The 2010 Paderewski Festival began its weekend phase of events this afternoon with a piano master class in the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly with Festival pianist Jonathan Plowright presiding. In a formal recital in a concert hall there is an invisible curtain separating performer from audience, and since the performer usually does not speak to the audience, except perhaps to announce encores, we rarely have an opportunity to become familiar with the personality of the performer.
This was certainly not the case during Mr. Plowright’s master class. He turned out to be most charming as he ushered students to the piano and made them feel at ease. After they played, he continued to be kindly and tactful as he offered positive suggestions about how slight improvements might be made. These suggestions were rarely personal, in that he was not imposing his own stylistic preferences on the young students. On the contrary, it was always about the music itself that he directed each player’s attention. He was full of questions for each student as he probed their understanding of the works they were playing. Throughout the two hours, we had ample opportunities to see how his mind worked as he would grapple with a musical concept and try to find a way to lead a student in some new directions.
It was curious that the format of the master class was so informal. There was no printed program for the class that showed the works to be played. Nor was there bio information about each student that listed their age, place of residence, school and name of their present piano teacher. The students were neither identified by full name, nor was the piece they played identified to the audience (more than once the woman seated next to me asked what piece had just been played).
Although Mr. Plowright speaks softly, his diction is so precise and his delivery as dramatic as any stage actor, we had little difficulty hearing him. The performers however sat with their backs to the audience, so we rarely could hear their response.
So, the bottom line is that although many people in the audience were sometimes puzzled who was playing what, Mr. Plowright’s warm personality and superb wealth of knowledge carried the day. We will be looking forward to hearing his recital tomorrow.