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Sommermusik Festival for Strings, Germany

Posted on 9 October 2013

Lauren Thomas is a violin student at the Young Musicians Programme Centre for Advanced Training. She studies with Royal Northern Sinfonia violinist Sasha Raikhlina. Lauren recently attended the 26th Sommermusik Festival for Strings in Nagold, Germany. Here she reflects on her experiences there…

My first reaction to the summer course in Germany was excitement:- masterclasses, new people, foreign travel. Then reality hit, there were going to be international professors, renown performers, students from all over the world, Japan, USA, Finland, Italy, Switzerland, Russia and of course Germany to name a few. It was going to be “intense”.

After 12 hours travel with 2 flights, 2 trains and taxis, it was dark on arrival. The first people I met at the vast old building were from St Petersburg Conservatoire, the “hard core players” I had been anticipating.

The very next morning well over a hundred people assembled in the main hall to audition before a panel to decide teachers, ensembles and who was good enough to join the orchestra – X-factor classical style. Everyone seemed amazing, so assured and confident, volunteering to go on the podium. I was the last and I had to be called up, enough said.

The next ten days were filled with an almighty schedule of masterclasses, ensembles, and yes, I made it into the orchestra, so that as well. I realised how much practice these people did with some starting before 6am and there were regulars who broke curfew and practised until after midnight. Pressure was on everyone to secure a coveted places on the podium and within two days I was there, and then again twice after that. What an experience playing in front of the others and the staff watching and note taking. I could hardly take it all in.

There were some evening concerts where we travelled by coach to venues and some of the older Russian students had been booked to showcase their talents on violin, cello and piano alongside professional players. The level of technical mastery was outstanding; the performance levels were dazzling, flawless. My favourite performances were by Anna Kandinskaya, Menuhin prize winner and International violinist and also Ruth Killius and Thomas Zehetmair, with some astonishing and soul moving performances of varied repertoire.

I sat in some masterclasses and witnessed the incredible work rate expected. Some had started playing at 3 years old; they already had nearly full careers, and travelled the world to follow the best teachers I was lucky to be taught by Ruth Killius herself who looked after me wonderfully like a mum, and she opened up a box of technical goodies and inspiring ideas which have expanded my understanding so much, and will sustain me for a long time. I was also privileged to work with pianist Peter Wittenberg who, like Ruth, is a sublime performer in his own right and between them they further opened up my playing potential.

The highlight for me was being selected from my podium performances to play Andante from Elgar’s Violin Sonata at the prestigious finale concert where only nine performances were chosen to play for a very large ticketed audience including local dignitaries and the press. I wasn’t really that nervous surprisingly and thoroughly enjoyed performing. This time I wasn’t sitting watching the others, but I was there with the best of them, it felt exhilarating.

I met totally wonderful, highly competitive, committed passionate people who are dedicated to music and have come away with a load of new friends. I’m off to Vienna soon having accepted an invitation from Professor Anna Kandinskaya to join her and the St. Petersburg students for a course with masterclasses and performance tutorials. I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends from Russia, Hungary and Germany again.
What I did realise on coming home, was that it is good to go to these places, but there is also so much here on the doorstep at Sage. If it hadn’t been for James Craig’s genius at arranging introductions and Sasha Raikhlina’s expert dedication as my totally awesome teacher, there is no way I would have contemplated this experience a year ago.

By Lauren Thomas

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