Around the World in 80 Days
Raphael Masters, 2018 Music
The whirlwind of my HSC and the subsequent work was always motivated by my desire to pursue my love of music at a tertiary level. The hours spent studying at the library and holed up in a practice room had kept me busy through the tumultuous year. Balancing my music and academics were tough, however, the idea of a future immersed in music kept me driven and focused, and after winning the BBM Music Scholarship, I would be able to realise a lifelong ambition of overseas study. The premise of my trip was fairly simple, venture abroad in search of an institution and teacher to nurture my ambitions, seeking out the right foothold for this very crucial and exciting part of my musical development.
My trip began at the end of November 2018, and I returned to Australia early March the following year. Over the course of 4 months, I spent 80 days abroad, I saw 16 concerts, had lessons with 19 different Viola teachers, competed in 8 auditions and spent 120 hours flying between 10 different cities.
After a long trip to London, I arrived on Thursday the 28th of November, the cold damp weather that greeted me was a welcome change from the increasingly unbearable Australian heat. My apartment was conveniently located in Southwark, a short commute from most of the Music Schools and concert halls I frequented over the course of my 6 weeks in the UK. The first ten days abroad were arguably the busiest, audition season had just begun and I was attempting to see as many teachers prior to my auditions. My first lesson the very next day was with the Violist of the Doric String Quartet, Hélène Clément, a faculty member at the Royal Academy (RAM), who gave me incredible insight into the world of sound production and tone, in which I was fortunate to experiment with playing on her instrument, formerly Benjamin Britten and Frank Bridge’s. It was an incredible experience to play Bridge’s Allegro Appasionato, which I was preparing for my auditions, on his old Viola. The following few days were spent navigating London’s expansive Transport network as I trekked to and fro lessons across the city. Matthew Jones from the Guildhall School discussed the merits of Alexander Technique, helping to appropriate a lot of tension issues in my playing particularly in Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher, the core of my audition repertoire, and Simon Rowland-Jones of the Royal College (RCM) helped me to understand the music of Bach, namely the second Cello Suite where he discussed voicing, gestural phrasing and bowing ideas.
My Guildhall Audition shortly followed, where the head of strings was very enthusiastic about my prospects, encouraging me to seek out further lessons with faculty. I spent the next few days playing to more teachers including, Martin Outram of RAM, which involved a two-hour commute into the beautiful countryside outside London, Jonathon Barritt of RCM, and Carol Hultmark of the Philharmonia. I was lucky enough to attend a number of concerts, including that of the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra.
One of the most incredible lessons I had was with David Takeno of the Guildhall School. A giant of string pedagogy and an internationally renowned artist, Takeno was able to provoke a totally new perspective on playing and interpreting music. He truly was an inspiring mentor whose passion for music and life seemed almost unparalleled. All these lessons helped me prepare for the auditions I undertook at the London Schools, all of which went extremely well, I received offers with full scholarships from all institutions; Royal Academy, Royal College and the Guildhall School. To celebrate I treated myself to concerts with two of my favourite ensembles, the Jerusalem Quartet and Quatuor Ebene, both of which were some of the most incredible musical experiences of my life, the sound world and musicality expressed were so transformative and inspiring I bought tickets to the second night!
I was also privileged to see Augustin Hadelich, one of my musical heroes, perform a lunchtime recital. I cannot express how incredibly privileged I felt being in the presence of such greatness in a single week. I will be forever grateful for the inspiration these artists gave me to work at my craft over the course of the next six weeks in pursuit of my college auditions. After some further lessons with different faculty, including Andriy Viytovych of the Royal Opera Orchestra, it was time to fully explore London. Sightseeing highlights included the Tower of London (twice!), the British Museum, Palace of Westminster, The Royal Observatory, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the National Gallery. After some time with visiting family in Somerset outside Bristol, it was time to journey on-wards to America, where the next chapter of my journey would take place. I arrived in New York City to undertake lessons at the Julliard School.
