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Sir Colin Davis Conducting Masterclass

Brahms Tragic Overture, Op.81
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish) – First movement
Symphony No.1 in B flat minor – Second movement London Symphony Orchestra

Pavel Kotla
Robert Tuohy
Matthew Wood

Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Monday, July 16, 2007


Can conducting be taught? We have attended with pleasure and profit numerous Master Classes for singers and instrumentalists, in UK and abroad, but never before one for aspiring conductors.

Sir Colin coached three young men, each with a substantial conducting CV and showing confidence in confronting the LSO before an audience.

LSO St Lukes is a marvellous venue,a bombed historic Hawksmoor Church, beautifully transformed, superb acoustically and satisfying to the eye. The LSO took up most of the floor space and we occupied some eight rows of seats. We were supplied with two video screens so that we could watch the conductors from front as well as behind.

The LSO seemed to know the selected works pretty well and the initial run throughs were really up to acceptable concert standard (there must have been some pre-preparation?).

Sir Colin gave hints quietly (we had to strain to hear) and small homilies, for which he sometimes excused himself for possible embarrassment, e.g. that beating time goes against music. The music itself was subjected to numerous repetitions and small adjustments of tempi and expression and (not always assimilated) stick technique. For us, an adverse consequence was that we were left not wanting to hear the Brahms Tragic Overture again for a long time...

There was a generally good "feeling" during the evening, but I came away having actually learnt very little (in complete contrast with, say, Francois le Roux's class at Guildhall School of Music and Drama last week) and wondering whether Sir Colin's willing victims got much more from it all?

At least they will all have his illustrious name to add the extensive lists on their CVs of those they had worked with...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Alan Pickering's quotes from Sir Colin's interventions in Classical Source

Some comments:

Two Masterclasses

I enjoyed reading this and it seems a fair description of your experience.  Taken together, the question that both articles flagged up in my mind was “who were the audience members?”   

The Le Roux class was held in a GSMD lecture theatre with, clearly, a good proportion of students looking on, and he was obviously keen to make sure that everyone benefited from the occasion.   

Had the real work been done by Davis in preparatory sessions that you didn't see?    Was it largely a “public” audience, whom he did not feel needed to be drawn in or involved in any way?     With an expensive orchestra sitting on the platform, was the priority to maximize the practical experience?  (RAM singers who have worked with Davis always refer to the experience as having produced a deep influence on them, but I have never had the chance to discuss his work with student conductors.)

Serena Fenwick


Masterclasses for soloists or small ensembles are a fly-on-the-wall form of teaching. With the usual caveats that one needs able students, much can obviously be achieved that benefits also the audience. Hence they are prescribed, or heavily recommended, to students as part of their normal work. The inspirational quality of the teacher, and his or her ability to spot ways of improving on the fly, are also crucial to the success of these occasions.

By definition, it is much harder to find a platform as a conductor. SF's comment: 'With an expensive orchestra sitting on the platform, was the priority to maximize the practical experience?' is I think perfectly appposite. Plus, with those 'student conductors' already clearly making their way within the profession, the real-life situation of conducting a major orchestra to ANY audience must be very important. Much as squad players in a sports team are brought along to major tournaments, or given a run-out in friendly matches...

Ying Chang