As a subscriber, I look forward to receiving concert notices from Classical Encounters. To be honest, I’ve been attending Master Classes and concerts at its founder, Ronna Binn’s lovely home since the late 1970s when I studied piano with Juilliard trained instructor, Esther Lee Caplan Rosenbaum and then with Mario Feninger. Each event has proven to be inspiring and well worth the long drive south of Ventura Boulevard.
Earlier this month, a Classical Encounters email announcing a concert featuring 17 year old Benjamin Krasner, caught my eye. I was skeptical (read: not interested) in attending the concert of a “prodigy”. However, after visiting his website and watching the interview with him and his mom on Fox 11 News, my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to learn more about this sensitive and intelligent young pianist. After looking over the music he selected to play for the Classical Encounters concert, I bought a ticket.
July 9, 2017 PROGRAM:
Bach: Toccata in F# minor
Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel
Granados: Quejas o la maja y el ruisenor From Goyecas
Ravel: Jeux D’eau
Ravel: Selections from Miroirs
When I learned that Benjamin is a fellow alumnus of California State University, Northridge and studied under our esteemed colleague, Professor Dmitry Rachmanov, I wanted to help get the word out about this remarkable and humble young pianist and his concert. I messaged Benjamin on Facebook, inquiring if he was up for a blog interview. He graciously accepted. I am pleased to present my readers with the interview.
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Q1. The style of contemporary fine artists trained in classical painting techniques, but who choose to paint or interpret images from today’s culture, is referred to as Classical Realism or Expressionism. With your education and training in a wide range of repertoire from all major musical eras, filtered through your sensitivity of today’s culture, what would your style of playing be referred to? For my piano students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
A1. This is an intriguing topic. I don’t think I would call my playing Classical realism. Really, I draw inspiration and influence from whatever is at hand. If I’m playing a piece with Spanish dance influences, I think of Spanish flamenco or Argentine tango and such. I don’t filter my interpretation through today’s culture, I think that would be problematic, as much of the modern society is rather messy and depressing. When I perform, I do my best to convey the composers’ intent and emotion while at the same time drawing influence from personal experience and/or imagination as well as cultures throughout the world, present and past (if they are relevant to the music I would be playing).
Q2. Your piano performances are primarily solos. What is the story or inspiration behind your focus, as opposed to duets, ensembles or symphonies? Do you plan to perform duets, ensembles or symphonies in the future?
A2. I enjoy solo performance because of the freedom of individual expression and interpretation it allows for. However, that is not to say I don’t enjoy collaborative performances any less than solo. I very much enjoy interacting with other musicians, especially in performance. It is a whole different kind of experience, sharing the stage with others. Fortunately, I have had much opportunity to play in chamber groups and duets over the past year of my masters at Yale. And yes, I would love to collaborate with others in the future.
Q3. I have a passion for classical composers from Spain such as Federico Mompou, Juan José Ramos and Joaquin Turina, and Argentine composers such as Remo Pignani. Which composer or composers are you most passionate about? What is the story behind this?
A3. It is difficult for me as a musician to identify individual composers that I am MOST passionate about and will always maintain that passion. As with most people, I go through phases. Recently, I have greatly enjoyed studying and playing Scriabin, Ravel, and Granados. Scriabin for its intimacy and intricate interplay of color and tone. Ravel for the clear pictures he paints with his luscious harmonies and performance techniques. Granados for his raw passion and emotion as well as the story he tells with his Goyescas cycle (one of the greatest masterworks in all of music, in my opinion). I must say that Bach will always have a special place in my part. I have always enjoyed unraveling his counterpoint and am always dumbfounded by the intricacy of his work. Of course there are countless other composers I love, but these are the most recent.
Q4. My students are interested in the latest rehearsal trends, tips and techniques. For example, how do you prefer to mentally and physically prepare for a rehearsal? Do you have a set routine (best days/times)? How long do you usually rehearse to prepare repertoire? How do you prepare before a concert?
A4. When classes are in session, I take whatever practice time I can get. I don’t not always have the luxury of having a set routine, as school life is always hectic, and every day is always packed with classes, chamber rehearsals (most pianists at Yale play in 5-8 different duets or chamber groups at a time, and that’s a slow semester), recordings, lessons, etc.
