Cello Masterclass by Gleb Stepanov

Gleb Stepanov is a young Russian cellist born in Leningrad. He studied in Saint Petersburg Music School under I. Bogdanovich; and also in Moscow Central Music School under the tutelage of Professor L. Evgrafov. He currently serves as an assistant to Professor N. Gutman at the Moscow State Conservatory. He is currently the artistic director of the Music Festival of Crimea. He is an active performer and had performed in various countries and places around the world like Italy, France, Holland, USA and many more. He also have given masterclasses in countries like Spain, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, and Russia before coming to Malaysia. We were very lucky to have Mr. Stepanov on 27th January 2015 for a cello masterclass. During this masterclass, Mr. Stepanov conversed mostly in Russian while Kenneth Teh, a young Malaysian pianist who studied in Russia, was there to help us translate what Mr. Stepanov had said during the whole masterclass.

The students who were chosen to participate in this masterclass were Sophia Ng Min and Stephen Tseu Tze Jie. Sophia will be playing Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 Bourree I and II, and Gigue without accompaniment and Stephen will be playing the first movement of Elgar‘s cello concerto with Evelyn Chow as his accompanist.

The first thing that caught my attention during the whole masterclass was “Wow, the person giving the masterclass today is so young!” I guess I was not used to see such a young chap giving masterclasses. I was even more surprised at how he conducted the masterclass, especially when he plays certain passages of the piece to demonstrate.

Sophia Ng, Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 Bourree I and II, and Gigue (unaccompanied)
Sophia Ng, Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 Bourree I and II, and Gigue (unaccompanied)

After Sophia played the piece by Bach, Mr. Stepanov said that any musician using the Urtext version of any scores, there should be more dynamics and character while playing, especially when playing Baroque dances. Trying more combination of dynamics especially when there is a repeated passage. And seeing that this is a Bach piece, he suggested using more rapid bowing technique while playing. The other suggestion given by Mr. Stepanov was to play closer to the bridge of the cello, thus producing a better sound. Another way to have a better sound was to place the bow parallel to the strings. All these things that were mentioned by him, was to try out different tone colors in the music for the audience to listen to.

Stephen Tseu, Elgar Cello concerto, Op. 85 (First and second movement)
Stephen Tseu, Elgar Cello concerto, Op. 85 (First and second movement)

Mr. Stepanov gave a lot of emphasis on dynamics. He mentioned that dynamics is one important key in giving music its character. He suggested that using more vibrato but never increase energy while going towards the sf with a crescendo. To reduce usage of energy, he suggested not using too much bowing. He emphasize to pay attention to the bowing. Through dynamics and character, he uses them to shape phrasing and musicality into a piece. He wants more freedom while playing never ending legato lines.

I was very intrigued by the masterclass especially from an insight of a very young but acclaimed musician. It is actually different to see different ways of injecting musicality into any music!

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

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