A Word with Simon Halsey – Master Class 2023

 Finally, this year in November, the Master Class will take place again – what is the Master Class, and what is it about? 

The Master Class is a project for aspiring conductors. The pandemic has completely stopped conducting classes. For the simple reason: as conductors, we need musicians with whom we can work together. We simply can’t do that alone from home. 

Therefore, I hope that young conductors from all over the world will enjoy the opportunity to come together and practice their art at this very high level. I hope for a grand gathering of colleagues and as many interested people as would like to come! 

Did you find your conducting style during your studies, or has your way of working with and conducting orchestras and musicians changed a lot during your career? What has helped you in your career as a (choir-) conductor to develop and find your own style? 

I didn’t have many opportunities to study the art of conducting. In the 1980s, there were simply very few courses you could take. So I learned everything I now know about conducting in practice. True to the motto: learning by doing. I made so many mistakes! To save the participants from some of them, I would like to share my 40 years of experience with my new colleagues. My style may be quite unique, but I still hope that everyone will learn something from me and from the others who will participate in the master class! 

What does singing and making music as part of a group/community mean to you personally? 

The community of which is created by the music is equally important to me as it is to society. I hope I have specialized over the years in sharing the joy of music with singers of all kinds in all circumstances. I invite you all to experience how we can enliven and expand the music we love. 

We are currently experiencing uncertain times for young people. (Post-pandemic with a war in Europe). What do you think a good conductor needs in order to conduct an orchestra/choir in this day and age, or what would you like to teach them in the master class? What can you encourage them with? 

In the future, the conducting profession will be broader and more interesting (and important) than ever before. We are responsible for the future of an art form that has never been more needed by society than now. Let’s get together and talk about the privilege of teaching music, giving people the keys to enjoying music, and making friendships that span across barriers. 

Every two years since 2010, young choral conductors from all over the world have been invited to Berlin for a one-week master class. Would you describe the master class as a project close to your heart, and if so, why? What makes this master class so special for you? 

Over the past years I have led many of the masterclasses in Berlin … at least 4; all were different, all were important. All produced conductors who shaped their professional careers by participating in the Masterclass. But that is NOT the point – we need this great forum to learn from each other, from chorus members, and most importantly to expand our respective horizons. All of this will surely be happening this year as well. 

Are there any particular tools/tricks that you can share now that you would like to pass on to young conductors? 

There’s a lot of straightforward advice I can give my young colleagues – a list of things they can write down and digest later. BUT above all, it’s about the choir giving us the chance to develop our interpersonal skills, and that is the greatest gift we have. 

Which conductors are your role models? Which composer/era do you like to conduct the most, and why? 

I have learned something from every conductor I have worked with! Especially from Sir Simon Rattle, Robert Shaw, Sir David Willcocks, Claudio Abbado, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Richard Hickox and Daniel Barenboim. I love all music. And the job of a chief conductor of a Rundfunkchor is to have the ability to work with nearly any repertoire! 

You were accompanied in 2020 with the documentary film “unsere Herzen Ein Klang”. The Movie allows the viewer a glimpse behind the scenes. In 2020, you were surprised by the pandemic, as everyone was, what happened to the choir project with Jonathan Dove, will there be a second attempt? 

The great Jonathan Dove work Search for Spring will premiere at Lincoln Center, New York on May 13. 1160 a cappella voices; thirteen conductors; semi-staged. Be there! 

To conclude – what can the applicants and the audience look forward to in this master class? 

Conductors need to take every opportunity to share their knowledge with each other. This master class provides the perfect opportunity to do just that. … it’s open-hearted, friendly, inclusive environment, and not scary at all. It’s essentially about enriching each other’s lives in the time we spend together/share with each other.