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Suddeutsche Zeitung : May 28, 2016

Education on a field trip

The Curtis Institute of Music was attended by such famous names as Leonard Bernstein and Hilary Hahn. This conservatory based in Philadelphia stands out for its unique instructional concept: going on tour. 


German text

There is a big difference between musical training and performing music professionally. The former mainly involves practicing in closed rooms, followed with luck by concert work – combined with tours, short-term collaborations and a flexible repertoire. When Ulrich Nicolai invited director Herbert Blomstedt to the Munich University of Music to conduct the university orchestra in an open rehearsal, the professor justified this almost wistfully with the fact that so few musicians actually work with such conductors in their professional lives. A similar approach, sweetened with American positive thinking, is the foundation for the instructional concept of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Here students don't need to wait for when they might actually work as musicians; instead, touring is part of the regular school schedule. They experience in field trips what is otherwise simply practiced each day. A notion that is succeeding – or so it would seem from the prominence of alumni: The Curtis Institute was home to Leonard Bernstein, Hilary Hahn and Lang Lang.

However, school President Roberto Díaz does not see regular touring as the only factor in the success of his graduates. Aside from practice, which is always required, this Chilean-American violist sees two things as particularly important: the illustrious array of instructors, and how the Institute's 175 students work with them. “Usually you have a regular teacher who trains you,” explains Díaz. Not in Philadelphia – here, students decide which instructor they want to work with based on the era and focus that currently interests them. This too reflects a US liberal arts attitude, which supports a broad education in keeping with a market approach.

But the Curtis Institute does differ in one way from other conservatories and universities in the US. The school is financed by a foundation, with assets that likely owe much to the Institute's famous graduates, so there is no tuition. “The students should be able to focus; they should be able to practice and try things out. You can only think outside of the box when you have time and don't have to be working on the side,” explains Díaz. And students do work for their education, in a way, when they tour in the name of the school. The chamber music group recently performed in Berlin and Dresden, and the orchestra will come to Europe next year. Some group from the school is traveling at almost any given time during the year, Díaz says, expressing yet another American principle: learning by doing. The chamber music delegation is coming to Munich with an unusual program from Mozart's clarinet trio, KV498, David Ludwig's “Our Long War” for soprano, violin and piano, and Messiaen's clarinet quartet “Quatuor pour la fin du temps.”

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