The Gentle Approach

Photos: Thomas Kunsch, Bettina Engel-Albustin/Foto Ag

The “Neue Stimmen” Master Class was launched in 1997 by Liz Mohn and Gustav Kuhn. Its goal is still to challenge and support young talents – carefully and gently.

Twenty-eight years ago, the question was “Where is the next generation?” Today, the jury routinely faces 40 talented singers, who are “basically ready to start their careers,” says Gustav Kuhn, artistic director of “Neue Stimmen.” Kuhn is a conductor, opera director and the artistic director of the Tyrolean Festival Erl as well as director of the Accademia di Montegral.  “Now the goal is to launch the young singers gently,” he emphasizes.
“We want to prepare them carefully for the demands they will face, to help them avoid burnout. That’s why the master classes are at least as important as the competition itself” (Gustav Kuhn).

Master Class 2010

German baritone Julian Orlishausen has experienced how helpful the master classes can be. In 2010, he was studying at Wurzburg’s University of Music. He’d had a number of initial engagements, such as singing the role of Marcello in La Bohème in Chemnitz during the 2009/2010 season. In 2010, shortly after one of his performances, he made the long trek from Chemnitz to Gütersloh to attend the “Neue Stimmen” Master Class and learn from the coaches there. Despite his fatigue, he was fully attentive as he stood on the Studio Stage at the Gütersloh Theater being directed and corrected by Kuhn. “Focus your singing,” Kuhn told him. When Orlishausen finished, Kuhn applauded and provided a few tips about which parts might be appropriate for the young talent at this point.

This is, after all, the time when up-and-coming opera singers need a mentor: as they transition from their studies to the world of work. “If you’re part of the ensemble at a smaller theater, where the financial resources are more limited, you have to sing all sorts of roles,” Orlishausen explains. “At major opera houses, such as in Munich, world-class performers are brought in for the leading roles. As a young baritone, the threat there is that you won’t be given enough to do and the parts you receive will be too small.”

What advice did he receive from Kuhn? “Among other things, that I should keep doing what I’m doing for a while and not take on major Wagnerian roles or similar parts too soon,” the baritone says. “That sort of concern is often lacking. Few directors of smaller opera houses would say, ‘We need a Wotan, but Julian shouldn’t sing that part yet. We need to give him more time.’ You have to think of these things yourself.”

Passing on the energy that transforms opera

After 28 years of the competition and 18 years of the master classes, that he and Liz Mohn initiated, Kuhn is looking to the future. “We know what we owe our profession and we want to help carry forward the energy that transforms the world of opera” (Gustav Kuhn).
Kuhn studied at the universities and academies of Salzburg and Vienna, where in 1970 he graduated in composition and conducting and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy and psychopathology. Hans Swarowsky, Bruno Maderna and Herbert von Karajan were among the teachers who enabled him to perfect his conducting skills. Later he made guest appearances at countless opera houses throughout Europe, eventually becoming musical director of the Bern Orchestra and Opera, general music director of the Beethovenhalle Orchestra and Opera House in Bonn and chief conductor and artistic director of the opera houses in Naples and Rome.

Since 1986 he has also earned renown as a director. He founded the Tyrolean Festival Erl in 1997 and has been its artistic director since 1998. Since 2003 he has also been artistic director of the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento.

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