Pinchas Zukerman and David Aaron Carpenter

A year of mentoring

Overview (Chapter 1 of 5)

One of today’s most respected violinists, Pinchas Zukerman, has a special love for the viola. In choosing as his protégé the highly gifted string player David Carpenter, Zukerman has found someone who can benefit, as he has, from the rich interchange between the two instruments.

Pinchas Zukerman and David Aaron Carpenter

A year of mentoring

First impressions (Chapter 2 of 5)

An Interview with David Aaron Carpenter Early in the Mentorship

When you were first contacted by Rolex about the possibility of being a protégé, what was your reaction?
I was sitting at a computer cluster in Princeton University, finishing up a term paper. An email appeared in my in-box, and I vividly remember resisting opening it before I handed in my paper. When I opened it, a heading with Rolex appeared. I had heard about the Rolex Arts Initiative at the Verbier music festival, but I didn’t know what the process entailed. In the email, the Rolex Arts Initiative asked me to submit videos, CDs, and press materials about my work. It was a huge task — very similar to my college application to Princeton — but, in the end, it proved to be an instructive exercise, bringing back many musical memories spanning years of my work.

Later, when I learned that Mr Zukerman was the mentor for the Initiative’s music category, I became ecstatic: studying with him has been a lifelong goal.

When you were told you had been selected as the protégé, what were your first thoughts?
I still don’t believe it. Everyone associated with this process — from the other finalists, who, in my opinion, are two of the finest violinists of our generation, to the organizers — has contributed to making this one of the greatest experiences for me. For a violist to be given this opportunity is precedent-setting. I feel as though the mentorship will help enable me to pursue a dream of having a solo career.

What do you hope to learn during the mentoring year?
Mr Zukerman has a plethora of knowledge that will guide and develop my technical and musical skills. I hope this will allow me to achieve the next level of my playing.

Do you think there are any similarities between Mr Zukerman’s approach to music and your own?
What Mr Zukerman emphasizes as a teacher has become essential to my understanding of music. With his discerning knowledge of bow-arm technique, I feel as if a new viola tone can be achieved. After seeing Mr Zukerman at his summer music festival, I was exposed to a new style of playing and approach to musical sensibility.

Being a protégé will mean that the mentorship will make certain demands on your time. How will this fit in with your studies at Princeton?
Fortunately, since my freshman year of high school, I have been almost impelled to learn how to balance both music and academics as a full-time student. Next year as a senior at Princeton, I hope to continue this balancing act. At this point in my career, I don’t yet have management or 100 to 120 concerts to play a year. The mentorship will be crucial in terms of learning and developing my repertoire. This is a good time to prepare for a career in the unforgiving, though supremely gratifying world of classical music. As an aspiring viola soloist in a sea of traditional solo instruments, you have to come out with a “bang”!

Pinchas Zukerman plays the viola. Does that make him particularly attractive and appropriate to you as a mentor?
I am so lucky to have the opportunity to study with a legend of the viola and violin. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor in terms of the musical and physical understanding he has of both instruments.

Pinchas Zukerman and David Aaron Carpenter

A year of mentoring

The selection (Chapter 3 of 5)

The questions that ultimately confront any young musician considering a mentorship with Pinchas Zukerman is "How much do you want it?" and "How much is it worth to you?"

One of the premiere violinists and violists of his generation, as well as the charismatic music director of Ottawa's National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra, Zukerman offers a calibre of wisdom best appreciated by those entering artistic maturity. Such were the three candidates selected by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative for his consideration – two violinists and one violist, each of them extremely talented, none of them strangers to strong-minded instruction, but still knowing that the more self-regenerating knowledge they have at the beginning of their careers, the longer their creative lives will be.

"The big question," says 59-year-old Zukerman as he considered the difficult task of choosing who would be his protégé, "is how far that person can reach."

In order to find that out, Zukerman invited the three finalists to play for him in two periods separated by several months, meaning that the selection process was longer than in other disciplines of the Rolex Arts Initiative.

Ultimately, he chose violist David Aaron Carpenter, who at 21, is already an intense performer and impressive technician. He won the 2006 Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition, which has launched numerous high-profile careers. Carpenter’s intellectual curiosities are such that his senior thesis at Princeton University is on comparative democracies in Turkey, France and Romania. What creates a natural connection with Zukerman, though, are Carpenter's years in the Juilliard School pre-college division leading a double life as a violinist and violist. Zukerman has done much the same, claiming that one instrument informs the other.

"The first time I met him [through Rolex]," says Carpenter, "everything clicked. And after two weeks with him in Ottawa, I felt a huge difference in my playing. Everything he did just fit."

Pinchas Zukerman and David Aaron Carpenter

A year of mentoring

The mentoring method (Chapter 4 of 5)

"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

Pinchas Zukerman and David Aaron Carpenter

A year of mentoring

Interview with the mentor (Chapter 5 of 5)

An Interview with Pinchas Zukerman

Why did you choose David Carpenter as your protégé?
The short of it is that he's extremely talented. More than anything, he's the kind of person who intrigues me. He has tremendous curiosity. He's way ahead of his years. It's not just his ability and coordination with the instrument – plus his beautiful sound – but his curiosity. It's wonderful to teach somebody like that. He's so beguiling and so easy – and a very kind person.

More specifically, what do you have to offer him?
Where I can help him is in understanding some of my experiences in life and in music, to communicate that deep understanding and tradition. He understands everything so fast. He does everything so quickly.

What attracts you to the mentoring process?
I didn't just [recently] become a teacher. I've always been fascinated from my early days, my early 20s, with what makes teaching work. Patty Kopec [Zukerman's Manhattan School associate] and I evolve as teachers every week. We talk about the kids. We're concerned about their lives, their thinking. She has more patience than I do. She says: `Pink, give it a minute.' I'm very impetuous.

Do you also talk about non-musical matters with your students?
Yes. They talk amongst themselves a lot. I find, though when there's a mentor [present], they hesitate. They get confused. It's hard. It's a long, long journey. Each case has to be handled with kid gloves – and time. I've seen way too many people not make it.

What's the single most important quality you want to convey?
Honesty! At the end of the day, you play that Bach sonata and you have to be honest with that page. If you're not honest – in my book – you're finished. Imitation is good as long as you do it properly. But don't make a copy of yourself. Be true to your own DNA.

It seems that many of your teaching relationships never really end.
They're my friends. They remain my friends.