In Memory of Violinist & Pedagogue Robert Mann (1920-2018)
Violinist Elly Suh pays tribute to her late-teacher and mentor, Juilliard Quartet founding violinist, Robert Mann
Have you ever thought of how nature worked in relation to music? What about how the sights and sounds of animals shaping how we play and interpret our music? These were some of the teaching methods of the esteemed violinist and pedagogue Robert Mann, who was a founding member of the world-renowned Juilliard String Quartet who passed away in 2018 at the ripe old age of 97.
Korean-American violinist Elly Suh, longtime student of Robert Mann, shares her experiences learning under the great violinist and pedagogue.
Violinist & Pedagogue Robert Mann – In Memoriam (1920-2018)
Remembering Mr. Mann...
I feel profoundly blessed and grateful to have known Mr. Mann and to have studied with him from 2008 to 2013 at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.
He was larger than life — a wonderful, supportive, generous teacher. Nothing I write can adequately capture his memory, but I will try my best adding my voice to the many others who have shared their love and gratitude for our beloved teacher Mr. Mann.
As all of his students know, his boundless spirit and passion were infectious. You could just feel how the music lived and breathed inside him. Simply being in his presence changed the way you played even before he uttered a single word.
When he spoke, he expressed ideas in such a clear and organic way that they not only made perfect sense, but also grabbed your imagination and pulled at your heart. He imparted to us his belief that we must treat contemporary music with the same care and respect that we give to the works of the old masters, and that we should approach the familiar standard repertoire with the same sense of discovery as if we were hearing it for the first time.
I was often mesmerized by the way he would talk about nature and the way it made him think about music. He described how nature can teach us about shaping a phrase or give us an understanding of sculpting the build-up to a climax. I remember the vivid way he would illustrate standing on a cliff taking in the rhythm of the growing waves crashing in below; or how a metronome marking mostly applies only to the first measure because music should be alive – that when we feel chaos, anxiety, exhilaration, our heart naturally beats faster, and even a calm heart at rest will pulse with some fluctuation.
Once, during a lesson on the third movement of Bartok’s solo sonata, we came to a passage evoking bird calls. He began to recount his memories of camping out in the forest, lying awake in complete solitude in the silence before dawn. In the early quiet darkness one can start to hear the faint call of the first bird waking up, then slowly, one by one other birds join in the chorus. After painting this atmosphere and urging me to one day experience it myself, he had me play the passage again. Unsatisfied, he responded: “Birds don’t vibrate!” I tried again. Almost as if casually musing out loud, he remarked with twinkling eyes, “Birds also don’t sing out of tune.” With as much ease as he would transport me with his story-telling, he could just as quickly nudge me back with his sheer honesty and sense of humor.
I came out of every lesson invigorated, more determined and inspired to find meaning in each phrase and each note I played. He taught us to constantly strive to uncover the intent behind the details in the music and what it is trying to say. How was it possible that Mr. Mann, even into his nineties, was the one radiating his inexplicable energy onto me, and not the other way around? To me he was magic, and I couldn't imagine a day he might no longer be with us – but he will live forever through his music and the generations of lives he touched. All of us who have had the honor and privilege of studying with him will carry his memory with us always, with every note we breathe.
Mr. Mann lived a fully spirited and meaningful life, and is the biggest inspiration to me in the way I lead mine.
Thank you, Mr. Mann!
2015: CELEBRATING MR MANN'S 95TH BIRTHDAY
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Praised as “a sensitive and absorbing interpreter” (Musical America), Korean-American violinist Elly Suh stands out as a performer whose musical charm, interpretative originality, and unique creative vision breathe fresh life to concert stages around the world. Suh is celebrated as one of the leading Paganini interpreters of her generation, and is currently undertaking a major recording project of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin. Reflecting her modern creative spirit and innovative approach to music, the Paganini Vault project is a narrative audio-visual album – serving as just one example of Suh’s subtle but compelling expansion of the traditional boundaries and expectations of classical music, as we move further into the 21st century.
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