You play what you’ve been practicing for months. When you finish, the teacher may say “Bravo.” Then the nitpicking begins.
Master classes are a study in preparation, nerves and persistence. It takes courage for students to sign up for a session with a seasoned professional.
If you’ve never been to a master class as a spectator, you’re in for a treat. Thanks to Conservatory Music in the Mountains, this year’s one-hour sessions will be held in Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College and are free.
Master classes are interactive lessons held before an audience. Student musicians sign up, play a portion of a prepared work and steady themselves for professional commentary. The goal is to improve technique and interpretation.
I’m a fan of master classes. Chances are you, too, will identify with the nervous student as he or she, or a chamber group, volunteers to perform and be scrutinized before an audience.
Normally, a guest soloist or musicians from the Festival Orchestra present a master class. Last year, Matt Albert gave newly formed chamber ensembles a chance to spread their musical wings. Listening carefully before commenting, he asked the students to try different approaches to a phrase, tempi or dynamics. He asked questions – about what the other players were doing and/or whose “voice” was the most important.
When soloists step up, they may be asked to concentrate on something as small as a short, two-note motif or experiment overall with interpretation.
A few years ago, violinist Philippe Quint proffered an unusual suggestion to Chloe Trevor playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Concerto in D Major. Early in her performance, Quint interrupted her.
“Imagine a man with a big round belly sitting in a German beer hall listening to this. Now, begin again,” he said.
Odd as it seemed, the image Quint conjured had a purpose, he said later. He thought Trevor was too somber and serious, and he wanted her to lighten up, let the work breathe with a little humor. To accomplish that, he changed her image of her audience.
That was six years ago, and Trevor now has a distinguished solo and orchestral career of her own. Among other assignments, she’s become a full-fledged member of the Festival Orchestra. A former student of Arkady Fomin, the late founder and director of the Conservatory, Trevor is a Dallas native and was a surprise participant in Quint’s Master Class.
Violinist Vadim Gluzman has been another coach in a master class. With the attitude of a kindly parent, Gluzman would kneel down to speak to the youngest players and urge a more confident performance.
You’ll also learn a lot about music in a master class. Sorting out an opening movement phrase by phrase will do wonders for your listening skills.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.