Sunday, 6 November 2016

Composition Master Classes

In the past years I have attended a few master classes of composition, so I thought I would share my experience about compositional masterclasses, both the ones I have attended and those that I maybe would like to attend.

Composition Master Class with Doctor Samuel Adler, Berlin
In 2012 I attended the six week long (!) master class with Doctor Samuel Adler (born 1928 in Germany) at the Freie Universität Berlin (Germany). We were 14 students whom Doctor Adler taught 45 minutes twice a week and once a week we also had a group lesson with him. In addition you could also take a conducting class (as a group lesson) with his wife Emily Freeman Brown. The course fee of around 2000 euros only included the lessons, so housing and living expenses came in addition to that. During the first two weeks we composed a 4 minute piece for a given ensemble, which was performed at the end of the course, and we also got a recording of the performance. During the next four weeks you could work on what ever you wanted to, so I wrote a small piece for orchestra. The course was the best master class I have ever attended, partly because it happened to come to a time when I had a “writers block” and Doctor Adler managed to open this writers block, which was a wonderful feeling! Also I still use some of the compositional techniques he taught me during the course. Berlin is also a wonderful and inspiring city to live in, and I went to concerts or to one of the three (!) opera houses around five times a week during the six weeks I stayed there. But recently I googled and noticed that this course doesn’t seem to be available anymore, so it seems like Doctor has retired (after retiring from Juilliard at the age of 85), therefore I won’t write too much about this course here although it was the best course I have attended!

Sävellyspaja is part of the festival Summer Sounds in Porvoo, Finland. It takes place one week after midsummer (around the last week of June) and the composition master class is about 5 days. You apply in December to the workshop and are informed a few month later if you are elected or not. The elected participants are given a specific task, writing for a ensemble from the Avanti! orchestra. The task/piece has to be ready by March or April. The task varies form year to year, when I participated they gave us a beginning and an ending that we were supposed to incorporate into our piece, and I wrote my piece “Outlandish Excursion”. The teachers at Sävellyspaja are the Finnish composers Tomi Räisänen and Jukka Tiensuu (who is one of my favourite composers!). You usually get two classes with each teacher and then you also have master classes where each student presents works they have composed. You get a few rehearsals with the ensemble and all  compositions are performed at a concert at the festival. When I attended in 2011 also Jouni Kaipainen was my teacher. He is one of the founders of the course and has taught at Sannäs for about 25 years. But sadly he passed away in November 2015. He will always be missed and remembered for his enthusiasm, energy and warm spirit.

In short:
-Takes place last week of June
-In Sannäs, Porvoo, Finland
-You apply in December
-You write the piece before the master class
-You get rehearsals and a performance by professionals at the Porvoo Summer Sounds Festival
-You get all together four lessons with composers Jukka Tiensuu and Tomi Räisänen
-You get free tickets and have the opportunity to hear many of the Summer Sounds concerts
-The course fee is around 300 euros and includes everything (lessons, living, breakfast, tickets) except lunch and dinner. (This price may vary from year to year depending on how much funding Sävellyspaja receives.)
-The course location is a gorgeous manor basically in the middle of beautiful fields (in the middle of nowhere) and it also has a swimming pool and a sauna.
-The food is served at the extraordinary restaurant of the manor (and costs around 15 euro per meal).

Time of Music is a contemporary music festival taking place in Viitasaari, a small city between great lakes and forests. The master class teachers in composition vary very much from year to year. When I attended Time of Music in 2014 the course was held by Sandeep Bhagwati and was about Comprovisation. Also composers such as Beat Furrer (2012) and John Cage (1983) have been teachers & composers in residence for the festival.

In short:
-Takes place the second week of July
-In Viitasaari, Finland
-The master class is part of the avant-garde contemporary music festival
-You apply in the spring
-The teacher varies from year to year (as does the task)
-You get free tickets and have the opportunity to hear most of the Time of Music concerts
-The course fee of around 300 euros includes lessons and living, but no food. (This price may vary from year to year depending on how much funding the course receives.)
-The students live in very basic houses, but the nature is absolutely beautiful and you have the opportunity to go to sauna and/or swimming in the lake (almost) every day.
-Getting food can at times be a bit tricky (as there aren't so many restaurants in such a small town), often the students cook their own food in the evening and also eat it for lunch.

