Photo provided by Ethan Jones
This past Thursday, junior Ethan Jones and sophomore Mai Vo experienced what it was like to be taught by a master. Russian piano virtuoso Boris Slutsky visited Trinity University last week to judge the Gurwitz 2020 International Piano Competition, which took place from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2.
Slutsky is known internationally for his talent at the piano and has won numerous awards across the nation.
He has performed with many renowned orchestras such as the London Philharmonic and the Bern Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland. Additionally, Slutsky has given master classes all over the world, from Europe to Asia to the United States.
This week, Slutsky took time away from his duties judging professional pianists in the Gurwitz Competition to teach a master class for the only two piano performance students at Trinity, Junior Ethan Jones and Sophomore Mai Vo.
Jones played from Chopin’s Etudes, Op. 10, No. 6 in E-Flat Minor.
“It’s a dark, lamenting piece,” Jones said. “It’s very melancholy, very sad. It’s a very slow, lyrical melody in the right hand, and it’s very beautiful.”
Vo performed from Op. 10 as well, opting instead for No. 8, called “The Sunshine Etude.”
“[It is] very fast; it has lots of color and dynamic contrast in it,” Vo said.
Carolyn True from the Department of music is Jones and Vo’s main professor for their piano performance studies. Along with working with the students one-on-one in their classes, she assisted the students in selecting and preparing pieces to present to Slutsky.
“There is something different about playing in a master class because it is open to the public,” True said. “You know, the students are working in front of an open audience.”
In addition to the pressure of publicity, Vo and Jones also found that the master class offered them unique ways of learning that they would not normally get in a regular classroom setting.
“A master class is just one lesson with that person. He only has 45 minutes to teach us as much as he can about one specific piece,” Jones said. “You play one time, and that’s the only snippet they have of what type of pianist you are.”
“We have to be ready and play for him, and then he’ll pick stuff for us to work on,” Vo said. “[There are] things that we can change instantly, and things that will take time to change.”
During the master class, Slutsky was very involved with the performers. The two students played their pieces for him first while he watched and read the music. Then, he stepped onstage and worked specifically on certain techniques with the two students, demonstrating hand motions as he played clusters of notes from the piece just moments after glancing at the music.
After spending a week in close proximity to all of the renowned pianists competing in the Gurwitz Competition, Vo and Jones recognized the magnitude of their opportunity to work with Slutsky.
“We were both super intimidated because he had been listening to some of the best piano music in the world for the past week,” Jones said. “People have been coming to Trinity to play world-class piano music to a full audience, and he’s been judging them. But he was so nice and encouraging talking to us.”
Despite their intimidation at first, Vo and Jones both learned new things about their pieces from the experience.
“I would ask him certain questions, and he would ask me what I wanted for the interpretation of the piece,” Jones said. “He said to make sure you can make your own decisions within the music instructions that are given.”
“He encouraged me to not be scared and to attack the piano … and I did play better,” Vo said.
The two students were grateful for the opportunity to work with Slutsky and to be involved with the Gurwitz Competition as a whole.
“[Slutsky] helped us feel comfortable,” Jones said. “We felt stupid that we had ever felt scared in the first place because he was just so friendly. We don’t get that much special attention, so having this world-class piano competition here feels so unique to us. It’s been so nice to have so much piano music surrounding the university.”
Vo and Jones took advantage of the master class to help them prepare for the Music Teachers National Convention conference in Chicago, where True will present learning techniques that Vo and Jones use when they perform.