Master Class with Petrit Çeku

I first encountered Petrit Çeku when he played for Scott Tennant in a master class at Peabody Conservatory in February of 2011. I remember being captivated that day, drawn in by Petrit’s playing and his seemingly complete disregard for his instrument. That’s not to say he is an inattentive guitarist, just that his attention is focused elsewhere, inward. When performing he rarely looks at the guitar; in fact his head is almost always turned away from the guitar, eyes closed, his expression and movements deeply emotive, changing sympathetically with the music, and always complementing the performance. Upon reflection, I came to the conclusion that playing this way serves one very important purpose in regard to the audience: it draws the focus away from the guitar and onto the music, and in the musical realm Petrit clearly excels. I am apparently not the only one who appreciates Petrit’s playing, as he has gone on to win several major competitions since I saw him perform that day, including the prestigious Christopher Parkening International Guitar Competition.

So it was with an appreciable measure of enthusiasm that I made the trek to Baltimore October 28th to observe Petrit conducting his own master class. I was very curious to see what aspects of other guitarists’ playing he would focus on, and how much attention he would pay to musical interpretation as opposed to technical considerations. Much of the emphasis would of course depend on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the students, but I still find these comments to be a valuable insight into the teacher’s approach to studying their own music.

I was very impressed by the caliber of the students who played for Petrit, which included one young student, two teenagers, and two students from West Chester University’s guitar program. Petrit’s comments were always on point and very insightful, save for perhaps a moment during the Bach where he decided to accompany the student rather than comment. I always recommend for anyone to observe master classes. You can always learn something, and this class was no exception. Following are some observations that I found of particular interest, paraphrased in my own words:

Isaac Uy
Etude No. 2 by F. Carulli
Etudes Simples No. 1 by L. Brouwer

  • Find a moment in each piece you enjoy (in response to the student’s seeming lack of enthusiasm for the particular pieces he was playing).
  • Enjoy the movement of the fingers, the fluidity of the mechanism of the hand, or two mechanisms (thumb and fingers). Enjoy the evenness of the rhythm and movement. (in response to a lack of rhythmic precision)
  • Before you start playing, leave a little bit of silence to prepare the room for the music.
  • Slight changes of expectation keep the music alive. Set the audience up for something, and then surprise them. This is called the “violation of expectation.”

Nikolay S. Gavlishin
Fatum by Konstantin Vassiliev

  • Where there is a new phrase, bring new energy.
  • Always think one move ahead. Anticipate where you need to be.
  • Imagine the jazzier sections in that context (in response to the changing nature of the music in the piece, and an unchanging approach to its interpretation).
  • ‘Agitato’ does not necessarily mean ‘faster.’ A pianist might create an agitato effect by desynchronizing the hands, resulting in slightly unsteady broken chords. Waves of crescendo/decrescendo can help create an agitato effect.
  • Prepare for the loneliness of 1 note by approaching it with a decrescendo.
  • Music either has to sound very natural (improvisatorial) or very structured.
  • It is a big deal when there are only a couple of notes played in a dense piece – unusual.

Zachary Grim
Prelude from Lute Suite No. 4, BWV 1006 by J.S. Bach

  • Emphasize the optimism in the opening bars.
  • Allowing the low E to continue to vibrate helps increase the perceived volume all around.
  • Practice dotted rhythms to help train your right hand to play with smaller and more efficient movements.
  • Appreciate the genius of the musical gesture. Let it lift you. Use a light touch.
  • Let your fingers breathe. The slower you can practice, the better.
  • Sometimes there is the need to correct the intonation on the higher frets. Pushing harder can pull a not sharp advantageously.

Robbie Belson
Hommage a Tárrega by J. Turina

  • There is great controversy in this ‘homage,’ in that Tárrega never wrote anything in this style (a very flamenco style).
  • Use rest strokes where possible to evoke a more flamenco feel.
  • Do not hesitate to completely change the position of the hand for rest strokes.
  • Be more expressive in the lyrical portions. ALloe the 16th notes to be longer in contrast to the more aggressive 16ths in the first section.
  • A fermata on a bar line is a small fermata.
  • Allow sound to dissolve, as it concludes and floats away (in response to a resolution in the second section).

Christian Sweger
Presto from Sonata in G minor, BWV 1001 by J.S. Bach

  • This movement has been the fascination and study of many composers. Its phrases are very new, as well as the rhythmic devices employed, which almost sound South American.
  • The right hand does more than just play the notes. It also plays a big roll in stopping unwanted notes. Follow the harmonies and listen for notes that are still singing (and should be silent).

Petrit Çeku will be playing on a joint concert with Rafael Aguirre, another fantastic guitarist, for the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society on March 16, 2012. This concert is a must see. For more information visit the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society.

To hear Petrit Çeku play in the comfort of your own home, check out his album Petrit Ceku: Guitar Recital. It’s a great recording, and a very fine example of his playing.