ISAM is a two week long master class in the Landesakademie Ochsenhausen, Germany. You can participate with piano, composition or organ. The teachers in composition are Ofer Ben Amots and Jan Jirásek and you get around three private lessons with each teacher. You can also require a few more sessions if you feel you need it. In composition you have a given ensemble (usually a trio) to write for during the first 10 days, and in the end of the course all pieces are performed by professional musicians. The curious thing is that when the newly written pieces are performed, they automatically are part of the International Josef Dorfman Composition Competition. The most amazing thing about this course is probably the location: an enormous former monastery that was seculized, with original frescos from the 17-hundreds.
In short:
-Takes place the last week July and first week of July
-In the Landesmusikakademie Ochsenhausen, Baden-Wüttenberg, Germany
-You apply during the spring and are informed in June if you are accepted
-ISAM is also a master class you can do if you haven't composed much before but have studied some instrument, know how to write notes and have a background in music
-You usually write the piece during the first10 days of the master class
-You get rehearsals and a performance by professional musicians and take part in the International Josef Dorfman Composition Competition
-You get all together six lessons with composers Ofer Ben Amots and Jan Jirasek
-You get free tickets and have the opportunity to hear all ISAM concerts and matinees (in total around 8 concerts and 3 matinees)
-The course fee around 1000 euros includes everything (lessons, living, breakfast, lunch, dinner, tickets, but NOT travels to and from the location). (This price may vary from year to year depending on how much funding ISAM receives.)
-The course location is a gorgeous castle basically in the middle of beautiful fields in the small village of Ochsenhausen and it also has a lake close by.
-There is a bar just beside the castle where you usually spend a lot of time and a ice-cream parlour that you usually also visit a few times.

The course takes place in the same beautiful location as ISAM, Landesmusikakademie Ochsenhausen, an enormous former monastery that was seculized, with original frescos from the 17-hundreds. The teacher and conductor of the course change every time, in 2016 when I attended we had Danish composer John Høybye as our teacher and Michael Alber conducting and instructing the Orfeus Vocal Ensemble. (In earlier years I heard that the composers also conducted them selves the ensemble, I was very happy not having to do that because Alber is a great conductor and did a perfect job with my difficult piece which I could never have achieved.) The course emphasises on listening to the professional choir rehearse our pieces three hours a day and learning by watching what things are and are not hard, what things work and don’t work. For being honest, this method really beat my expectations! Even though I have sung several years in a semi-professional choir (Näsin ääni), watching a group of professional singers work very fast showed what worked easy and what is hard. Note that although the focus of the course is on new written choral music, the choir is not very used to avant garde music, so keep that in mind when you apply. But if you are interested in writing music like Whitacre, Mäntyjärvi, Pärt or Høybye, this is a perfect course for you! 

In short:
-Takes place in the middle of September all even years (next time in 2018)
-In Landesakademie Ochsenhausen, Baden-Wüttenberg, Germany
-You apply before June and are informed in June or July if you are accepted
-The course can also be attended by for instance choral composers or music teachers who compose.
-You usually bring one ready piece to the course but also can try out excerpts during the course.
-You get rehearsals and a performance by the professional Orpheus Vocal Ensemble
-You have about one private lesson with the teacher and around 5-8 hours masterclass
-You get to listen to the professional choir rehearse all the students pieces for three hours a day.
-If your are elected to the course it is for FREE and includes everything (lessons, living, breakfast, lunch, dinner and dinner). You have to book and pay your own travels to and from the course.

These are all courses I have attended, so now I will go on with other composer masterclasses and summer courses I would like to attend in the future. Obviously I don’t know so much about them as I haven’t been there, but just for some more ideas what’s out there! 

Courses I would like to attend:

The legendary summer course for contemporary music at Darmstadt takes place all evan years (next time 2018). It is both for performers and composers and a meeting point for all people interested in contemporary and avant garde music. It was founded in 1946 and if you read biographies of famous living composers, most of them have attended this course at least once.

I hope on continuing this list, so maybe I will edit it in the future, but enough for now! Good luck applying!

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