The Masterclass

During four happy and valuable years of study at the Royal College of Music, London, one occasion stands out in my memory - it was a Masterclass with the legendary Nadia Boulanger and I sang a little aria by Monteverdi. I still remember her incredible energy - she was already well into her 70s - and my sense of wonder as she opened the door to the endless possibilities of allowing one's imagination full rein. This meeting of mature experience and well honed skills with young, emerging talent is what a masterclass is all about.

Over many years of making music I have accumulated a vast amount of experience which I now have great pleasure passing on to anyone who will listen and so masterclasses play a very important part in my schedule. I am also attached to three of the London colleges: the Royal College of Music, where I am Prince Consort Professor of Singing; the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where I hold the post of Vocal Performance Consultant; and the Royal Academy of Music where I am a member of the Vocal Faculty. I have given classes in many corners of the globe in many auditoriums and conservatoires and have often thought it a pity that they cannot be shared with a wider audience, especially with other academic institutions for whom they would be a valuable reference and research tool. So, when I visited the Escuela de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid some years ago, I was delighted to find that all my classes - and indeed those of every other visiting professor - were being videoed for just such a project. And now it is all up and running at Magister Musicae.

Masterclasses can take many forms and are almost limitless in possible subject matter.

They can be specific:
The Oratorios of Handel and Bach; Recitative from Monteverdi to Verdi; 20th Century English Song; Art Songs inspired by the writings of a particular poet - Shakespeare for instance; Gypsy Songs and Folk music; the list is endless.

Or they can be general:
Songs and lieder; operatic arias; songs from the shows - you name it and it will be on offer somewhere.

Personally I prefer the former, as a certain amount of discipline is necessary to give of one's best as a teacher, but my only real requirement is that the music is well presented and memorised, and, above all, that it is all INTERESTING!

Above all, I feel that the most important aspect of teaching interpretation and presentation can only achieved if the student's performance is given from memory. Only then is the singer free to explore their imagination to the full and to take us, the audience, with them into their vision of the composer's own world. In this sense, the world of song can be as dramatic as any opera. You only have to think of Schubert's Erlkönig to realise that - four characters, all beautifully delineated with one vocal line and one piano, and no need for costumes, make up, lights or scenery. I'm a great believer in the adage that 'the pictures are better on radio' and the same is true when comparing the world of song with the world of opera - the 'productions' can be as controversial as you want to make them and the 'actors' always look exactly as you imagined they would!

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