Maria Molund, Norway (photo by J. Kaarakainen)

Two weeks ago I taught my first masterclass in Mikkeli with my orchestra St. Michel Strings, and we went global right away with participants flying in from three continents! We had three participants from Finland, two from Italy, two from the US, and one each from UK, Norway and South Africa. I have been teaching conducting for a long time both privately and as a guest teacher at different schools and on masterclasses, but this was the first time I planned the whole event on my own from beginning to end.

There exists kind of a "standard workshop" these days, where the students will get their daily podium time with the orchestra, and then there will be some verbal feedback from the teacher while watching rehearsal footage from each of the participants. Having been to several masterclasses like this myself, I don't really buy into this idea. Many times the students don't really know what to do with the orchestra and they end up wasting everybody's time. Also, the video often gives the teacher an excuse to not really teach but barely drop a few "pearls of wisdom" here and there.

Tom Newall (UK) conducting (photo by J. Kaarakainen)

Instead of this I wanted my students to get an intense learning experience, and that is why I modeled my masterclass after Yuri Simonov's Budapest masterclass which to this day stays as the most cleverly organized and efficient masterclass in my experience. I hired an excellent pianist - Taru Ritavesi - to help us, and the students alternated between piano sessions where the focus was improving the students' technique, and the orchestra rehearsal where everything they learned could be put into use. Since one of the themes of this masterclass was to find a natural interaction with the orchestra players I am more than thankful for the friendly and supportive professionalism of my players during the week.

As I have written before many times on my blog, conducting is a lonely profession and every occasion to network with your colleagues is valuable. That is why I encouraged my students to share rooms, which many of them did. Most of them ended up at the lovely guest house Marjan Matkakoti, so I actually moved the opening and closing ceremonies of the masterclass there. I also wanted them to leave the town not only with my ideas about music and conducting, but with something concrete which would help them in their career, so for that purpose I hired a photographer for one day to take professional quality rehearsal shots of each participant which they can later use for their press kits and concert programs.

All the students with Prof. Mäkilä (photo by J. Kaarakainen)

We finished the masterclass with a concert where I was on the mic telling a little bit of information about all the pieces as well as introducing all the young conductors to the public. We had a bunch of good repertoire by Mozart, Sibelius, Rautavaara, Wirén, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky (as an afterthought - maybe less repertoire next time...), and I was happy to see that everyone had made a big progress during the week. After the concert we hit the Mikkeli nightlife and drank, played pool and danced until the wee hours... It seemed that most people were eager to come back, so there will definitely be another masterclass around the same dates in 2014. Watch this space!