Piano Masterclass with Dr. Mario Santoso

Dr. Mario Santoso earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Abilene Christian University, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from West Virginia University and his Master of Music Degree from Indiana University. He studied with Mrs. Susiana Aditjhan and Mrs. Iravati M. Sudiarso at Yayasan Pendidikan Musik Music School in Jakarta during his previous training. Dr. Santoso is currently serving as the deputy of Musicology, Music Theory, Composition and Research at Universitas Pelita Harapan Conservatory of Music. He was also crowned as the prizewinner of the Abilene Concerto Competition. He had been playing in recitals and doing masterclasses in Indonesia. He serves as a judge for the Jakarta Conservatory of Music National Piano Youth Compeition, UPH National Piano Competition, Indonesia Piano Competition and Steinway Youth Piano Competition.

The Institute was happy to have Dr. Mario’s presence for this masterclass! The students chosen after a round of auditions to play for this masterclass are Ho Sue Jin, Nicole Chan Kit Mun and Wun Chern Zhi. Respectively, they performed the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F, K533, Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca and the first movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35.

Ho Sue Jin, Mozart’s Sonata in F, K533, 1st mvt
Ho Sue Jin, Mozart’s Sonata in F, K533, 1st mvt

Dr. Mario mentioned from the start that there are 5 important elements which are melody, harmony, texture, form and rhythm. He mentioned that the hardest section in art, is about interpretation. The best way to do it, is using those 5 elements above. Dr. Mario said that a pianist who have good piano playing skills, the sound produced should not sound like a piano, but transferred into another instrument(s), like in Sue Jin’s case, into a voice and the orchestra.

The one phrase I will remember from this masterclass will be, “the music score is always there, but it is up to you to make it sound alive”, hence where own interpretation comes in. Like what Dr. Mario said, “We do not know how Mozart played so many years ago, so, don’t follow the score 100%!” He said another way to improve in interpretation while playing is to have more flexibility in the beats. He suggested Sue Jin to count 1 beat per bar, instead of 2 beats per bar. To play like the style of the late 18th century, Dr. Mario mentioned to use more of arm strength. This gives a touch of simple elegance to the piece.

Nicole Chan: Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca
Nicole Chan: Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca

For Nicole’s piece, he said the same thing to have more flexibility in the beats while playing, to think 1 beat per bar instead. Music is a flow of emotion, so, Dr. Mario said as musicians, we need to prepare the sound in our mind, before playing it out, so that we know how we really want the sound to be like. For this particular piece, Dr. Mario said to take note of the pedal as it will either work wonders for the piece, or crash and burn, depending on how you use the pedal.

Wun Chern Zhi, Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35, 1st mvt
Wun Chern Zhi, Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35, 1st mvt

I was amazed with Chern Zhi playing, the amount of strength used while playing this particular piece! Dr. Mario on the other hand was afraid that Chern Zhi hurt himself while playing with that amount of strength. In this point, Dr. Mario suggested that we use more arm strength to have a bigger sound while playing. Even using the pedal in a certain way could help facilitate an imitation of a crescendo. One thing that Dr. Mario said was to not combine emotion with tempo. This will make us lose the original tempo and steal some time while playing when the composer did not write that in the score.

From this masterclass, and many other past masterclasses, I can see the importance of thinking before you play. Think what sound and tone color you would like to produce, what interpretation you want the audience to capture. Playing before thinking all of these is only an accident! I can see how this would work not only for pianists but for instrumentalists and vocalists too!

This article was written by Mabel Soong, 2nd year student of the B. Music Classical program.

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