This was a really interesting morning. The TSMF runs a “fellow” program for singers and collaborative pianists and this morning, as part of that program, there was a masterclass with Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski. There were eight singers and four pianists with seven German songs (Strauss, Schubert and Wolff) and one in Finnish prepared (and preparing a Finnish piece for an Isokoski masterclass reminds me of that Youtube thing of the kitten walking down a line of Alsatian guard dogs). It was classic masterclass format. Each singer sang their piece and then went over fine points; diction, legato, phrasing, breathing, emotion, colour, at Ms. Isokoski’s direction. It was fascinating.
I don’t want to do a blow by blow of over three hours of teaching. So here are my, somewhat unstructured impressions. The standard of singing and piano playing was extraordinarily high. A couple of the pianists in particular were very fine. Well done Steven Philcox! There was so much good singing. Danika Lorén’s performance of Strauss’ Kornblumen (singularly appropriate on so many levels) had Soile searching for things to critique (though of course she found them). A far cry from Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. Elizabeth Polese’s Ständchen was lovely too with especially fine accompaniment from Mélisande Sansoulier(*). But really there weren’t any weak links.
It was fascinating to see what Soile picked up on. German diction was a constant. She was right of course but, honestly, the standard was pretty high to start with. She was also big on using colour rather than dynamics to accent a piece and on not over emoting. She has a lovely way with her. On that last point she said, and perhaps I’m paraphrasing a little, “Think of one of those old wildlife documentaries where the narrator says in a deadpan voice ‘and now the tiger attacks the antelope'”. Wonderful! Always insightful and honest, never cruel. What every teacher should be really.
I really do want to talk about the last number though because it was the Finnish piece; Kilpinen’s Lakeus 1, and I thought it was such a ballsy thing to do. The text is about how the emptiness of the tundra contains all past sorrow and happiness. The music is fiendish. The time signature changes all the time and the singer gets no help from the piano line. It’s a bit like listening to a cold, wet Brian Current. I was really impressed with what baritone Samuel Chen and pianist Amanda van Pelt managed to do with it and their ability to react to feedback was exemplary, actually everybody’s was. Tough, tough music in a fiendishly difficult language made to sound very beautiful indeed.
It was a most enjoyable and instructive morning from start to fin(n)ish.
(*) She should open a bar in competition with Bob Pomakov…Shoeless Mel’s