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Nicola Benedetti Master Class at the Royal College of Music, London

Ilyas Khan

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Published: February 10, 2014 at 1:25 PM [UTC]

The Royal College of Music, nestled just behind the Royal Albert Hall, and up the road from the Natural History Museum, is a handsome building. Perhaps one of the finest of its period in London. And on a clear frosty morning in early February, it was shown in the early sunlight at its best as young students swaddled in their scarves and bulky overcoats arrived for their classes. With term in full swing, the highly praised series of masterclasses also got underway, and I was lucky enough to be in the audience to witness Nicola Benedetti conduct the most enjoyable session that I have attended in a very very long time.

JackiwNeither of the three students who were the lucky participants will forget their one to one tuition (witnessed, of course, in the presence of a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd). The programme was held in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, which is worth the visit on its own. The central aisles (stalls) are flanked with largely Victorian style portraits of various past directors and noted graduates of the Academy, looking over proceedings rather sternly, and the absolutely magnificent pipes of the organ (mostly hidden behind a screen on this occasion) dominates the backdrop of what is described as the largest of the in-house concert halls.

I had arrived a little early, and as I wandered over to the cafe, I walked past individual class rooms, echoing to the sound of earnest young practitioners being put through their paces.

The format of the master class revolves around a 90 minute session, divided into 3, followed by a good half an hour to 45 minutes of Q+A with full audience participation. The students played through a Brahms Sonata (no1 in G minor, op 78), Chausson (Poeme op 25), and, lastly, Ysaye Sonata no 5 in g major. The former two were accompanied on piano by Alison Rhind.

Nicola was engaged and absolutely focused on each of the three students, with comments and advice that had the audience held in rapt attention throughout the process. Anyone who has attended such sessions will understand and appreciate what I mean when I say that the contrast between Nicola's replaying a piece or a phrase provided incredible feedback which could not possibly be captured in words - although Nicola was careful not to be inattentive on that score.

My favourite session was the last one (Student was Emily Sun who I am sure we will be hearing from in the future). Nicola's advice to play with "colour" and to "caress the music" came alive in the later bars.

The RCM was its best that morning, and Nicola at her sparkling brilliant idiosyncratic best as well !

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