Master Class: A Young Musician's Perspective on Working with the Masters

We continue our Master Class blog series with a direct account from a participant in a recent Professional Training Workshop led by members of the Berlin Philharmonic. Clarinetist Christine Carter relates some of the lessons she learned while working with members of the renowned orchestra.


As soon as I found out about Carnegie Hall's workshop with the Berlin Philharmonic, I knew I had to be a part of it. Having listened to their legendary recordings since childhood, the orchestra has long been my favorite. But what keeps me hooked goes beyond their punch as an incredible ensemble; they model how to make music relevant to society. Outreach and connection are not subsidiary, but central to the mission of the orchestra. The workshop in February provided an opportunity to witness this connection firsthand.

“[I learned firsthand] that notation can only ever be an approximate guide to a musical realization of the text.”


It didn’t take long for Wenzel Fuchs, principal clarinetist, to dive in. I had only played a couple of minutes of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto before he stopped me and we got to work. I quickly realized that this clarinet class wasn’t going to be about the clarinet (save for a few very effective articulation exercises at the end!), but rather about how to express our musical intentions. “You must speak through the instrument,” “more energy,” he would call out through the Mozart. After playing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf clarinet excerpt, where the cat jumps up the tree, he immediately pointed out that “this is not a plastic tree!” The leaps may be notated at equal intervals, but we must convey the character of a cat far less calculated—a great reminder that the notation can only ever be an approximate guide to a musical realization of the text. How can one accurately notate a terrified cat leaping from a hungry wolf, with all the intricacy of timing?

Following the masterclasses, we were treated to panel discussions with the Berlin Philharmonic guest teachers. What struck me most from speaking with these artists was that they were real people. They are exceptional at their craft, but they must still wake up each day and face the ever-present tasks of practicing and nerve management. They work extraordinarily hard, and this reality made their accomplishments even more inspiring.

“As we [emerging musicians] face our own challenges, we can be motivated by the fact that the hurdles need not hold us back; with tenacity and determination, they can be what drives us forward.”

 

The trumpet player talked about being sick and the subsequent challenge of getting back in shape after forced days off; the trombone player discussed the sacrifices of a touring musician, with practicing replacing sightseeing; the woodwind players discussed their techniques for managing nerves before a concert. For aspiring musicians, this information is golden. As we face our own challenges, we can be motivated by the fact that the hurdles need not hold us back; with tenacity and determination, they can be what drives us forward.

Christine Carter with Wenzel Fuchs and fellow participant and clarinetist Brian Gnojek.

By Christine Carter

 


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