Generally, I find that I practice more efficiently and am more inspired in the evenings. At the end of the day, I would camp out in my teacher’s studio and practice there until I got kicked out of the building, unless I got lucky and the security staff were nice enough to let me practice until the early morning hours. I remember I once even fell asleep on the couch in the studio and woke up the next morning. But for my general practice preferences, I find that I am not a morning person.
Additionally, I think the philosophy of sitting in a practice room and mindlessly playing through repertoire and passages for hours is of course detrimental to the overall performance and the musical soul as well. Quality over quantity, always. I think it is important to always be inspired and passionate when practicing, but not so that you forget to think about what you play. There must be a balance.
One should not measure their progress by how many hours they have practiced, but by what they have learned and understood from the music. In terms of learning and memorizing repertoire, I refer to one of my teachers Boris Berman: “Learning the notes of a piece and memorizing the piece should be one and the same.” In other words, the memorization process should not start after one can play the music through at tempo with notes. The memorization process should not be a separate chore; it should be integrated with the learning process from the very beginning. For example, when practicing a difficult passage, played over and over again, ideally the process of memorization is integrated with the process of learning the technique. This is all of course, a theory. I, myself still struggle with this idea.
Q5. At what age did you realize you were a musical spirit?
A5. The thing is, I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not play piano. I started at 5, so I don’t really remember much before then. In my opinion, everyone is a musical spirit in one way or another. Everyone listens to music, everyone feels emotion or feelings when they hear music. It’s just that some have a more “hands on” relationship with music, pun intended. [Nice!]
Q6. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as a musician? If so, how did you handle it?
A6. No, my family and friends were always supportive and always pushed me to do my best and apply myself.
Q7. How old were you when you performed your first professional concert? How did you get the gig? Was it through teacher connections or via a professional manager?
A7. I think I started performing professionally at around 7. I think my first recital was a performance at Pepperdine University that my teacher at the time helped set up. I think that same year I was invited to play in Moscow as part of an international festival. Also, I did a few competitions in my early career.
Q8. Do you currently have a manager? If so, what tasks does a manager handle on your behalf?
A8. No I do not. I should get one. Most of my gigs or performances are arranged through family, school, personal, or professional connections.
Q9. Do you also teach piano? If not, do you have a desire to teach piano in the future? If so, was there any particular person or event that inspired your decision?
A9. Yes, I have taught piano and currently have a few students. I am inspired by my current and old teachers to continue the pedagogical legacy as it were.
Q10. Have you composed works of your own? If so, what style are they in? Will you be recording any of them?
A10. I have not composed anything notable, unfortunately. Truthfully, I’m rather intimidated by the music I play. I don’t think I would be able to compare to those gods. However, I do enjoy improvisation, in many different styles.
Q11. Music can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my piano school partners with CoachArt to provide free piano lessons or art classes to families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A11. I have supported and played for a few different charities and benefits in the past years. The Eye Defects Research Foundation, the Japan Tsunami Relief Fund and others. I think cancer research and funding as well as other uncured medical conditions are incredibly important and undervalued. In addition, global warming prevention and pollution management organizations are very important.
In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block, that you would like to share with my readers?
I’m still trying to find one myself. There a few quotes that I like in general for life. “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future, if you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Another is, “If I were to die today, would I be satisfied with what I have accomplished in life.”
In music, my philosophy is that if you ever believe that you have learned everything you can, or if you are satisfied with yourself as a musician or person, just think about how Beethoven, deaf, essentially single-handedly changed history with his revolutionary compositions. Just imagine how different today’s music, or even the world, would be affected if he didn’t exist. Also, I try to find creative inspiration everywhere in literature, by travel, nature, films, etc.
Thank you, Benjamin for inspiring my readers and students with this interview. It reminds me of the words of American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, Joseph Campbell: “Follow Your Bliss.” We hope you will be back to perform more concerts and perhaps a master class or two in the near future. We wish you great success at Yale and beyond.
To enjoy learning more about this dedicated young pianist, please be sure to click his bio.
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