My time in America was incredibly inspiring, in my first week I got to have lessons with Roger Tapping (former Violist of the Takács Quartet, and current Violist of the Juilliard Quartet), and Paul Neubauer (international soloist). Both helped me immensely with my tone production and interpretation of Hindemith’s music. Mr Neubauer’s studio class was especially inspiring as I was able to observe his students, a few of which were Australians. After a few days in New York, I flew to Bloomington, Indiana, for an audition at the Jacobs School of Music. My mother had studied at the Jacobs School and it was exciting to see for the first time. I had a fantastic lesson with Atar Arad, his stories about music were both hilarious and encouraging, and connected really well with my playing. The next morning I experienced my first ever snow day, a welcome sight before my audition, although navigating through the snow for the first time with my instrument before an important audition was a little inconvenient. However, the Audition went very well and I was offered a place and scholarship. After my brief weekend in Bloomington, I headed back to New York to travel upstate to Bard College, where I had a lesson with Marka Gustavsson, the campus was incredibly beautiful and the facilities were amazing, the Gehry Concert Hall was impressive, to say the least. My time here allowed me to focus on my practice and spend a few days in the fresh air, preparing for more upcoming lessons and auditions.
After returning to New York City once again, I looked forward to more lessons and concerts, the first of which with Heidi Castleman. Ms Castleman was incredibly generous with her time and helped me immensely with my playing, her comments on vibrato and phrasing were incredibly valuable to employ under stressful audition situations. I also got to sit in on her joint studio class where I was further inspired by a number of her students. The following days I watched a number of the Juilliard Chamberfest performances where I was blown away by the standard of playing and musicianship, I also managed to see the New York Philharmonic perform Rachmaninoff’s second symphony, Mr McGill’s clarinet solo truly one of the most beautiful I had ever heard. I was lucky to continue sightseeing at Carnegie Hall and the Met.
After arriving in Boston, I was nervous and excited to meet some of my musical heroes, both Miriam Fried (my mother’s teacher) and Kim Kashkashian are on faculty at the New England Conservatory and the viola studio is legendary. It was extremely humbling to sit in on Ms Fried’s lessons, observing the source of all my mother’s musical input was extremely motivating and stirring. After observing Ms Kashkashian’s class I was in awe of the incredible technical mastery and musical maturity of the students and was very motivated to practise for my upcoming audition. I was lucky enough to have a last-minute impromptu lesson with Martha Strongin-Katz (former Cleveland Quartet), who spoke at great length on the importance of gravity and breath for musicians. I was also fortunate to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Herbert Blomstedt. The city was incredible, among American cities, Boston is particularly noted for the abundance of museums, libraries, concert halls and historical sites. Its reputation as a cultural centre was clearly evident, making the school one of my top picks. My time in Boston was unfortunately shortlived because before I knew it, I was off to the Cleveland Institute of Music. In the short time I spent in Cleveland I was able to visit Jeffrey Irvine’s studio class and was lucky enough to have a lesson with him on my Hindemith. His discussion on jaw tension and the face was unlike anything I had heard before and was miraculously beneficial to my playing, his holistic approach to string technique was very helpful in providing me with tools I could use to fix inconsistencies within my own playing.
After Cleveland, I travelled to Chicago where I spent a brief time, I travelled to Northwestern University to have a lesson with Helen Callus, whose recordings I have always admired. Her systematic approach to sound production and bow technique was profound and made a huge difference to my playing. I also managed to see the hit Broadway musical Hamilton which was a very special treat! I was unfortunate enough to be in Chicago during the historic polar vortex, which made sightseeing tough, however, it was a good excuse to stay inside and practice.
Journeying onward to our final stop, Los Angeles, I was plagued with flight delays due to inclement weather. Despite this, I finally made it to LA and the Colburn School where my final engagements were. The Colburn School was a place teachers across the country had raved about, the school is unlike any other, its students are all granted full scholarship as well as room and board making admission incredibly competitive. I had a lesson with Paul Coletti, which was intimidating, to say the least, he was incredibly demanding and detailed. He is notorious for being a very tough teacher however the results showed, his studio class was unbelievable. I knew that if I really wanted to work hard, this would be the place to be, it was, after all, my top choice.
I returned to the states after flying home, only a week later to recreate my steps as I undertook Auditions. While auditioning, I was lucky enough to meet one of my idols, the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, Noah Bendix-Balgley. I am thrilled to announce that I was offered admission and scholarships to almost every school I auditioned for. I was lucky enough to win a spot in Mr Coletti’s studio at the Colburn School and have just completed my first semester as an undergraduate student. I can confidently say that this was the right decision for me and have learned an immeasurable amount in my short time here so far. As a student at Colburn, I have been selected to perform Chamber Music with Mr Bendix-Balgley, something I would have never dreamed about before this trip.
I couldn’t have done it however without the skills and knowledge I acquired during my BBM trip, and for that, I am truly grateful. This award has allowed me to achieve my goals and has helped me grow so much as a musician. I hope that through my studies I will become an even greater musician and ambassador for Australian musicians who also wish to study overseas.