The Maestro Will Hear You Now:PCMS Master Classes

By pcurchack on October 25, 2010

As PCMS’s Education Director, one of the most remarkable perks of my job is the opportunity to watch the world’s great musicians teach Philadelphia’s emerging greats through our series of Master Classes.  So far this year I’ve marveled at Vinson Cole coaching Curtis Institute singers, and David Finckel and Philip Setzer of the Emerson Quartet coaching three chamber groups from the Boyer College of Music at Temple.

What makes these classes so special?  First, we get to hear some awfully good young performers; then we get to watch true masters share their advice with these musicians.  We get to hear how these artists listen, and how they think about their own performances.

Vinson Cole heard arias sung by five soloists.  He talked about how he practiced -- about figuring out your own voice, your own practice techniques (like which vowel is easiest for you to project, and which are more difficult).  He identified sometimes small  -- but always crucial -- issues for each of the singers who performed for him, producing wonderful results from everyone’s performance.  Rather than suggesting “this is what you should do,” he offered thoughts about why he performs something in a particular way, what he thinks about when presenting a certain composer or aria.  Like an editor rather than an author, Cole focused on each singer “keeping true” to his or her own voice.  To me it’s one definition of great teaching — not to impose a “right way” on a student, but to share maturity, expertise and artistry in ways that help students to their own increased artistic mastery.

David Finckel asked a group performing the first movement of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet:  “So what do you know about the Quintet?  What was Brahms going through when he wrote it? For whom did he write it?” and then proceeded to answer the questions, in so doing demonstrating not only the importance of thoroughly understanding a score, but the importance of sophisticated understanding of the context in which a work is composed.  For each of the three chamber ensembles that performed for them, Finckel and Setzer shared their thoughts and suggestions, often building on each others’ comments.  They responded not only to broad issues of interpretation but gave lots of technical advice on such things as on what string to play a passage which is repeated (“be bold and think about tonal color” seemed to be the theme), the ways in which “non-traditional” use of an up-bow or a down-bow can measurably change the resulting sound (for the better), and how a flexible wrist can affect tone quality.

It feels like such a  privilege to have access to our Master Classes.  In his poem Adam’s Curse, Yeats offers these wise words about the effort it takes to craft a work of art:

“A line will take us hours maybe

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught . “

Attending these classes gives life to these words, and reminds me of how difficult, and how breathtaking, beautiful music making is.   Whether you’re a performing musician, a sing-in-the-shower singer, or simply a delighted listener, our Master Classes add an unsurpassable dimension to listening to and appreciating just how magnificent it is to make great music.

Virtually all of our Master Classes are open to the public!  Upcoming Master Classes include:

Marina Piccinini                 Curtis Institute, Field Hall                              Sat, Nov. 6, 2010               2:00-4:00pm

Colin Carr, cello               Temple University , Rock Hall                      Mon, Nov. 22, 2010         11:00-1:00pm

Pamela Frank, violin        Temple Music Prep (1515 Market St)       Fri, Dec.10, 2011               1:00-3:00pm

Ida Levin, violin                 Settlement Music School                              Tue, Dec. 14, 2010            3:00-5:00pm

Peter Stumpf, cello          Settlement Music School                              Tue, Dec. 14, 2010            3:00-5:00pm