by Jeannette Fang
July 19, 2014
Often what we latch onto first in a masterclass isn't necessarily how pithy or novel the comments are, but how sincere and full of good will the teacher is. We are, after all, humans who feel first and think later. Jim Giles is such a gentleman that good will just kind of colors everything he does. But in the way he treats the student and talks about music, one senses that his deepest concern is for helping students achieve an earnest relationship to the music he holds dear. And it's that sort of personality that gains a student's immediate trust.
The first performer, Cheong Bin Yu, played an unusually sensitive g minor Chopin Ballade, which Giles noted by saying " you sound like you have some really specific ideas; a lot of things seem very in the moment and deeply felt." He discussed issues of how to use body weight to better facilitate all of Yu's intentions, and how one should not always go by their first temptation to treat the ballades in an episodic manner.
The second performer, Annie Jeng, played three movements from Brahms op.116, which was lovely and genuinely expressive. She feels very naturally, and Giles appreciated how personal the music was to her. He talked about unique aspects of Brahms' scores, such as how the presto energico of the d minor capriccio is more reflective of note relationships and articulation than tempo, or how sforzando are expressive rather than dynamic markings. He stressed that phrasing should be determined by conviction, and that "if we don't believe in it, what's the point of making music?"
Elias Butterfield was the last to play, with Mozart's Sonata K333. He was earnest and striving, displaying great zeal. Giles talked about the classical style, and how fidelity to the period will inform and enhance his comfort level with the music, which in the end would allow the student to be more free and hence expressive.
Giles was able to hit on a great variety of issues due to his formidable intelligence, which he distilled down into specific concepts that would aide each individual student. And it was clear that all his comments, no matter how widely different in topic, had the goal of aiding an honest communication between performer and audience.