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Beyond the Fock It

Aug 30, 2016 4:10:39 PM / by Benjamin Zander

Benjamin Zander

A student from Spain, a member of my Wednesday “Sonata and Lieder” class at the New England Conservatory, asked me to coach him in preparation for an audition for the position of associate principal cellist of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra.  He played his pieces through with elegance and accuracy.  It was playing of an absolutely professional standard, the kind of performance that would, I told him, gain him entry into the ranks of an orchestra.  However, it lacked flair and the characteristics of true leadership—not only command of color, intensity, drive, and passion, but the energy to take people beyond where they would normally go.  We started work on the pieces—I played the piano, sang, coaxed and urged him on until his rather formal restraint broke down, and he began to play from the heart and throw all his passion and energy into the soaring passages of the Dvorak Concerto. In the middle of one of his most impassioned utterances, I stopped him and said, “There, that’s it. If you play that way, they won’t be able to resist you.  You will be a compelling force behind which everyone will be inspired to play their best.” He wiped the sweat from his brow and from his cello, and we retired to the kitchen for a spaghetti dinner and a bottle of good red wine.  As he left the house that night, I shouted behind him, “Remember Marius, play it the second way!” “I will!”  he called back. 

Three weeks later he telephoned. 

“How did it go Marius?”  I was eager to know. 

“Oh,” he said, “I didn't make it.” 

“What happened?” I asked, as I prepared to console him. 

He answered matter-of-factly, “I played the first way.” 

“Never mind, Marius,” I said, “you will have other chances.”  In my mind I vowed to work with him further on releasing his enormous capacity for expression.  But it turned out that he had discovered how to break through the gates himself.

“No, no, no,” he said, “you haven't heard the whole story.  I was so peesed off, I said, ‘Fock it, I’m going to Madrid to play the audition for the principal cellist in the orchestra there!”—and I won it, at twice the salary of the other job.” 

“What happened?” I asked again, in amazement.  

He laughed.  “I played the second way!”

From then on we had another new distinction in the class, called Beyond the Fock It, which fast became part of the folklore of all my classes, including amongst the girls of a Catholic girl’s school in California, whose headmistress wrote me several months after my visit that BTFI had become their unofficial school motto.

Topics: Spain 2016

Benjamin Zander

Written by Benjamin Zander