Up – It Twangs; Down – It Growls

Opus Osm

Konstanze von Gutzeit's cello Master Class carried the audience away

Dvořák’s description of the cello is defied in a Prague Master Class led by Konstanze von Gutzeit.

“Up – it twangs; down – it growls.” Despite Antonín Dvořák’s description of the cello, he wrote one of the most beautiful and famous cello concertos in the history of music. But Miloš Sádlo said: “You can reach everything with the cello!” – and he was one of the greatest Czech cellists of the 20th century.

This instrument that you literally embrace to play, this instrument compared to a human being singing – this instrument stood in the center of a special, public Master Class organized by The Berg Orchestra and HAMU (the Academy of Music) with assistance by the Prague Spring organization, and was given by Konstanze von Gutzeit to three Czech students at HAMU Nov 8.

Konstanze von Gutzeit is the winner of countless awards, among them first prize at Jugend Musiziert (at 16, the youngest participant), and second prize at the 2012 Prague Spring Competition. She is the cello soloist of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, and appeared with The Berg Orchestra at their November concert.

Born in Bochum, Germany in 1985, she is a very young teacher. But that made this Master Class thrilling for the audience, and probably very inspiring for the students. Two of them are only a few years younger than she: HAMU students Petr Špaček and Václav Petr; the third, Vilém Vlček, is still a student at the Prague Music Grammar School.

Behind the Academy Walls
The public class this autumn afternoon brought unique insight into the process of music education. Of course, a Master Class is not a complex one. In an hour-and-a-half meeting, teacher and student can discuss only a few of the questions raised in a composition. Nevertheless, watching even these samples was fascinating, to see what happens behind the normally closed walls of the academy where they make magic out of the music scores.

Opus Osm

Václav Petr (right) discusses a fine point with Master Class instructor von Gutzeit

However detailed this discussion was, Mrs von Gutzeit presented a global, comprehensive, and also poetic, view.

“Make it sound like someone singing from the next village, and you hear it from very far away,” to Mr Vlček on the first movement of a Lalo cello concerto.

Or, “You still think you have to play vibrato or staccato or whatever – let it happen more by itself!” to Mr Špaček and Mr Petr on Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata. “Make music out of it!”

But they also showed us how precisely the score has to be studied, even using Schubert’s autograph version to get beyond the murky sendiment of decades of editions; and how meticulously the composer has to be respected, even with all the emphasis on creativity. “I’m interested in this chord – you can be very creative by adding color, changing the phrasing, etc., but not by adding notes,” Mrs von Gutzeit says.

Do Try This at Home
But in addition to the needs of the score, there are of course the needs of each particular student. When at home, it’s always interesting to compare recordings of two interpreters playing the same composition.

But it is exciting to listen to them live and to be able to also perceive the different advice given to them by a master able, even in such a short time, to understand the students’ different natures, attitudes, and requirements.

It is so inspiring to get to know with your own ears all these aspects of an interpreter’s preparation, even if you are a bit clueless at the discussion about the subtle differences between diminuendo and decrescendo, even if you are not able to recognize the note that the student willingly or unwillingly added. Such a Master Class makes you think.

“There are so many E’s in this phrase – try to make every one sound different from the others; make each one special,” she advises.

Oh, that’s why it sounds so great! – oo

– Lucie Rohanová, regular contributing writer to Opus Osm

Photo Credits: Lucie Rohanová


  1. Denise
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    I enjoy reading about the music culture in the Czech Republic and how it has changed over the years. It moves forward but also stays the same in many cases. I was wondering about Vilem Vlcek and who his parents are. I met an Oldrich Vlcek in the United States when he was concertmaster with the Prague Chamber Orchestra. Thank you.

  2. Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Thanks for your comments and question — We’ll try to find out the answer for you.
    Mary Matz, editor

  3. Posted January 31, 2014 at 10:23 am

    After some research, we can tell you that, despite all six children in the Vlček family playing some musical instruments, their parents are not professional musicians, according to Petra Zindulková, public relations person at The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. We’ve also interviewed some musicians who don’t come directly from a musical family, but who have a relative from the 19th or 18th century who was known as a musician at the time. It’s interesting, isn’t it!
    Mary Matz, editor

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