piece you play. If you make a mistake during a performance and just keep going you can be sure that is a sign you know your piece well.

Of the many points he made, I will close on this point. He was talking about really changing the aspect of a piece. As he was demonstrating to one of the players on how to change the tonality of the piece, give the note shape/color, he said in my paraphrased words, “If you really want to make an aspect of your piece sound different, YOU have to DO it yourself. Make it happen.” He said he never plays a piece the same way twice because he is always looking to perceive a new aspect. He was saying violinist Nathan Milstein broke every rule in music and you have to, in a sense, to truly make music. Cárdenes suggested that one of his students bow crooked in a section explaining how if you bow straight you get a straight sound. That sentence is not to be taken as to abandon the fundamentals and foundation of what lies beneath the ability to “improvise” shall we say. Mr. Cardenes is a true master of the violin and his joy of teaching is evident.

And one last note to ALL musicians on knowing your music: “You need to know the pages of your music, better than you know your mother.” – Andrés Cárdenes

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