Sir Colin Davis Masterclass

Tragic Overture, Op.81
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish) – First movement
Symphony No.1 in B flat minor – Second movement

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Pavel Kotla
Robert Tuohy
Matthew Wood

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 16 July, 2007
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Now in its fourth year the LSO Discovery Conducting Scheme was introduced to assist young conductors to gain “access to suitable ensembles in order to develop their technique and experience” and to enable them to work with professional conductors so as to benefit from their experience. This year the three young conductors submitting themselves to examination by Sir Colin Davis were the Australian Matthew Wood, the American Robert Tuohy and the Pole Pavel Kotla.

Each conductor performed twice, once before the interval and with a different piece after it. However, given the object of the exercise and the relative difficulties of the various pieces, it is perhaps odd that the tricky rhythms of the scherzo (marked Presto con malizia) from William Walton’s First Symphony was only performed once, by Kotla, although this did give us an opportunity to directly compare each conductor’s approach to the Mendelssohn, with the Brahms played twice.

Matthew Wood was first on. He conducted Brahms’s Tragic Overture and was followed by Tuohy and Kotla both conducting the Mendelssohn. After the interval Tuohy took the Brahms, Wood the Mendelssohn and Kotla the Walton.

Sir Colin’s comments, of which there were many, were instructive and delivered in a friendly manner, which no doubt helped to relieve the tension. Given the nature of the evening it would be unfair to ascribe comments to the individuals, who after all were there to learn, but typical was the need to give clear direction to the orchestra and to concentrate as much on pauses (silence) as on the notes themselves. More illuminating, perhaps of Sir Colin himself, was the instruction to “conduct it like a hornet”, a vivid description of the wild Rannoch Moor, capturing the mood of Mendelssohn ‘Scottish’ Symphony, or Sir Colin clearly indicating a desire for a career change with some Shakespearean acting to illustrate the depth of feeling of the Tragic Overture. As ever with Davis he brings vivid pictures to bear even for abstract music.

The London Symphony Orchestra performed well, no easy task given the frequent changes of conductor and the need to replay selected passages, often many times over, with minor variations to illustrate particular points made by Sir Colin. All three conductors exhibited great potential with Pavel Kotla leaving the biggest impression for his more personal style with the music and his predilection to argue his point.

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