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Eugene Levinson @ David Gage

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by Nick Ara, Apr 21, 2005.


  1. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    It's funny, but with each passing clinic I attend at Gage's I learn how many different ways an artist can approach a presentation like this.

    After Eugene Levinson formally introduced himself (as if no one in attendance knew who he was!) to the audience of about 30 bassists, he said there's not much he can talk about just by himself, alone. Instead, he introduce 4 students of "classical" bass, all of whom seemed to be studying with well know teachers.

    Each student played a prepared piece, typically a movement from a Baroque composer, after which time Mr. Levinson politely critiqued the performance. He would then replay the student's piece, as only Eugene Levinson could.

    To say he was awesome would be to tirvialize beyond belief.

    Then, each student would replay all or part of a specific passage requested by Mr. Levinson and in almost every case, substantial improvement was immediatley evident. Wow!

    That was pretty much how the 2+ hours went, with each student up on "stage" for approximately 30 minutes.

    I think the highlight was the last bassist to perform, a young many from North Carolina who studying with Mr. Levinson at Juilliard. He played a movement from his Masters recital and blew everyone away. Then, we learned that he was recently accepted into the Juilliard doctoral program, a feat Mr. Levinson said was extremely difficult for any musician, and downright rare for a bassist. I didn't catch the student's name or the piece he played (couldn't hear spoken words too well from the back of the room...that'll teach me to show up late!).

    Summary:
    Levinson is a genius, or a freak of nature, or both.
    He's an excellent instructor, mixing humor and wisdom.
    He spent equal amounts of time discussing technique and emotion....how to think like the composers thought (ex. Bach's compositions at one point were strongly influenced by the folk dancers who caught his attention at that time, so the arco style should be "dancerly", that sort of thing).

    And he's a kind and gentle man. I asked him if, when the time came for him to retire, he would recommend me for the postion of Principle - NY Phil, he just smiled.

    What a guy!
     
  2. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York
    No question Eugene is an amazing teacher, as his students do really well at auditions. But, as for being a nice guy, I think you may have just caught him on a good day. I have heard some fairly serious horror stories, my favorite being my friend who played for Mr. Levinson at a master class. After he played his piece, Eugene just sat back and said, "there are two problems with your playing, the left hand, and the right hand"...Thats a pretty humiliating thing to seriously say to someone in front of an auditorium full of people.

    Also, when a kid showed up for the J-ard undergrad auditions this year with Kouss prepared instead of a baroque sonata, Eugene reportedly went ballistic on him.
     
  3. Posting stuff like this, IMO, is not appropriate on a public forum.
    Mr. Levinson is a brilliant player/teacher.
    He's probably much too busy playing great music and passing on his knowledge to his students to be worried about what someone, he doesn't even know exists, bad-mouthing him.
     
  4. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    A good part of my formal education was in the late 60's / early 70's as a fine arts major in NYC. While I was a better than average student, it didn't take too long for me to realize that I was hopelessly outclassed by the truely gifted in the program. I learned a lot while suffering from the outlandishly cruel behavior from most of the professors, all prominant in their own right.

    I think that's how it goes, even today, in the arts. Bad behaviour, cynicism, sarcism, personal attacks, and in one case I can recall, even violence can break out at critiques....and that's by the professors! It sort of reminds me of Simon Cowell on American Idol, except that he's actually quite tame by comparison.

    Personally, I don't think I'd go to those extremes if I were a famous instructor. But the creative process is, after all, deeply rooted in emotion and our passions. In a way I can understand an professors frustration, especially when faced with a potentially brilliant student who may not performing up to his/her potential. It can drive a sane person mad.

    I'm a few years older than most musicians I know, and probably most of the bassists on TBDB. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of younger folks are more "thin skinned" these days than when I was coming up. It would take a lot to get me upset (believe me, my critiques were DEADLY!) and I think that today many students would probably drop out of the course if they were spoken to that way.

    It may not be "right", and you can call it "tough love" perhaps. I'm not like Paula Abdul, but maybe more like Anthony Jackson. Wait. Isn't he a bassist? I rest my case. :eek:
     
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The beauty of the old school approach (of which I survived), is that if you can't make it past the training, you'll never make it in the business.
     
