Opera Scotland

Master Class 2021Edinburgh International Festival

Read more about the opera Master Class

This was a fascinating event, and something that the Festival ought to repeat, perhaps not annually, but certainly with greater frequency.  Consultation with memories longer than ours suggested that there was once a similar event with Elisabeth Scwarzkopf coaching three students in the Freemasons Hall, a venue that once existed at the east end of George Street.  It was used for the morning recitals until the Queen's Hall came about.  It is tempting to wonder what became of those students.

On this occasion, the charismatic bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff had charge of three of Scottish Opera's current crop of Emerging Artists.  This scheme has generally exhibited embryonic performers of great talent, and the three being put through their paces here were certainly of high quality.  The two singers were mezzo Lea Shaw and baritone Arthur Bruce.  The 'collaborator' at the piano was Toby Hession.  All three reacted well to the gentle, frequently witty, cajoling by the star.

The audience in the Old College Quad basked in mid-day sunshine and concentrated throughout the hour and a quarter of the class.  There was a definite sense of intense concentration from both sides of the footlights in what became a thoroughly rewarding session.

Sometimes master classes can feature music from the standard repertoire, where the coach can be supervising performance of works he may not know that well himself.  That was certainly not the case here.  Each singer took two songs, and all four were from late romantics who might have been mistaken for the 'second' Viennese school.  When Arthur Bruce opened proceedings by announcing the first item to be by Schoenberg he got everyone's attention.  As it happens, his Op2 No2 'Schenk mir' is extremely early (1899) and definitely late-romantic in the tradition of Brahms, Strauss and Mahler.  After a performance (not just a 'run through') the forensic detail with which Quasthoff attacked the piece was fascinating.

Bruce's second song was equally little known, 'Die stille Stadt' by Alma Mahler (1879-1964).

Between these two items, Lea Shaw's first piece was equally rare, 'Ein frisches Baum' by Joseph Marx (1886-1964).  Finally, she gave us a song by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), a composer who has deservedly emerged from the shadows in recent years, though, alas, not yet in Scotland.

In a class led by a singer, the work of the pianist-collaborator (no longer a mere 'accompanist') might have been expected to pass unnoticed.  Not so - Quasthoff was always ready to prompt with suggestions for improvements here or there.  All three performers were able to introduce previously unsuspected subtlety of detail.

This was a hugely rewarding hour for the sun-drenched audience, and the level of concentration seemed for them almost as intense as for the three young performers, who must have been exhausted by the end.  The Festival must do more of this kind of thing in future.

Performance DatesMaster Class 2021

Map List

Old College Quad | Edinburgh

28 Aug, 12.00

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha