Fellows Meet the Masters

Today the Music Academy is pleased to present the first online studio class of MARLI: highlights from a collaborative piano studio class earlier this week featuring guest artist pianist Emanuel Ax and Academy faculty artist Jonathan Feldman. In addition to a discussion of the beginnings of Ax’s career, Ax and Feldman provide expert feedback on a performance by Collaborative Piano fellow Jae Eun Park and her Juilliard School colleague Adrian Steel of Brahms’s Sonata No. 3 for violin and piano in D Minor, Op. 108. Keep reading for information on the history of masterclasses at the Music Academy, as well as a little tidbit on Brahms’s Third Violin Sonata.


If you’re a frequent user of social media, then you’ve probably seen a lot of advertisements recently for MasterClass, an online platform that allows its subscribers to learn about certain topics. These ads always feature a famous person explaining into camera that they’re going to teach you how to do whatever it is they’re known for. Whether it’s cooking, film making, composing, or underwater basket weaving (okay, I made that last one up), these masters are supposed to personally teach you, the student, online. The idea behind this name, “MasterClass,” seems to be the notion that these are masters of their craft who are, well, teaching a class. The true masterclass, though, isn’t just the act of a master teaching a subject; it’s a specific way of teaching.

The masterclass is a relatively simple context wherein an established musician (a master, if you will) gives public instruction to an advanced student. The public part of the equation is key; it’s what distinguishes a masterclass from a run of the mill lesson. In some cases that public is narrow, for example a group of other students or musicians, while in other cases the event is open to the general public. The masterclass is unique in that it can function in several modes at once. For the student, it is both an opportunity to receive instruction from a distinguished musician and a chance to perform in front of others. For the teacher, it allows for a connection with both a young musician and an engaged audience. But perhaps most interestingly, is the audience’s perspective. By virtue of having access to what is essentially a lesson – something that would usually be private – they, too, are able to learn during a masterclass.

Lotte Lehmann teaches a masterclass at the Music Academy
At top: 2019 fellows perform in a masterclass in the Academy’s Lehmann Hall, the location of its namesake’s famed masterclasses

Masterclasses have a long history at the Music Academy, beginning with Lotte Lehmann’s famed classes in the 1950s. Once hailed by conductor Arturo Toscanini as “the greatest singer in the world,” Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976) was a German soprano whose 21-year career at the Vienna State Opera remains the stuff of legend. She emigrated to the United States shortly before Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and eventually settled down in Santa Barbara. After early involvement in the founding of the Music Academy in 1947, she officially joined the faculty in 1951. In addition to auditioning singers and teaching lessons, Lehmann’s contract stipulated that she was to teach one masterclass per week. Lehmann’s formal association with the institution was quite a coup for the still-fledgling Music Academy, and her participation was, of course, shared widely. Calls began to pour in, all of them asking the same question: will Madame Lehmann’s classes be open to the public?

Lehmann agreed, but only reluctantly. She was nervous. Over the course of her distinguished career she had sung in front of thousands, but teaching in public – and not in her first language – was new to her. It turns out she needn’t have been nervous, at all. The 63-year-old operatic diva immediately took to the new format, engaging both students and audiences with characteristic wit and charm. She had a blunt but kind teaching style that left her students occasionally smarting, but always better off. And the audiences loved her; the Lehmann masterclasses always drew a packed house. Within a few years she was teaching two masterclasses per week, one on opera and one on song, a schedule she would maintain until going into partial retirement after the 1961 Festival.

Public masterclasses have been an integral part of the Music Academy’s activities since these earliest years. From Lotte Lehmann to Jerome Lowenthal to Marilyn Horne, some of the world’s greatest musicians have taught from the Academy’s stages, in the process touched the lives of both fellows and audiences. As you enjoy today’s online master class with Emanuel Ax and Jonathan Feldman, situate it for yourself within the context of this long and distinguished history. Think of it not as something new or different, but as a very real and earnest opportunity to be invited into the most intimate moments of music-making.

To his friend

Of the works by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) that bear dedications, most are addressed to his friends and collaborators. The Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108 is both the only of his three violin sonatas to bear a dedication and the only work he dedicated to one of his close friends: Hans von Bülow. Bülow (1830-1894) was a renowned German conductor, pianist, and composer; he was also a fierce advocate for Brahms’s music. As the music director of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, Bülow programmed several of Brahms’s works on tours in the early 1880s. Brahms joined the orchestra for two of these tours, during which time he and Bülow became close. Bülow would later arrange for the premiere of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony in 1885, although the composer himself conducted that performance.

What began as a professional relationship blossomed into a friendship that both men would cherish for the remainder of their lives. A small token of this friendship is evidenced on the title page of the original 1889 publication of the Third Violin Sonata: “dedicated to his friend Hans von Bülow.”

– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West


Johannes Brahms, pictured in 1889

Hans von Bülow