  6. My teacher studied with Eugene Levinson at Julliard and has only possitive things to say about him and his teaching. He is however apprarently a very strict no BS teacher who always pushes students to do better. My teacher claims that Eugene does not consider himself a prodigious player, but instead has gotten to where he is through discipline and hard work. I havn't heard Mr. Levinson my self, but if my teacher's playing is any indication, he is a monster. Based on what I have read and heard, Eugene Levinson is the link between the quintesential orchestral bassist and the brilliant soloist, not compromising either type of playing for the other.

    Jon
     
  7. Has anyone checked out his book, "The School of Agility?" Is it a complete method, or strictly etudes?
     
  8. I have a copy - from the preface:

    "The main aim of this book is to introduce the modern bass player to a wide range of fingerings that will enhance the left hand's agility upon the fingerboard of the bass…"

    The main title is "The School of Agility" - but the sub-title says it all - "A Technical Method of the Scale System for String Bass".

    - Wil
     
  9. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    Also from Mr. Levinson's clinic:

    He held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers saying: "these are the workers", then held up his right hand (holding his bow) and said "this is the artist".

    Bow notwithstanding, I think that it's fair to say the same about pizzacato as well. :smug:
     
  10. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York


    I'm not "bad-mouthing" anyone; simply passing along what I have heard. AS I SAID EARLIER, Mr. Levinson is an amazing player and there is certainly a reason he is such a highly sought-after teacher. No offense intended.
     
  11. ;) I don't agree. If the story told by EFischer is true, then there is a place for critics. Hope I never hear such a comment at a master-class.
     
  12. I'm not asking you to agree. I said in my opinion.
    I'd hate to see someone thinking of possible study with Levinson, getting scared off just because of a 'word of mouth' scenario.
    Also I have to agree with Levinson on his reaction to the Koussevitsky...i'm a jazzer and i'm sick of it. I can imagine how he feels. :rollno:
     
  13. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York
    Mr. Levinson is a great teacher and I enjoyed my lesson with him very much, however rough he may be. However, as a student, I find that teacher decision, while still very personal, has, in my experience, been rightly guided by "word of mouth". Hearing similar stories from many people allows you to gain a feel for a teacher before taking a lesson with them and can also give you insight into how the teacher behaves in a long term situation as opposed to a single lesson.

    Perhaps any student who could be "scared off" by tales of other's experiences is not ready to deal with such difficult experiences in their own studies.
     
  14. Actually he is still (according to my teacher) fond of the Koussevitzky concerto. His reported reaction probably has more to do with the fact that the student didn't follow instructions, and came with the wrong type of piece prepared. I am playing Movement II in a week or so, so I have to believe that everyone still loves it and wants to hear it ;)

    Jon
     
  15. BGreaney

    BGreaney Guest

    Mar 7, 2005
    I concur...he definitely loves the Koussevitzky. Saw one of his students play at a masterclass this year and he played the hell out of it.
     
  16. I had the privilege of studying with Mr. Levinson at the Aspen Music Festival last year. I've heard most of the so-called "horror stories," and I can honestly say they're not true. Don't get me wrong, he's a tough teacher with tough standards.

    My teacher in Seattle has his own opinions about Levinson, but he was kind enough to withhold them from me as I made the decision to spend my summer in Levinson's studio. He believes, as I do, that students should discover for themselves what kind of teacher they like, and what they don't like.

    After five lessons, I concluded that he was not right for me. He wanted to take away all of my previously learned habits and skills and start from scratch. While that might work for some players, I feel that I have a good background already. He was very stubborn about certain changes in position and fingering that I wasn't too keen on (trust me, I tried them. They just don't work for everybody).

    I think anybody seriously interested in studying with him should, at the very least, see him in a master class. A private lesson would be better. He's a very strong taste to handle, and he's not for everybody. I know that his students are very loyal and love him to death. I respect the man immensely, and I understand his methodology of teaching is well-established as being effective. If anything, I'm glad I got to meet the guy. He's a legend.

    [​IMG]
    Me and Mr. Levinson, at the conclusion of our final lesson.
     
  17. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    Well said, PaulCannon.

    The chemistry between student and teacher is often overlooked. As in life itself, much of a relationship is based on personalities, emotions, preconceptions, and expectations.

    Wow. Did I really say that?

    (becoming profound in my old age!)