I found this LSO video featuring Michael Tilson-Thomas most illuminating:

It’s long, so I’ve tried to summarise the salient features that were helpful to me:

On Debussy:

“Debussy’s music.. is a glorious experience…Debussy was so aware of the possibility of these kind of great vistas of sound that can come out of the piano using the pedal.

… extreme contrasts of sonorities between high & low sounds in the piano.

It’s really the whole world of Liszt & Chopin and all that but just taken to a much further degree.

There’s a whole kind of physical element that’s enormously fun. eg. Similarity to swimming in a marathon race. There’s a lot of crossing of arms, and reaching over, & flailing around hopefully in the neighbourhood of the right notes!

And that gestural sense is transferred to the orchestra. He was a wonderful orchestrator. But he hated to orchestrate. It was very laborious, of course. He much preferred to explore new territory in the actual notes. The gestures of the notes, is where he thought his biggest original contribution was.”

On music: (He referred to the advice he gives young conductors, but I think it applies equally well to any musician or music student studying a work).

“Ask yourself these questions:

1. What is happening? (phrase structure, melody, harmony, etc etc)

2. Why is it happening? To what purpose is it happening?

3. And what does all of this mean to YOU in particular?

4. What are you gonna DO about it?”

On the boundaries between the solo repertoire, chamber music and the orchestra:

“It is my big mission in life to convince all musicians, very much young musicians, that they must not check their identities as soloists and chamber musicians at the door when they come in to play in the symphony orchestra. They must fiercely hold on to those things even though of course it is much more difficult to achieve those sort of values with as many people as are in an orchestra. But that’s really what makes it fun, and I think it’s the most inspiring thing for the public rather than having a maestro who’s flailing around and people are sort of following or not.”

On good orchestral playing and music-making:

“When you sense that everyone in the orchestra really understands the music and is “in” on all of the “inside story” of the piece, and all these very elegant things are clearly seen in the listening and the reactions to one another to what’s going on in the orchestra… I take the greatest pleasure in that, both as a listener and as a performer; it’s what I try and encourage.”

On the importance of breathing, and the breath, in music:

“One of Piatigorsky’s great lessons [I was accompanist in his (and Heifetz’) class for some years]: ‘If you’re wondering where you should come in, .. breathe and then play.’

The expression of the phrase is already determined by the breath.”

I found it interesting that MTT made references to Skype, the internet and modern technology as teaching tools as well, which by sheer coincidence I had just been talking about a few hours before I watched this video! I can’t help thinking that with all the new friends recently made, for example in the Mahler Chamber Orchestra among others, it shouldn’t be logistically too difficult to arrange masterclasses over Skype on an ongoing basis. One could hook up the computer image to a projector and screen and a good stereo sound system, and a good microphone as well, of course, and it would be possible to be up and running.

Will our internet connection permit it, though? Well, all these things can be ironed out. But the fact is that this CAN be done! 

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