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  • Writer's pictureIlona Oltuski

From Generation to Generation – Saline Academy captures the legacy of classical music educators

Accelerated by the pandemic's surge of online streamed and recorded music making and to provide access to high-level music training during travel restrictions, Saline Academy now offers a growing collection of circa 400 recorded masterclasses on its online platform - to this extent, a novelty for the genre. Next to the historical interest in its notable performances, the bearer of the canon's traditions – music pedagogy is now available in a new format that features a broad landscape of recorded masterclasses. (All photos, if not marked differently, are courtesy of Saline Academy)

  1. Following a long-term vision developed in 2010 by its director, Hubert Tassy, the project was created in 2019 and launched in 2021. The idea to create a vast landscape of online masterclasses for different instruments got realized when the educational institution of the Saline Royale Academy d'Arc-et-Senans, was established on its UNESCO-protected world heritage site. Specializing in masterclasses for students during their professional training as musicians, sessions are taught and filmed by a wide array of international masters of their instruments on the idyllic grounds of the academy. Students board and practice during weeklong courses to immerse themselves in the learning process of music-making.

"It is truly a special place," describes Marc Coppey, the academy's artistic director since 2o2o. A renowned performing cellist, he also teaches as part of the academy's faculty. A protégé of Lord Yehudi Menuhin and Mstislav Rostropovich, Coppey first shot to international acclaim at the age of 18, winning First Prize and ‘Prize for the Best Bach Performance’ at the prestigious Leipzig Bach Competition (1988). Soon thereafter, he made major debuts in Paris and Moscow in collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin and Victoria Postnikova (captured on film by the celebrated director Bruno Monsaingeon) and performed personally at the Evian Festival invitation of Mstislav Rostropovich. Intimately familiar with the "who is who and the behind-the-scenes workings of the classical music world," he became instrumental in the program's conception and choice of master teachers for the catalog.

(Photo: left, courtesy Marc Coppey)

"When the physical presence of the academy was conceived, we made sure that it offered the newest technology to record the masterclasses. This way, students recorded during their masterclass can also take away details they may have missed during the situation and learn from the experience beyond the moment of instruction time and again."

Moreover, cataloging the masterclasses online gave the institution its historical dimension of preserving music's heritage while opening it to new audiences worldwide. "It was essential to us to preserve the tradition of teaching from the great masters," explains Marc. Saline is interested in partnering with prestigious international conservatories to expand its reach and include the most prolific teachers from different conservatories. The Colburn School is currently its first partner institution in the United States.

Masterclasses offer great insights into the fascinating process of learning how to perform on an instrument. Going beyond "right" or "wrong," every performer is on an extraordinary journey, an ongoing search for the elusive truth in the art of music-making. The masterclasses capture that essence through the mentor's directions in direct communication with the student. There are myriad ways to perform a piece of music, which may explain the endless number of interpretations of the same oeuvre by different performers. And the ways to teach performing it are just as numerous. That's what makes it so fascinating to watch and learn.

Marc explains: "The masterclasses are recorded with four camera streams, combined in a single video so that the user can choose which view to follow and change them up. This makes the experience for the viewer more engaging. It is fun to change the point of view, focus on a particular detail of an explanation, or take in the direct interaction between the master and the student. As a result, the experience becomes more immersive and has excellent sound and image quality."

This multifaceted approach captures every angle of the learning experience in a more actively involved manner. Such access is something most students do not get. Even if they study at the best conservatories, they stay under the instrumental tutelage of mainly one teacher, or a few for different music aspects, who will be responsible for shaping their education and will ultimately influence their career. While this may work very well for some, others are interested in learning from a more varied input. Offering unique insights for performing artists and music lovers interested in learning more ways to reach their goals, here is a genuine opportunity for students worldwide with no or little access to higher education in music.

Historically, there are many different, nationally nuanced schools of thought regarding the intricate technique and interpretation of each instrument's repertoire within different styles of music. And throughout classical music's tradition, from the Baroque to the Romantics, the great pedagogues often informed choices of what repertoire was performed.

Still today, performers are assessed on the grounds of whom they studied with, and many of the great pedagogues judge future talent on the jury of international competitions, responsible for many of their future careers. This might explain why Saline Academy also offers up-to-date insights on international competitions, helping its students by taking out some of the second-guessing of the processes and evaluating their decisions to enroll, with what choice of repertoire and what to expect.

Today, among many excellent music educators, there are still those whose reputation has become idiomatically connected to the generations of talented performers they have guided. Teachers of successful competition winners are sought after for delivering the secret sauce that makes their students excel. Thinking of best-case scenarios when students reach their masters' equal level of artistry, the acclaimed mutual performances of pianists Babayan/Trifonov comes to mind.

(Photo: Ilona Oltuski, Sergey Babayan, and his former student Daniil Trifonov perform in NYC, WQXR's Greenspace, November 2015)

While some students had the privilege of studying with outstanding pedagogues during their years of training, these remain hidden treasures for many. Saline Academy now expands access to that treasure trove.

Perhaps there will be ways to connect with even more audiences; younger and older students looking for inspiration outside the professional scope of learning an instrument would come to mind. Many passionate amateur musicians want to perform on their instruments but do not have the means to engage in full-time professional training over extended periods. Another way to look at masterclasses may be introduced through contemporary composers' input. Having the composer of the work explain to the performer how to best meet expectations may open new horizons altogether. Perhaps also, it will be feasible to expand the concept to include special masterclasses geared for a younger audience who has not developed the same basic knowledge and inspire the next generation of classical music makers and lovers. Considering the dilemma of aging classical audiences, the new aspect might be worth exploring while connecting with screen-happy youngsters.

To read more about Saline Academy, go here. For more about Marc Coppey, go here.



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