I.S.M. Art of Performance Masterclass With Tasmin Little

by Vaughan Jones РOn Thursday 14th March, Tasmin Little came to The Forge in Camden to give a masterclass for the Incorporated Society of Musicians called ‘The Art of Performance’. It was a very special occasion in that there were only twenty people (including performers and accompanists) present, therefore the whole afternoon had an informal air of intimacy which these events can often lack.

Another interesting facet of the afternoon was that the five performers participating played a range of instruments: there were two violinists (including myself), a flautist, a pianist and saxophonist. This meant that the non-violinists were treated to insights from a super musician who was able to focus more on the sweep, imagination and overall projection of the performance than technical matters. The two violinists were treated to a mini-lesson with someone at the forefront of violin playing.

Tasmin Little is a born communicator and all of the musicians who performed on Thursday went away having learned a lot from the masterclass. The opening piece of the masterclass was the first movement of Max Bruch’s wonderful Violin Concerto in G minor. Tasmin made us all aware of the mountainous quality of the music, with its nervous opening and heroic arpeggio passages. The need for great contrast, projection as well as commanding the audience’s full attention with the musical narrative were all explored.

Next came a delightful rendition of a solo Bach Allemande. Here various articulations, slurrings and dynamics were explored. The key was to offer the listener a different insight when a section was repeated and as Bach left most of the notes blank this gave the performer scope to bring out the music’s natural contours in different ways.

The third piece was a very recent piano piece by the composer Gabriel Jackson and interestingly he had written in many instructions (such as ‘as hard as a diamond’, ‘raucous’, ‘dark’, etc.). Tasmin managed to really convey these descriptions and the pianist’s performance was transformed. At one point she was encouraged to play so softly that the notes only just spoke – but the effect it had really drew the audience in and was highly effective.

Next a couple of movements of a Marcello oboe concerto were played on the saxophone. Here, she really delved into the art of conveying a performance by the manner in which we as musicians take the stage, as well as the way we can convey to the audience that the performance they are about to witness will be a special one.

Finally, I performed the Preludio and Gigue from Bach’s Partita for solo violin in E. She dedicated the final 25 minutes to a detailed and clear explanation of the role of finger flexibility in the bowing hand, as well as the forearm ‘table’ or angle which remains consistent from heel to tip of the bow (generally on the flat of the hair and parallel to the bridge). I felt very lucky to have had this opportunity and over the following three days putting her advice into practice, I have been amazed at the increased fluency and speed of string crossings as well as a greater tonal range.

Thank you to the I.S.M. for organizing such a terrific event. There are more varied and interesting events which both members and non-members are able to attend. You can view them by clicking on this link or visiting the I.S.M. website.