Piano Masterclass with Ben Schoeman

1 March 2018

It was a pleasure to welcome back the well-known concert pianist and teacher, Ben Schoeman, whose reflections and suggestions on previous occasions have been so valuable to our senior pianists. This was the fourth visit from this South African prize-winning pianist who has an international reputation as a soloist, teacher and recording artist.

That experience was much in evidence as he worked with 16 year-old Didier Delgorge on the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. In contrast to last year’s performance, when Didier enjoyed the technical fireworks of Mendelssohn, the Beethoven required a calmer, meditative approach, fingers closer to the keys and a sense of a hushed, smooth, as if never-ending figuration.

Jason Ng (16) played Chopin’s Ballade No 1, Op 23. It is a big work, and the dramatic gesture of the Neapolitan harmonic opening was the immediate focus of the critique, with the suggestion that the smooth opening should be played as if sung, without accented notes. The opening tune should enter is if it were always there, establishing a clear 6/8 metre.

Next, another Chopin work, this time the Harp Etude, Op 25, which was the choice of 16 year-old Alvin Tam. He played from the start with a lovely beauty of sound and great dexterity, but after a short while was able to make an even more cantabile sound, sculpting the phrases with more shape and more movement from the melody-playing right hand.

After a short break David Bicarregui (16) chose Brahms’ beautiful Intermezzo in A minor. Professor Schoeman quickly encouraged David to think of a more melancholic and nostalgic sound reminiscent of a chorale, encouraging him to relax with a softer dynamic on the resolution of dissonances.

Oliver Breach (17) brought us into the world of Bach with his Toccata in E minor No 2. Oliver chose a beautiful dolce approach in his interpretation, which received great admiration. Oliver was urged to adopt a more dramatic approach at the start with a little more musical rubato to make the music come alive.

The final performance was a piano duet played by two GCSE musicians, Jason Ng and David Grozin in Moskowski’s Spanish Dance No 2. This offered a different range of challenges, particularly those of achieving a really convincing ensemble and some colouring possibilities in the waltz rhythm. Just before the end we were treated to an inspiring performance from Ben Schoeman of Sibelius’ Romance.

Finally we offered our thanks to all the pianists, their teachers and to Ben Schoeman for his wonderfully fascinating and helpful observations. The boys were encouraged to recall all the wonderfully apposite comments and to incorporate them in their playing of these great works. The large and appreciative audience disappeared into the chill night air but with lots of warmly constructive comments and beautiful music ringing in their ears.

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