"Mentoring string players is a journey," says Zukerman. "How long? A lifetime! It's a combination of knowledge, knowledge, knowledge and knowledge. It comes from tradition. For example, we look back at Leonardo da Vinci again and again. How else do you learn? The students have to have patience. I say, you live to be 85. What's three years? What's the percentage? It's nothing! It's two per cent of your life'.”
Zukerman takes pupils back to fundamentals, such as discussing how a string vibrates, or the simple act of opening the instrument's case, which he likens to starting off on the right foot. "We have four to six weeks of basics," he says. "And it works."
From there, the Zukerman method includes eight or so face-to-face lessons between September and May (whether in Ottawa, where the NAC Orchestra is based and where Zukerman makes his home, on the road during his tours, on weekends or in country houses), plus four to five video-conferences, which Zukerman recommends strongly. Because they're recorded, they can be revisited numerous times. Any learning relationship with him also involves work with his like-minded colleague, Patinka Kopec, at the Manhattan School of Music. The process, he explains somewhat abstractly, entails analysing the particular province of left- and right-brain activities – splitting them apart, in a manner of speaking – and then putting them back together. Zukerman uses tennis analogies. "The brain will tell you what the arm has to do both in the backhand stroke and the forehand. But in music, the end result isn't a ball going over the net. It's an incredible, complete, physical manifestation that's totally indigenous to who we are as people," he says. "Everybody will sound a little different, synonymous with your DNA, language, environment and everything we know."
Zukerman realizes he is asking a lot of his students. He even asks them to cut back on hard-won music engagements for the simple reason that absorbing changes is difficult when they are under pressure to prepare for recitals. It's just for a year or two, Zukerman says, "though if you've got the Berlin Phil, you'd better do it." Too many concerts is not a problem for Carpenter. He does not have a calendar full of recital engagements.
Carpenter says Zukerman is offering precisely what he needs. "I've relied more on talent than musical knowledge. Especially for the viola, he has so many great ideas – what the sound production should be," he says. "When [Zukerman] played the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic in the spring of 2007, I felt like there was a boom box inside his instrument. I've never heard a sound like that. The bow, the fluidity, it just worked. My brother and I were in the audience; we just looked at each other the whole time and said: `Wow! This is what we should aspire to be'."
Extracted from an article written by David Patrick Stearns for Mentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2006/2007 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative