Jean-Bernard Pommier in the late 1960s
“Each of the two was seated at a separate piano. Istomin soon interrupted his playing of the orchestral part to jump up and advise his young colleague on the phrasing of a certain passage. ‘More majestically’ Istomin said, and then translated for Pommier who speaks no English. ‘Plus majestueusement’. ‘Majestueux, mais pas enflammé’. The young French man replied, injecting a fine Gallic precision into the issue.
The dialog continued and the point is that it was a dialog. Students who show up at master classes, it is assumed, can play the notes. The matters treated in these classes lie in the realm of phrasings, dynamics, inflections. There was nothing pedantic about the session. Istomin, who is not without pianistic ideas, always allowed for the thoughts of the younger pianist. They clearly shared a respect for their material.
Istomin, soft-spoken, addressed his auditors nervously, but self-consciousness evaporated as the piano spoke for him until articulateness returned. He made clear to the students that there are no absolutes in music and later on he illustrated, in his discussion of a Brahms violin-piano sonata, that many questions relating to phrasings and shapings of the music are ultimately more philosophical than purely technical. A question was how to interpret the term ‘vivace’.
Sees a lightness
First page of the Brahms Violin Sonata Op. 78
That led to a brief discussion of the quality of vivaciousness, as expressed musically. ‘I don’t think of vivace as a Mendelssohnny, elfin, ha ha ha thing’ Istomin said. ‘I think it refers to a state of the soul, a lightness.’ But mostly they said it with music. What Istomin tried to communicate were his feelings about the substance of the music, which dictates much of the way it should be played.
After the session which ended with a traversal of the first movement of the Brahms G major Sonata played by Istomin and a young protégé of Isaac Stern’s, Pinchas Zukerman, Istomin supplied a few facts about Pommier, again disclaiming the role of teacher. ‘I don’t consider him a student. He is a young artist.’ Istomin said. ‘I consider him a colleague.’
First US Visit