Jul 15, 2008

Young Musicians Challenged to Perform in Collaboration — A Joint Project of 3 World-Renowned Music Schools

Dorothea Riedel, Wolfgang Klos

University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna

(The following is an excerpt from the SYLFF Newsletter No.21, Aug 2008)

Dorothea Riedel and Wolfgang Klos


How the Joint Project was Initiated

Among the 68 SYLFF institutions are 3 music universities representing the world’s top training schools for professional performing artists: the Juilliard School in New York, the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris, and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

These institutions, which for many years have received generous SYLFF endowments via the Tokyo Foundation, have also been able to benefit from the SYLFF Fellows Mobility Program (FMP), which the foundation launched to promote SYLFF fellow exchanges. The 3 schools jointly proposed, as an FMP project, a challenging exchange program in the field of chamber music. This full-of-spirit project, known as the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar, has produced outstanding collaborations between highly educated people in an international language, namely that of music. Each of the 3 schools organized 10-day-long coaching programs, the first of which was held at Juilliard in New York (2006), the second at the Conservatoire in Paris (2007), and the third in Vienna (2008). The highlight and outcome of each coaching program was a joint concert held at each of these cities in turn at the end of its respective 10-day program.


Why Chamber Music?

It seemed particularly meaningful for the 3 institutions to cooperate in this field, because many musically knowledgeable individuals regard chamber music as a dialog on the highest spiritual and mental levels. Moreover, one of the advantages of combining the outstanding musical and technical skills of a small number of the most highly developed students is that wonderful results can be obtained from a minimum of resources.

For many decades, chamber music — with its intimate atmosphere and the challenges it offers to not only musicians but also to audiences — stood in the shadow of the more spectacular performances of symphonies and operas. This position of chamber music has changed dramatically within the last few years, mainly due to sociological and financial reasons. Music universities reacted to this change by offering their graduate students a realistic professional perspective; for example, the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna launched a Chamber Music Institute and a chamber music curriculum on the master’s and doctoral levels that perfectly match actual professional demands. As a result, chamber music was the logical choice for the collaboration between the 3 music universities in the SYLFF network.

Our intention in Vienna was to offer to the audience a concert program that reflects significant works from each of the three cultural areas where the schools are located: Paris, Vienna, and New York. We also wanted to present to our fellow musicians from Juilliard and Paris both the major musical areas for which our university is well-known and the methods that our teachers use, thereby offering the visiting musicians the resources, possibilities, and contacts of our university.


The Seminar in Vienna: Its Process and Fruits

The students participating in the seminar were expected to be well-prepared prior to their arrival in Vienna. Their schedule during the program was so full that they had to start working the very next day after arrival. The frequency and intensity of the coaching, and the necessity of the musicians having to work with colleagues they had not previously met, was a kind of training very similar to the actual situations that professional musicians face, and is 1 of the factors that make this program so valuable for the students.

In addition, the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar is unique in that it gives each student rare opportunities to compare the learning conditions of one’s mother institution with those of another university, to meet new teachers, compare teaching methods, and to compare one’s own artistic level with that of others.

The end of the coaching program in Vienna was a public concert in one of the halls (Gläserner Saal) of the world-famous Musikverein. The performance included masterpieces by Mozart, Debussy, and Gershwin, and lasted almost 3 hours — a very challenging concert, because so many different formations were presented — from a classical wind octet (to collaborate with Viennese horns and oboes was an amazing experience for our friends from New York and Paris) to mixed ensembles (strings, including a harp; wind; and keyboard), and 2 pianos. Thanks to the rigorous professionalism of the intensive practice sessions, rehearsals, and coaching, this concert was an outstanding event.

To attract public attention to our concert was a challenging adventure for the university’s staff because, as one can imagine, in Vienna every night is filled with concerts featuring famous artists. Moreover, Viennese audiences are spoiled and choosy. Therefore, we were all very happy to see that many people came and nearly filled the hall. The concert was a great success. The success was also expressed in the audience’s applause: a well-earned reward for the many days of hard work put in by musicians, teachers, and organizers. The aims of the program — to widen and deepen the professional and cultural perspectives of all concerned, to make new friends, and to develop close relationships among the participating SYLFF fellows from 3 different music schools — were achieved in a wonderful way.

