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A Gem in the Music Appreciation Collection

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One of the most nerve-racking events I ever experienced as a music student was participating in master classes. I remember one class in particular vividly; the feeling of slight panic as the master class teacher repeated for the fourth time, “no, not like that, try again.” I could hear the audience shifting in their seats uncomfortably.

Remembering my experience, I cautiously chose several recordings of master classes to listen to in the NLS Music collection. The classes are given by the top-tier artists in the classical music world such as Maxim Vengerov (violin), András Schiff (piano), and Steven Isserlis (cello). I found these classes to be very inspiring, insightful, motivating and educational, a completely different experience than the master classes that I sweated through in college. There are some things that are definitely more enjoyable when you watch (or listen to) someone else do it.

Pianists Gary Graffman (left) and Emanuel Ax.


Music master classes are open lessons given by a master teacher (or a well-respected artist) for advanced student performers in front of an audience. There are also master classes for intermediate level students, usually given by a well-known pedagogue. For these types of master classes, the majority of attendees are music teachers observing how an expert approaches certain musical and technical problems.

For master classes given by performing artists, a few advanced-level students are selected to perform a musical composition that they are familiar with, usually one that they are preparing for a public performance. They will perform their piece for the teacher and audience, typically consisting of other students and a few teachers. The students in the audience usually bring scores of the musical works performed so they can follow along as the teacher works on certain passages in the music.

The idea behind master classes is for everyone in attendance to learn from the artistry, knowledge, experience and insight of the master teacher. Listening to these recordings, it is amazing to observe how the teacher hears every detail. There is nothing that escapes the teacher’s attention: phrasing, style, pacing, tone color, fluctuation in the tempo, inexact rhythm and physical movements of the performer. Some master teachers will work on a single phrase for more than 10-20 minutes, asking the student to play it over and over again. This may not be fun for the student and audience but the artist’s pursuit for perfection is relentless and single-minded. 10 minutes is really a drop in the bucket.

In these recordings, the master class teacher demands refined, yet more imaginative, and expressive performances from the students. In the end, the music flows more naturally, with the focus on technical aspects yielding to musical expression, exaggerated statements put into context and reshaped accordingly, resulting in a simpler and unaffected performance.

These recordings give us a glimpse of the rigorous and painstakingly detailed preparation that classical musicians put into their art. For our readers interested in classical music, even if you are not working on the compositions taught in these classes, you will get a clear idea of what you need to focus on and demand of yourself to create a deeply satisfying performance. Please listen to some of these recordings this week.

Ax, Emanuel, piano DBM03672

Bashmet, Yuri, viola DBM03444

Bron, Zakhar, violin DBM03447

Casals, Pablo, cello DBM00019, 00029, 00092

Glennie, Evelyn, percussion DBM03674

Haitink, Bernard, conducting DBM 03455

Hardenberger, Håkan, trumpet DBM03452

Hough, Stephen, piano DBM03451

Isserlis, Steven, cello DBM03448, 03649

Kovacevich, Stephen, piano DBM03644, 03673

Masur, Kurt, conducting DBM03454

Quasthoff, Thomas, voice DBM03680

Schiff, András, piano DBM 03347, 03650, DBM03679, DBM

Segovia, Andrés, guitar DBM00062

Rodgers, Joan, voice DBM03445

Takács-Nagy, Gábor, string quartet DBM03665, 03675

Maxim Vengerov, violin DBM03661, 03662, 03663, 03676, 03677, 03678

Comments (2)

  1. how do we access those recordings?

    • You have to be a NLS patron in order to check out our library materials or to download from BARD. NLS is a free library service available to U.S. residents and citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or physical disability makes it difficult to read regular print.

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