From 14 November, the piano master classes held by Roberto Prosseda in Villa Sandra, on Lake Maggiore, will be broadcast on Classica HD, on Monday evenings in the series “Notevoli”. The project foresees twelve advanced-level lessons given to six promising students. The first six lessons will be broadcast fortnightly from November to January 2017, while the remaining lessons will be shown in spring 2017.
For the occasion, we met maestro Prosseda, pianist of international fame, teacher and keen promoter of music.
I don't remember which famous pianist (maybe Arthur Rubinstein?) said that he didn't realize how difficult it was to play the piano until he had tried teaching it. Is it really such a hard task?
I would look at it the other way round: it is the pupils who have actually taught me to play better, making the task easier. In fact, ever since I started teaching, I've been “forced” by the students to become more aware of the musical principles and techniques of performance, leading me to discover many aspects I wasn't conscious of before. Every pupil offers us the chance to rethink our convictions about the piano and music, teaching us not to take anything for granted and to consider other possible interpretations.
The eloquent title of your master classes is “Dentro la musica” Can you tell us something more about this?
I find the title “Dentro la musica”, that is to say “Inside the music”, particularly fitting, because it places the stress on the importance of immersing oneself within the score to discover the message left to us by the composer. If the pianist isn't “inside the music”, it will be impossible to involve the listener. On the other hand, when you manage to identify with the emotional contents of a composition and make them your own, you will also be able to take the listener “inside the music”. In this cycle much is said about states of mind, expressive attitudes, dramaturgy and rhetoric. In some way, every piano piece is a bit like a film: it needs an excellent director, a director of photography, a good cast of actors (each theme is a bit like a character of the story): and all these roles converge on the pianist, on the moment itself. This is why teaching is so stimulating, being able to discover these aspects of making music with the pupils.
How did you choose the six young talents we are going to hear?
They are all young pianists that I've known for some years, who have consistently attended my advanced courses. Many of them are already concert artists, have won important prizes and have started a professional career. They have very different characters: I like to encourage each pupil to become aware of his/her own individuality, rather than expecting them to emulate a utopic external model. They were all enthusiastic about this experience, as it was their “first time” on television. Playing with four cameras recording is certainly quite different compared to a normal piano lesson, and this offered them a moment of growth and a chance to communicate their art to all the viewers, thanks also to the refined direction of Pietro Tagliaferri. I have a pleasant memory of the convivial atmosphere that was created during the four days of filming, last March in Villa Sandra at Lesa (Lake Maggiore), due in great part to the wonderful hospitality of the owner Massimo Marenzi. Making music in an environment so rich in art, with excellent instruments (two Steinways) and set in a breathtaking landscape was a true privilege for all those concerned. The lessons also continued “after hours”, thanks to the evening seminars held by the conductor Gian Andrea Noseda, the architect Agostino Turba and the cembalist and organist Claudio Brizi with his claviorgan, so that my pupils were able to gain an all-round experience “inside the music”.
A master class, we know, takes place in the course of just a few days. Having such a short amount of time available, how do you arrange your lessons?
Each lesson was devoted to a specific composition lasting 5-10 minutes. I always asked the pupil to perform the piece at the start, to have an idea of his/her conception of the structure and narration. The lesson shouldn't turn into a series of instructions given indiscriminately by the teacher, but should maintain a constant interaction with the sensitivity of the pupil. For this reason I often ask the pianists questions, prompting them to become aware of their conception of the piece, and helping them to express this in the best way. In addition, I like to make use of metaphors of a photographic and narrative kind: often during the lesson we speak of the “depth of field” between the theme and the accompaniment, of the “focusing” of a given melodic contour, of the temporal and spatial distance of the themes. The piano is, in fact, also a time machine, as it can “set” a theme in the present, the past or the future, also defining the context in which it appears (reality, dream, memory, hope, illusion). I also try to stimulate the timbral imagination of the pupils (and listeners), by encouraging them to evoke the sounds of other instruments or of nature and identifying a precise technical gesture that allows them to obtain the idea of sound they have in mind. Finally, there are the references to gestures and body language, which can often help us to communicate things that are even apparently impossible at the keyboard. This is the case, for instance, in the handling of rests: these too can be in crescendo or diminuendo, accelerando or rallentando. The gesture, moreover, allows us to give the listener a foretaste of a given affective state or timbral effect. Such aspects may seem superfluous, and yet they prove extremely important in immersing oneself in the music and communicating it in the best way.
What sort of relation do you have with your pupils?
My relationship with my pupils is decidedly “libertine”, in the sense that I refuse the concept of “loyalty to the teacher”. I believe that every teacher should respect the right of the pupil, after having acquired the basic skills, to gain different didactic experiences, precisely to find their own personal dimension through exposure to other approaches and points of view. Nearly all my pupils study with other teachers as well, and I get seriously worried when I notice a student attempting to emulate or rely excessively on the teacher. The aim of a lesson, moreover, shouldn't be to produce a clone, but, on the contrary, to stimulate the search for artistic results that are authentic and, why not, innovative and not too predictable. Nor do I like the authoritative approach that some teachers of the old school adopted: instead, I try to relate with the students like a sort of older brother, with whom they can discover together aspects of a composition or of making music that are still unexplored.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
The greatest satisfaction is to see the enthusiasm of a pupil who discovers something alone that not even I had noticed. Musical culture and art are not, in any case, a patrimony to be possessed, but something that already belongs to everyone. I very much like the metaphor used by Daniel Pennac, who considers teachers as vectors of culture, as fuses that are lit by the beauty of music and who contaminate the pupils with their enthusiasm. “In the absence of the idea of possession” – says Pennac – “we are beyond the principle of sharing: all that I learn, all that I discover, if I like it and I find it moving, then I choose to pass it on to you so that it can fascinate and enrich you too.”
What type of audience are your lessons aimed at?
This cycle was conceived for different types of viewers: ranging from experts in the sector, to simple enthusiasts. Students, amateurs and teachers will all find a lot to think about in these lessons, not only regarding the more specifically technical aspects but also, I hope, concerning novel ways of approaching music teaching. Besides, all other music enthusiasts, who I believe make up the vast majority of the audience of Classica HD, will have the chance to enter the workshop in which a musical interpretation is born, discovering aspects of the everyday work of concert artists that are often hidden and “private”. It will be stimulating to see how a piano performance can be radically transformed within the space of just a few minutes of lesson, and to discover how at times it is sufficient to become more aware of the state of mind to elicit, in order to reveal artistic potentials that perhaps have still remained dormant. After all, master classes also serve this purpose: to help each student find, through an external perspective, the great artist that lies within them. And I hope, in our case, also to transform the common viewer into a more aware and passionate music listener.