Monday, February 11, 2013

Angela Hewitt, in person!

This past Saturday, I had a chance to watch a master class taught by Angela Hewitt at the Washington Conservatory. Three pianists in their 20s played, all conservatory graduates with strings of accolades in their bios (competitions won, honors garnered, etc.).

I was too shy to take a picture, worried that it would be intrusive, so I don't have any documentation other than my notes. But it was cool to see Hewitt at close range and hear her speak about playing the piano. She made a point of saying that she has not performed any of the three pieces on the program (a Schubert sonata; Chopin Ballade No. 1; and Beethoven Op. 111, first movement), which I thought was good, though it made me wonder why the performers didn't choose something in her repertoire so both they and the audience would get more out of the experience.

It was also interesting to me to first listen to these people play, making my own assessments, and then hear what Hewitt had to say. One of the performers, for example, I thought had a strange technique -- she lifted her fingers extremely high; from where I was sitting, I could see her right-hand pinky curling up before almost every note. Even though she played accurately and with expression, she looked uncomfortable, somehow. Hewitt zoomed right in on the finger thing, and also commented that she feels one should not hunch over the keyboard but sit back, both to be more open to the audience and to free the arms.

This was really the only time she mentioned technique (at least while I was there; I had to leave in the middle of the last person's session). The rest of the time she spoke about tempo (e.g., the idea that slow movements in which the harmony moves slowly should be played faster so they hold together better for the listener), phrasing, and voicing. She was fairly formal but was kind and respectful of the students. She played a bit to demonstrate some of her points, with the disclaimer that she was sight-reading, though she sounded beautiful.

All in all, a good use of a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.