Learn with Carnegie Hall is a treasure trove of past masterclasses and sound advice

United StatesUnited States Learn with Carnegie Hall: Weill Institute of Music, Carnegie Hall, New York. Streaming live each Wednesday and on-demand on Carnegie Hall’s website and its Facebook and YouTube channels. (RP)

Joyce DiDonato and Kayleigh Decker

‘This is not perfect’ stated Daniel Ottensamer matter-of-factly to clarinetist Amer Hasan. Ottensamer, the principal clarinet of the Vienna Philharmonic, was coaching Hasan, now in his senior year at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, in a fiendishly tricky clarinet solo from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. There are other such moments, more entertaining and perhaps even more inspirational, in Learn with Carnegie Hall, but no one summarized the elusive goal of world-class musicians and those who aspire to join their ranks – the pursuit of perfection – better than Ottensamer did in just four words.

Learn with Carnegie Hall was launched on 14 October with an orchestral brass master class hosted by Sarah Willis, hornist with the Berlin Philharmonic, followed by episodes with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, pianist Jonathan Biss and Demarre McGill, the principal flutist with the Seattle Symphony. Upcoming sessions will feature a workshop on orchestral string playing hosted by Joseph Conyers, acting associate principal bass with The Philadelphia Orchestra, and a jazz masterclass with pianist Gerald Clayton.

Carnegie Hall is cramming a lot into these brief programs, which run less than an hour. In addition to the clips from past masterclasses, there is lively and insightful commentary from the moderators, interviews with some of the young artists who are featured in the episodes and real-time question-and-answer sessions. There is also practical advice on how to cope during these difficult times. None is more straightforward than that offered by Demarre McGill: you need to know when to go sit on the couch and relax for an hour, or even a day or two, but equally important is to get up off that couch.

All of the participants in the masterclasses are young; the orchestral musicians were just teenagers at the time the masterclasses took place. They were chosen from the ranks of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, which each year brings together the brightest young players from across the country to participate in a multi-week training residency with leading professional orchestra musicians, a performance in Carnegie Hall under the baton of a word-renowned conductor and concert tours that take them around the world.

Wearing a black tee shirt emblazoned with ‘practice, practice, practice’, Sarah Willis was an ebullient host, but as a teacher she focused on the nuts and bolts, particularly when it came to preparing for an audition. Jacob Mezera, a member of the first NYO-USA in 2013, is seen working on the trombone solo in the ‘Tuba mirum’ from the Mozart Requiem with Dietmar Küblböck, principal trombonist with the Vienna Philharmonic. The then-teenage trombonist’s sound was warm and rich; the most salient advice Küblböck gave him was to just enjoy playing Mozart’s majestic music.

Joyce DiDonato has been presenting masterclasses at Carnegie Hall since 2015. For her, pulling magical, in-the-moment and life-altering musical experience from young singers is a contact sport. Soprano Amalia Avilán Castillo bloomed as DiDonato coached her in ‘Donde lieta usci’ from Puccini’s La bohème, while countertenor Keymon Murrah’s deep, personal connection with the music and the audience in ‘Where’er you walk’ from Handel’s Semele was a transformative experience that resonated even on video. Only 20 when she participated in a masterclass, mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker already demonstrated the silvery voice, poise and musicianship that Carnegie Hall continues to showcase.

The episode hosted by Jonathan Biss differs from the others, as the focus is on solo piano repertoire where everything is found in the score and there is no collaboration with other musicians. It was nonetheless a study in contrasts: sandwiched between segments devoted to late-period works of Beethoven and Brahms, Richard Goode coached Leslie Cain on Debussy’s ‘Ondine’ from Préludes Book II. At the time, Cain, whose specialty is French music of the early twentieth century, was a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Goode describes himself as pedantic, but it is a trait that he shares with Biss, who provided insights into the importance of silence in a music phrase. As with the other hosts, Biss was called upon to offer career advice. In response to being asked what is the most important thing that you can do if you want to become a professional musician, he provided a one-word response: listen.

Carnegie Hall’s commitment to providing a stage to the best artists in the world for 130 years has ensured that equity, diversity and inclusion are part of its DNA. Nonetheless, as Demarre McGill pointed out in his conversation with bassoonist Joshua Elmore (who studied at The Juilliard School and is now working on a Masters in music at the Colburn School in Los Angeles), as young Black men from Chicago and Cleveland respectively, they defied the stereotypes that society placed on them. They are grateful to Carnegie Hall for providing a platform to tell their stories, with the hope that they might inspire other children to pursue their musical dreams.

Rick Perdian 

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