In addition to this ambitious coaching program, the city of Vienna itself, a center of music for hundreds of years, also left a strong impression on our guests. On the very first day, the students of the three music universities who had gathered in Vienna for the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar were taken on a tour to the city’s major sightseeing spots by a professional tourist guide. Also, with the university being situated close to Vienna’s old city center, the students were able to move around by public transport to explore the city on their own.

On Sunday, which was the only day without rehearsals and training sessions, Professor Wolfgang Klos, former vice-rector and one of the initiators of the project, took students on a special tour to visit very special sites of Vienna’s past: the homes of Mozart and Beethoven, the house where George Gershwin composed his famous work “An American in Paris” (which was part of the final concert’s program), and other places of cultural and historical interest of which Vienna has many. The latter include the cemeteries where Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and other prominent composers are buried, places from which it is easy to access museums, libraries, and private collections that display autographs and other memorabilia of the respective composers. I am sure that the students felt the special atmosphere of artistic creativity that makes Vienna the world capital of music. That Sunday started with a solemn Catholic service with music performed by our university’s Church Music Department in the baroque-style Church of St. Ursula, one of our university’s buildings. This was a very special service featuring a choir, orchestra, and organ music, which is still thriving in Vienna. The day ended with a typical Viennese dinner in the "heuriger" where Beethoven wrote his famous “Heiligenstadt Testimony.” Everyone could feel the atmosphere of the world famous composer’s spirit that led to the masterpieces that were to be performed as the final concert of this intensive rehearsal period.


The Importance of This Kind of Project

This kind of project is important, for many reasons, including the following:

    • New professional challenges need new instructional approaches.
    • To bring together high-level musicians from different cultures is a challenge for all participants (students, staff, administrators), and also represents the reality of a professional musician’s life in the increasingly globalized world of musical arts (though for most of these students, being rather young in age, this was a first grand adventure in that world).
    • Cultural interaction of this intensity among such different training institutions offers a unique opportunity to collaborate at the highest level on an extremely challenging program: a world premiere.

The final concert represented the climax of everyone’s efforts, and it was highly appreciated and enthusiastically applauded by the musically spoiled-for-choice and difficult-to-please audience of the Vienna Musikverein; the concert turned out to be a very rare happening. This kind of joint undertaking actively demonstrates that music is an international language and that the sphere of action of high-level musicians is the world in its entirety. For advanced students of these world-leading music schools in different parts of the world that are connected through the SYLFF network, the opportunity to interact with students, staff, and administrators of the highest artistic level from other countries and cultures was an important step in their professional development.


The Significance of Chamber Music Education and Training

The current year’s project has revealed that the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminars are significant in at least the following 2 ways.

1. For society

a. When the students complete their highly professional music education, they will be specialists, perfectly trained to entertain the most demanding audience at the highest level. As musicians they will be able to elevate people from everyday life to an artistic sphere, presenting human feelings and a humanistic and dignified approach to human life.

b. Musically educated individuals reach higher levels in all fields of human education (even in mathematics, as internationally validated studies have indicated for decades) and enrich human society by their very intense lives, broad visions, and wide tolerance.

2. For individual musicians

For the reasons already mentioned above, music education at advanced level leads to personal development that offers to the musician both a more fulfilled life through his or her highly developed craftsmanship (as well as through the difficulties experienced along the way) and an artistic insight into human life that makes him or her more mature and richer in personality.

The ability to create and appreciate the fine arts, especially music as a perfect means of international communication, are major factors that define us as human beings.


The SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar 2009

In 2009 Austria will celebrate the bicentennial of Haydn’s death, and therefore the 3 music universities have decided to start the second cycle of the 3-year seminar in Vienna. The SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar 2009 and its final concert will take place at Eszterhazy Castle, where the famous composer and “father” of classical chamber music, Josef Haydn, created his masterpieces over several decades. This will be a new challenge for outstanding young artists from the Juilliard School in New York, the Conservatoire de Paris, and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

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