Photo of Leonard Bernstein, Pacific Music Festival
PMF Oboe section with Roy Carter, Principal Oboe LSO, 1990
Back in 1990, I was offered a great opportunity with the London Symphony Orchestra: to travel to Japan for a month for the inaugural Pacific Music Festival under Leonard Bernstein, with coaching, sectionals, mentoring and concerts. It was excellent. As my companions and I (8 or 9 people) travelled with the LSO as our mentors, it was like being part of a Fellowship Scheme. Schemes such as this bridge the gap between student and professional. To have the chance to work under conductors such as Bernstein, with his charisma, his passion and generosity, alongside musicians of the calibre of Michael Tilson Thomas and Marin Alsop, was memorable, demanding and exhilarating. The next summer I was happy to win a place in the European Community Youth Orchestra, 6 weeks in Norway under James Judd and European touring with Ashkenazy, which was also a really amazing experience with the cream of youthful European talent.
But I do remember that due to the Fellowship aspect, the PMF 1990 in Sapporo was even more inspiring, not just because of Bernstein’s personality, but because of having an entire top rate professional orchestra there to coach us and to perform (e.g. West Side Story with composer conducting! so fast!!): we could observe, absorb and learn. They were there doing their jobs, not simply coaching.
In hindsight it was especially amazing not just simply because of the electric charisma of that particular musician (check out my view from the cor anglais seat in the concert!) and not just because he publicly declared the rest of his life would be devoted to education- also personally bought everybody neckties when dress requirements were changed! But because it was one of the last engagements of his life, preceding Tanglewood of 1990, and he sadly passed away in October that year.
Let’s start with the Webster’s Dictionary definition of fellowship:
- 1: companionship, company looking for the fellowship of friendly people
- 2a : community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience their fellowship in crime — A. J. Ayerb : the state of being a fellow or associate
- 3: a company of equals or friends : association a youth fellowship
- 4: the quality or state of being comradely meaningful communication for building trust and fellowship
Fellowship programs such as these which he encouraged (founding the Pacific Music Festival with Michael Tilson Thomas) are amazing, when you get the chance to experience a symphony orchestra in action- reacting amongst themselves, etiquette, dynamic levels (sitting in or alongside a section doing their work, not just coaching you) and above all demonstrating the sounds and ensemble of professionals.
The Sydney Symphony has an extremely well resourced, established Fellowship scheme, training many of the country’s elite young musicians in a yearlong residency. Australian Chamber Orchestra also has its Emerging Artists Program, (string players only) for many years. The Australian Youth Orchestra also has a Fellowship Program, not intended as extensive as SSO but still very useful and with a similar feel (see definitions, above. You can see the vibe described: friendly people, associates, etc. which is subtly and so importantly different from Teacher/pupil.)
The AYO will kick off next week with a week’s residency for some of the Principal AYO players with us in Adelaide, lessons, side by side, auditions and mentoring. The ASO itself already has its Professional Pathways scheme, which is in a similar area: rehearsal observation, talks from visiting artists, masterclasses, auditions and continues over a year like a residency so that we get to know the people. It’s because I’m about to start this AYO/ASO joint program that I’m reflecting on my own student experiences, and because the main work is the same as I auditioned to Bernstein: Tchaikovsky, Fourth Symphony. (I remember having to react to his comments on the oboe solo of phrasing and flow, which I treasure.)
The Berlin Philharmonic blazed a trial in this area, starting the Karajan Academy 40 years ago. Today it remains one of the most successful schemes in the world. From their ‘Karajan Academy’ website:
‘Herbert von Karajan’s idea was appealing: With the Karajan Academy, an institution was created in which young, well-trained graduates can receive the best possible preparation for the profession of orchestral musician. Both in classes and working together with long-standing and experienced members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the students learn the particular style and the sound ideal of the orchestra. More than just learn it, they internalize it.’
Internalising is a great way to describe the experience. Once a standard of this level has been shown to students, it is absorbed and never forgotten. This is the key of why these are such good schemes: creating an expectation of excellence. London Symphony Orchestra was one of the early entrants in the Fellowship area, following our PMF experience of 1990, with the LSO Scholarship awards and since then many orchestras around the world have embraced the ideal of training students inside the group, so they are really for the real world of orchestral playing, their expectations and skills up to the highest level before being accepted into the artistic workplace.
Every program varies slightly. ‘London Symphony Academy’ focuses on different section groups every year- wind, brass, strings and so on. Sydney SO has invested (and gained) the most in Australia. Their program is the largest, including the most number of students, and generous sponsorship funds payments to the Fellows which transitions them into the profession, while incentivizing the large pool of applicants.
Each orchestra can give it a different structure and name but however a Scholarship/Fellowship/Academy scheme is structure and implemented, both parties gain. The students get the experience of actual orchestral work, recognition but with feedback (which in England doesn’t get given to candidates very often, as everyone recognizes the counterproductive, negative physiological effect that criticism can have on players, whereas schemes like this are designed with feedback as an outcome) and the orchestras gain a real insight into the suitability of each candidate for further professional work. You need to listen to advice because the concert deadline is coming up: it has to be up to a certain standard, to work in their section!
