I traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania this weekend, May 10-11, for an opportunity to meet a living legend. “The Wednesday Club” performing arts organization invited Maestro Paul Badura-Skoda, the esteemed Austrian pianist and conductor, to hold a master class and present a concert in the area. I have been a member of the organization since 2008 and I was very fortunate and privileged to have been asked to participate in the master class!
There was no trouble driving from Yorktown, Virginia, to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where we were staying, which is right outside of Harrisburg. The trouble started after we arrived, when we discovered that there had been a major accident on the interstate involving an overturned oil tanker that had exploded, taking out two overpasses and melting the pavement in the process, forcing the highway to be closed in both directions indefinitely. Luckily no one was hurt. Needless to say we needed to find an alternate route, but so did the 500,000 other people who commute through Harrisburg daily.In order to be sure that I would arrive at the master class on time, we left two hours early. It was being held at Trinity Lutheran Church and we had a 15 mile drive. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and the drizzle turned into a massive thunderstorm, causing the traffic to go even slower. Despite the adverse conditions, we arrived at the church early. I was hoping to try the piano before- hand but as I entered the building I could hear that the piano was being tuned. I walked into the sanctuary to find the maestro tuning it himself! I was amazed. He announced that he always does his own tuning and uses his own tools which he brings everywhere. His tools were in an ordinary plastic bag- not a special case or kit. After finishing, he played a short piece, and then tuned it a bit more until he was satisfied.
There were five participants in the two hour master class- two professional pianists/teachers, two doctoral students, and me. I played first. I started with the 1st mvt. of the Beethoven Sonata, Op. 10 No. 2. I felt great and comfortable with my performance, and then we jumped right in. Professor Badura-Skoda had a fairly strong accent but I could understand. He helped me shape lines better and build intensity. For an 85 year old man, he was extremely energetic, dynamic, and lively, and was right next to the piano so he could sit down and demonstrate voicing and articulation at any time.
He had requested that the participants submit bios, and excitingly the maestro knew that I had learned the entire sonata, and asked me to play the second movement as well, which I gladly did! He talked about the balance between the right hand and left hand, and the polyphony, and weaving of the hands to create the line. He wanted me to be meaner to the sforzandos to create an interjection. He also suggested to always consider why Beethoven chose one note and not another, or the difference between the use of consonance in one area and dissonance in the repeat. He even told stories throughout the class about the composers and the pieces, to help all of the students understand the significance and meaning of the music.
Unfortunately my time with this great maestro had ended. It had gone so quickly and I didn’t realize that I had been on the stage for 45 minutes! As I was leaving the stage we shook hands, and Professor Badura-Skoda told me that I was a “very talented young man” and a “fine pianist,” and that he enjoyed listening to the Beethoven. It was an amazing experience to receive guidance from someone who has dedicated his entire life to the study of music. I felt well prepared and comfortable, and I was grateful for the opportunity, and for my teacher’s support and confidence in me.
His enthusiasm carried on to his concert the following night. In the first half of the program Maestro Badura-Skoda performed a Bach partita and a Mozart sonata. He came back out during the intermission and tuned the piano a little more! In the second half, he played the last two Beethoven sonatas, followed by an encore of a short Mozart piece. The maestro had spoken about each piece he played that night and even demonstrated samples on the piano to explain the structure of the music he was playing. His passion and love for what he has dedicated his life to were clear in his speaking and performing. The entire audience was enthralled. After he played, he would stand up and bow slightly, seeming to survey the audience. He appeared appreciative of the applause and audience’s reaction.
I am truly appreciative to have been part of this wonderful weekend. I realize that I could learn about music for the rest of my life and there would still be so much more to discover! Maestro Badura-Skoda was an inspiration for me to work hard to become the best musician possible, and to always convey my own enjoyment and passion for music to everyone. I will remember this for the rest of my life.