Lessons from a Master

Opus Osm

Mr Ohlsson observes Prague Conservatory student Markéta Sinkulová as she performs Chopin's Scherzo in C Sharp Major.

World-renown pianist Garrick Ohlsson gives four Prague students a one-on-one private piano lesson – in front of 175 people.

If you took piano lessons as a kid, but somehow never made it past Book III, you probably still remember your teacher’s instructions: “Sit up straight! Curve your fingers! No, no, you have to use your little finger there! Don’t look at your fingers, look at the notes! –And keep your elbows in!”

So you might wonder what a piano master might have to say to the students who have made it way past Book III, playing the piano for at least the past 15 of their 20-something years.

If you were fortunate enough to attend Garrick Ohlsson’s Master Class May 27, you found out.

Mr Ohlsson, the first and only American to win the Gold Medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition, comes to HAMU Monday morning fresh from his Prague Spring piano recital the night before. He kindly agreed to give a Master Class to a handful of students, and thanks to the Prague Spring Festival and sponsors, the session is open to the public.

And it is also thanks to the bravery of the students – Prague Conservatory student Markéta Sinkulová, and HAMU students Alena Kohoutová, Karel Vrtiška, and Marek Kozák. The four had been selected for the honor in cooperation with Ivan Klánský from HAMU, and Milan Langer, the Prague Conservatory.

“Just a Couple of Things …”

Although Mr Ohlsson is known as a Chopin devotee, not only because of his Gold Medal but also because he’s recorded the entire Chopin repertoire, he also is known for performing a wide repertoire of classical through contemporary music, including more than 80 concertos. His Prague concert the evening before featured works by Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, and contemporary Slovak composer/pianist L’ubica Čekovská.

But today, dressed in a black turtleneck and dark blue slacks, Mr Ohlsson sits near the piano, listening intently to a student’s recital, and then begins his gentle analysis and instructions. Always careful to first praise the performance of the young artists, he also delivers suggestions and tips in a very human, conversational way.

“You have a beautiful sound, quite melodic sound,” he tells a student. “Just a couple of things to make you feel more sure …”

Or, “In this part I hear an organ in a church far away, possibly it’s a choir,” he says, his hands locked in front of him, imitating a church soloist. “Just make a little different color, sometimes.”

Or, “You don’t have to play fast, but if you have an understanding of how we move, it gets easier. Then you can add strength from your fingers, or arm, or both.”

Or, “This is just a suggestion … It would be good to show the duet more.” Then he sits down at the piano and plays the left hand while the student continues with the right. “Do you see?” he asks. “Yeah! Yeah!” the student nods enthusiastically.

There is an audible “Ahh!” from the audience. “I wish you could see the audience’s face before and after,” Mr Ohlsson says.

Clearly, it’s not just the students who are learning something insightful from this extraordinary teacher, as you’ll see in the video below. — oo

– Mary Matz

Watch pianist Garrick Ohlsson conduct a Master Class with HAMU student Alena Kohoutová, in excerpts from Chopin’s Ballade No 4 in F Minor.

Photo Credits: Photos and video: Miroslav Setnička


  1. Hu Jianhuai
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:03 am

    I wonder if you can release the whole video? since a lot of people like me who doesn’t have chance to take this kind of lesson but want to learn a lot from it.

    If possible, would you please upload the full video online?

  2. Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for asking. Unfortunately, due to copyright laws we can’t record or release complete videos, only short excerpts. However, we would love to help students like you around the world gain better access to this type of instruction. Maybe someday we will figure out a way to accomplish that! Thanks for writing.

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