Notes from a masterclass held by Fergus McWilliam

Notes from a masterclass held by Fergus McWilliam
(Berliner Philharmoniker, Philarmonisches Bläserquintett Berlin)
held in Florence, 23 Dec.2001

(notes written by D. Canarutto)

Neuling Bagatelle

Play it in a rather strict tempo, like you were a rigid Prussian soldier who wants to be more Romantic. Then you get a sense, a line from this piece, though somewhat ironic. Save your freedom for the very few "light" moments.

Mozart n.3, 1st movement

Sing first, just as you want to play it. If you don't immagine a line, you won't have enough air. If air lacks, the idea lacks. Sing and imagine you are playing/singing with an orchestra.

If you let music go down, then it is difficult to raise it again. Think to a plane which keeps its hight by mantaining its speed.

It is not necessary to suck the whole atmosphere of the planet Earth for playing relatively simple passages [here it was bar n.40]. The phrase must be natural and relaxed, the audience understands this. Don't kill the musical phrase with breathing-technical aspects. We must take air naturally (but we blow as hornists).

Air problems and embouchure problems are strictly related.

Now this is a much better sound: register your physical feelings and try to remember them. Work less here [mouth] and more here [breath].

Mozart can be played dramatically, not as in church.

Mozart n.3, 1st movement

It must be lovely, fluent. I hear moments of light and moments of darkness.

International language to horn: "I think to much".
Don't think to much, listen. You never listen to much.

In free jazz improvisations, they speak about "energy". Try to understand if you are sending energy to the audience, or if you are holding it back.

Keep things moving, keep music moving. Otherwise, the audience will feel inconsistency.

Pay attention to the end of the phrase, the notes end without sufficient air.

F. Strauss, Nocturno

Think of singing a lullaby. Not to big a sound.

Compression of air in the lungs is right; it's a misconception that it's illegal.

When we pick up the horn we start thinking to the horn. We should play the horn just as we do mouthpiece buzzing. Many people don't understand this point.

It's impossible to play this interval [Bb1-F2 - written notes] without at least a physical feeling of crescendo, proper air support. This is true even if you don't want to make a crescendo at all.

Mozart n.4, 1st movement

Sing! [He indicates the back of the hall]

When you go up, don't stay back.

When you go down, you don't need less air support.

Think of being Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, it's an aria in the opera. Bravo! Why was it good? It is important to ask this question. When you have the musical image of what you want to do, then everything becomes very simple. Phantastic!

Don't play to quiet because the musical idea is quiet. This is a misconception. More sound, more forward.

Freedom to have fun. Don't make it just correct, like in church.

R.Strauss n.1, 1st movement

Do you like playing loud? Yes.
How do you feel playing piano? Not good.
When you play piano, you don't have projection, and your sound is lost in the pianoforte. Playing with the pianoforte you should never play pp. It's different with the orchestra. With pianoforte and with the orchestra, they almost are two different pieces.

My image of the ideal hornist is one who plays like this [he hides his horn behind himself and presents his body]. You must reach a balance between yourself and your instrument. The great artists are those who can put music before themselves. Orchestra players, instead, think more to their instruments. Hornists, in particular, who sit in the back, often think: you can't see me, but you can hear me.
Think more to chamber music.

You must have a map in your head, you must know where to go. If you drive without seeing, in dark or rain, because you keep consulting the map or you just don't know where you're going, you may have an accident.

Follow the Muse, and everything works, everything becomes easier.

Mozart n.3, 1st movement

Listen to your body.
Relax shoulders when expiring.

The highest note must be played "from the floor". Push on the floor, like on a trampoline.

R.Strauss n.1, 1st movement

When you looked at me you gave me authority on you, you lost authority and then you made a mistake.

The conductor has the power, and that is bad.
If somebody has power on you, that is bad.
Many other instrumentalists are satisfied of being pupils of some great master; not horn players. This is not healthy for horn players, they should be anarchists.

In my experience, one does not reach the level of a successful performance by building step after step. Instead, there are big leaps; you become a musician, and you open yourself to the music. Then you look back, you analyse, study, recover the steps.

Final considerations

One of the worst teacher damages: fixing embouchure.
Rather, think to the music, sing, and you'll blow correctly. This is the magic wand.

Sing, whistle, do mouthpiece buzzing (ALWAYS with the correct intonation). At the end come the horn, the least important thing. All the rest: setting, embouchure, toungue, just comes out, happens.

The most important register is the middle register. There you have to be mobile.

It is a misconception that everything, in all registers, is done with the same setting, changing nothing.

By whistling you do the right tongue movements.

My question: do you think that some of the observed improvements are related to blowing less hard? Answer: yes and no [some of the above final considerations followed].