Don’t just take my word for it, here’s a former SSO Fellow describing the experience for their 2016 evaluation report:
‘Being treated like a professional – meeting those kind of artistic expectations – and generously being made to feel like an equal, whilst being ‘allowed’ to ask advice and to be imperfect was an extraordinary thing. Receiving honest feedback (both praising and constructive)…seems uniquely reserved for this period in one’s professional development, and it’s such a special thing. The combination of this orchestral work with our chamber music projects really taught me a lot about pace, and how hard I would have to work – it was a reality check, and one that made me better.’
This report came to the conclusion that the Fellowship program of SSO actually benefits many orchestras by supplying more qualified candidates into the market. It also provides an income for those studying, and allows the orchestra to maintain a pool of casuals who can be invited in to cover respite and augmentation needs, at an acceptably high artistic level, within a predetermined cost structure, sourced from a designated pool of ‘education’ resources. Everyone wins!! Especially if that budget can be sourced from targeted philanthropic donations, rather than earned income.
Despite all the good teaching and practice that can be done for final solo recitals, technical exams, master classes, tertiary and postgraduate study -however virtuosic- will not substitute for orchestral experience. These schemes provide that experience; witnessing professionals at work, discovering the stamina, pace or dedication needed to sustain these levels of achievement over long periods, which equips players for the profession with advantageous skills gained from real practical experience. How to blend in a section, how much to play out in a solo, having heard someone else demonstrate excerpts in context, rehearsal etiquette, including punctuality, behavior and strategic rehearsal advice, how many reeds to make and how often, audition confidence (not least, because one knows the excerpts in context). Everyone wins as the orchestras have trained up quality players with the correct expectations. Again, from the SSO’s Fellowship 2016 evaluation report:
Many music graduates are not adequately equipped for orchestral work. If they receive an immersive, deep, high quality and enduring experience of the work of a professional orchestral musician, then they will build a sustainable career in music more quickly than they would have done otherwise. This will also support the sustainability of orchestras like [the]Sydney Symphony[Orchestra].
Youth Orchestras such as the AYO and the many State Youth Orchestras do of course fulfil this function as well of training up orchestral players. In a Youth Orchestra one learns to socialise, to audition, orchestral skills of blending and above all, the repertoire. But from a ‘top down’ educational approach. Learning through experience yes but the experience of being a student, being taught what to do, expecting to be less than an equal with your staff. A Fellowship scheme creates musicians with a different mindset. In a Fellowship, you are like an apprentice, a junior. I remember from my own experience, being a young insignificant cog in the works, an apprentice to the professionals, seeing the players at work with their own conductors, not framing their comments in an educational context, but able to give real advice when you ask the practical questions, and treating you less as a student and more as a young ‘casual’ (‘extra’) just starting out, like a mentoring relationship one might have with a senior colleague: this really prepares you for the profession. Being the principal player in a youth orchestra is great experience, but it is unlikely (unless you are very lucky or talented indeed) to lead to immediate work in the same chair. Section skills, sitting down the line, blending in, voicing chords, and being reliable: these skills will get you on the lists and being asked back.
In 1990, when conducting us, Leonard Bernstein demonstrated his huge passion for music and elicited outcomes for dynamics, solo tunes, section tunes, accompaniments, that went beyond what anyone had experienced before. See in the pictures how demonstrative he was. I didn’t realize however, how terminal his obvious illness was. Looking back, this gives a huge new poignancy to the performances. He was to die in October 1990 having withdrawn from the stage following the Tanglewood Festival concert in August, a couple of months after PMF. I think I heard his final interpretation of ‘West Side Story’ Dances. One day, we will play each work for the last time, and it was his last Francesca da Rimini for which I was the cor anglais. Look at the emotion in the picture: unforgettable.
PMF was an unrepeatable experience shared with four other oboe students (from Canada, Mexico, Japan and UK) and LSO players Roy Carter, Kieron Moore Christine Pendrill and John Lawley, for which I’ll be forever grateful. Lovely to have socialized a lot with the other woodwind section members too, Andrew Marriner, Paul Edmund Davies, Bob Bourton, who coached us for chamber music, and to meet students from the US, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and many other countries. Residential courses and extended time with mentors is valuable also for the shared conversations and off the cuff advice that doesn’t limit itself to rehearsal rooms. I count myself as extremely lucky to have been given a glimpse of working inside one of the world’s top orchestras.
By the way, if you’re thinking of applying for PMF- do it! The current PMF double reed faculty comprises wonderful Berlin Philharmonic players Jonathan Kelly, oboe and Stefan Schweigert, bassoon. What more incentive could you need?
Looking back from 2107, with the terrible events in Manchester and London (and other cities) around the world and thinking of my brief witnessing of Bernstein’s famous personality, he is still posthumously inspiring us. Born 100 years ago this year, the PMF Fellowship scheme he founded is available for our students today. And as a famous public figure, his huge legacy of quotations remains. One in particular- after JFK assassination, 1963- holds great resonance today:
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before…” Leonard Bernstein, August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990
Celia Craig June 2017 (for ‘Reeding Matter’)