150: The master class

Mizi Li – Polonaise-fantaisie in A flat major op. 61 (Chopin); Soobin Lee, Sonata in E major op. 109 (Beethoven); Hyejin Joo, Impromptus nos. 3 and 4 D 935 (Schubert). I thought Leslie had lined up a bunch of high school / college aged girls for Rafal, but reading the guide booklet reveals that all three are older than I am (25, 27, 28, respectively).

I was most impressed with Soobin’s playing. Some of that might just be the more straightforward music Beethoven puts forth in his opus 109, compared to the convoluted fantasy Chopin swirls around. But even without making comparisons, Soobin had excellent control, putting that toward thoughtful phrasing.

Mizi played a decent polonaise; it wasn’t as striking as Rafal’s, but it sang better than his did in some segments.

Hyejin pulled off some wonderful fingerwork, mostly in one of the later variations of the third impromptu.



  • “There is a great silence here, which I think you should explore for contrast.” (The ascending figure bridging measures 1-2)
  • “Amplify the upper voice here – you opened strongly, and so when this figure returns in E flat minor, you should let the high note ring out.” (on measure 7)
  • “Emphasize the second beat of the polonaise rhythm.”
  • “This part, between the agitato and the piu lento [the piu lento is the big group of blocked pianissimo chords] might be taken slower to better show the tension that is otherwise lost at your present tempo.”
  • “I understand, it’s sometimes harder to play slower than it is to play quickly.”


  • “Would you like to play with or without the score? [Soobin freezes – and shrugs.] I will take it, then.”
  • “Bravo!” (after both segments of the sonata)
  • “No, I think your tempo is appropriate. This segment (???) has detail and counterpoint, and speeding it up will diminish those.”
  • “I have practiced this sonata for 5 years, and still I dare not perform it.”
  • “I think you have developed your phrases in a very logical way. It is how I would approach the work myself. Congratulations.”


  • “Is that to your liking? … I think it’s going up.” (helping Hyejin adjust the seat)
  • “Let us do some experiments together to see what works to your liking.”
  • “I believe a faster tempo here [in the beginning of the third impromptu] makes the work sound more optimistic.”
  • “Yes, this part is good…thank you.” (stopping her from proceeding to the already well-polished variation 5 in the third impromptu)
  • “Not louder, but with a brighter tone…shorter.” (on the arpeggiated figurations spelling out a line in the upper voice in the fourth impromptu)

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