Yeshiva College Musicians Perform at Master Class with Renowned Pianist Blair McMillen
Three Yeshiva College student pianists had the opportunity to participate in a master class with accomplished professional pianist Blair McMillen on March 22 at the Schottenstein Center on the Wilf Campus. The event, which drew an audience of more than 30, was jointly sponsored by the Yeshiva University Classical Music Society (YUCMS) and the Yeshiva College Music Department.
The structure of the master class was as follows: each student performed one piece, after which McMillen, a Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard-educated musician, gave encouraging, incisive feedback on anything from volume to tempo to finger placement. Sometimes he even demonstrated a few bars of the music himself. The student then reassumed his place at the piano and implemented McMillen’s suggestions—often successfully.
Elia Rackovsky ’13YC, co-president of YUCMS, coordinated the event. “I’m very proud to be part of this event and of how the YUCMS is instrumental in putting on events that… expose the YU student body to classical music,” said Rackovsky.
Rackovsky was also one of the three students selected to play at the event by Professor Noyes Bartholomew, co-chair of the Yeshiva College Department of Fine Arts and Music. Rackovsky performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s French Suite no. 5, while Moshe Shulman ’15YC, played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 31 no. 2 and Aaron Yevick ’12YC, Elegie, op. 3 no 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
McMillen, who has performed at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Moscow Conservatory and serves on the faculty of Bard College, noted the challenges of interpreting the works of different musicians. Earlier composers, like Bach, seldom marked their sheet music with indicators of desired loudness or tone. Beethoven, on the other hand, was incredibly specific. “Can we inject our own musical inspiration and personality into a piece that’s so loved and is considered holy writ?” mused McMillen about Beethoven’s works. “Yes. I think so.”
McMillen described one particular strategy he employs when determining how to play a given piece. “I very often think of vocal music or of different instruments,” he said, emphasizing the usefulness of this approach with regard to volume.
Teaching master classes, said McMillen, enriches his own musicianship. “Teaching in front of people affords me the opportunity to think about what I do subconsciously on my own… I learn more about myself as an artist and musician and pianist by showing people how I think things should sound than in a three- or four-hour practice session on my own… I’ll probably be all the better for it when I go back to practicing tomorrow morning after this master class.”
After answering some questions, McMillen treated the audience to a short, electrifying performance of “What the West Wind Saw,” a piece he described as “a wild-raging storm.”
The student musicians relished their experience. “It’s very important to get new perspectives on things you normally take for granted, like how to play a melody, how to touch the keys,” said Yevick, whose Rachmaninoff rendition garnered extra admiration from McMillen after Yevick confessed that he only started learning piano two years ago.
Rackovsky agreed: “There is pressure being in the hot seat, but it’s worth it to come away with a better musical understanding.”