Masterclass with the maestros; CLASSICAL Big names of the present and future in classical music will be honing skills in the North East in coming weeks. David Whetstone looks at a Samling bonanza of masterclasses and performances.
Its 2014 programme offers masterclass weeks in February and March, which means the region can boast an extraordinary array of first-class singers - both established and upand-coming - in a very short period.
"Normally we spread them out a bit, but it's largely to do with availability at Sage Gateshead and also artist availability," explains Samling artistic and executive director Karon Wright.
"This year, they come in quick succession and we're presenting them as a series."
A Samling masterclass week sees a select band of some of the world's most promising young classical singers and piano accompanists ensconced at the Farlam Hall country house hotel, near Brampton.
There they live, eat and breathe classical music in the company of some of the world's best teachers, while also benefiting from oneto-one tuition. (Actually, they don't live off music alone since the food is also reputed to be pretty good too.) Not everything happens behind closed doors. On the Wednesday there is always a public masterclass at Sage Gateshead, where you can gain a real insight into what turns a very good performance into an excellent one. Generally, these are as entertaining as they are interesting since no one gets to be a celebrated vocal coach without the gift of the gab.
Then, on the Saturday, there is a concert when the Samling scholars, as they are styled, put what they have learned into practice with no interruptions. Great music guaranteed.
The first of this year's masterclass weeks will be led by Olaf Bar, the great German baritone, who was at Samling two years ago and "really loved it", according to Karon.
Bar, she says, "is a fantastic teacher and a great artist. He has got a very good way of sharing his knowledge and insights with the young singers, and he is good at striking up a witty rapport with an audience".
Also teaching in February will be David Syrus, head of music at the Royal Opera where he has worked since 1971; and the renowned singer turned teacher and vocal coach, Patricia MacMahon.
Their charges, selected from 120 who auditioned in London and Glasgow, will be sopranos Lucy Hall and Sarah-Jane Lewis, mezzo-soprano Bethan Langford, tenor Nico Darmanin, baritone Ross Ramgobin and pianists Elizabeth Rossiter, Yshani Perinpanayagam and Ian Tindale. Hexham-based Samling was founded in 1996 and the first intake of scholars arrived the following year. Since then, says Karon, the list of Samling scholars has grown to include about 260 names, many now well-established in the profession.
While the fundraising is urgent and ongoing (Samling receives no regular public funding, although its recently instigated Samling Academy has benefited from some Arts Council backing), the wealth of support it can call on is extraordinary.
This is particularly beneficial to the Samling Academy, which was set up in October 2012 to benefit young singers studying at North East schools and universities.
A brilliant demonstration of its merits came last summer with a first-rate production of the Benjamin Britten opera Albert Herring, performed in Saltburn and at Sage Gateshead by returning Samling scholars and members of the academy.
Auditions for the next Samling Academy intake will take place in March, although youngsters first have to be nominated.
"I've been writing to heads of music in schools across the region asking for names of young singers because I believe in every school there's someone who has the potential for a career in classical music but might not realise it," says Karon.
"A lot of young people sing in school but not necessarily the classical repertoire. Coming to see what we do might open their eyes and make them think 'I could do this; I might like it'."
The next public Samling Masterclass is at Sage Gateshead on February 5 at 2pm, to be followed by the Samling Concert on February 8 at 7pm, both in Hall Two. Tickets can be bought from the Sage box office on 0191 443 4661 or via www.sagegateshead.com The next Samling Masterclass week comes along in March when the leaders will be Sir Thomas Allen, recently awarded the prestigious Queen's Medal for Music (his position as patron of Samling being mentioned in the citation, according to Karon), Malcolm Martineau and - making his first appearance - American vocal coach Prof Stephen King.
For more about Samling activities visit www.samling.org.uk
German baritone Olaf Bar and mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly, who is now a Young Artist at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden