ECMTA Autumn Gathering 3-5 November 2017 in Leiston Abbey, Suffolk (UK)
In cooperation with Pro Corda www.procorda.com
Dr Evan Rothstein
with contributions from Eilis Cranitch
Like previous meetings, the ECMTA Autumn Meeting at Leiston Abbey from 3rd-5th November was an exceptionally stimulating and enriching experience. One unusual feature of this meeting, however, was that participants were also resident in the beautiful isolated Leiston Abbey, near Saxmundham, Suffolk, home to Pro Corda. This meant that members had still more opportunities to discuss further any topic that had been presented, and more time to catch up on each other’s professional activity, exchange ideas and information. In purest ECMTA tradition, a very positive and warm community energy developed throughout the weekend. The different guest lectures and topics presented in the Members Forum were exceptionally interesting and stimulating, and gave plenty of food for thought and discussion! Members attended from Estonia, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Italy, France, Cyprus and Finland; six professors gave masterclasses with student ensembles from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and the Conservatorio di Musica in Cagliari, who then performed very demanding repertoire in the closing concert of the weekend. Professors Yiannis Miralis and Michael Tsalka very generously presented a recital of music for saxophone and piano (both professors, who met through ECMTA a few years ago, perform regularly together as part of the Mediterranean Trio). Seven professors gave presentations in the Members Forum.
The four guest lectures presented a broad range of insights and activities: Matthew Jones discussed chamber music teaching techniques and strategies and Kai Christiansen explained the structure and purposes of his fascinating chamber music database Earsense. Our host Andrew Quartermain gave a deeply inspiring talk about the history and current projects of Pro Corda and then, with the participation of three talented young students, demonstrated the application of his practice of improvisation as a key to developing chamber music skills. The Gathering concluded with Richard Ireland’s unusually detailed and informative accounting of the evolution of his Chamberstudio project since it was last presented to ECMTA members, back at the meeting in Rome in 2011.
Matthew Jones, Head of Chamber Music at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Senior Lecturer in Viola, recounted many of his own techniques in coaching groups. These included creative strategies for using a metronome, making use of short, intensive work sessions to improve concentration and memorization, and techniques to increase awareness of unnecessary tension and physical well being. Kai Christiansen, the CEO of Earsense gave a detailed introduction to his extremely practical and useful chamber music database (see the link on the ECMTA website), containing an incredible abundance of biographical and analytical information, links to performances, programme notes and other useful resources and information for a huge number of composers and works. Mr Christiansen actively solicited input from ECMTA members concerning the pedagogical uses to which this database might be put, and invited suggestions about what kind of content could be included, what composers might be missing or incompletely represented and how the database might be made still more useful to teachers and students.
Our host, Pro Corda Executive Director Andrew Quartermain gave a detailed presentation about the origins of Pro Corda and its current extensive national and local projects and activities, with special emphasis on its very successful inclusive music education projects which allow special needs students to participate in highly creative and innovative musical projects. He then brought on stage three very young string players to demonstrate the improvisation techniques employed in order to unlock students’ expressive potential and develop their chamber music ensemble skills. The improvisation exercises, part of a programme for Building Creative Small Ensembles (see links below), seemed to be based on at least a basic understanding of scales and tonalities, the concept of musical dialogue and the construction of melodies using small motives. Mr Quartermain provided expert piano accompaniment for all of the student solos in a wide variety of styles. All three students appeared very much at ease, and each spontaneously created very convincing solos in collaboration with Mr Quartermain. The performances were all the more impressive in that the young students had apparently not been briefed before arriving about what they would in fact be asked to do! Richard Ireland, Founder and Artistic Director of Chamberstudio and Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music, gave the last lecture of the weekend, providing deeply fascinating and enriching insight into the struggles and challenges faced by his emerging project to support the artistic development of promising young chamber ensembles. Many of the issues raised were familiar to ECMTA members: the challenge of appropriate focus on artistic rather than purely professional development, the temptation of emphasizing results over process, the need to establish limits to the projects actions, the search for funding. ECMTA members appreciated the admirable thoughtfulness and integrity of the processes of adaptation and selection described, leading to the project’s current successful and sustainable model.
ECMTA delegates and guests in Leiston Abbey
The Members Forum presentations were also exceptionally rich and varied; many of the topics intersected with the guest lecturer’s themes, providing still more points of connection for discussion. Professor Katariina Liimatainen (Kuopio Conservatory) spoke, for example, about the Kuopio Conservatory’s participation in an Erasmus+ supported project for Inclusive Pedagogy in Arts – Europe (IPA-E). This project, which involves seven institutional partners, all pioneers and experts in the field of inclusive arts education for special needs students, suggested immediate parallels with several of the Pro Corda initiatives described by Andrew Quartermain. ECMTA members were able to appreciate some aspects of this work at the Spring Meeting in Kuopio last year for the 10th Anniversary of the ECMTA. It is hoped that this IPA-E project will lead to the creation of models
of in-service training in inclusive art pedagogy. Professor Michael Tsalka (Festival director and concert artist), an expert in historical keyboards, gave a fascinating overview of a neglected repertoire of very practical interest, Dittersdorf’s Four-hand adaptations of his own Ovid Symphonies. These works were the object of a recording project for Naxos, for which Tsalka collaborated with the pianist James Tibbles, from which excerpts were used to illustrate this presentation. As many ECMTA members are responsible for piano duo classes, this repertoire could be of considerable use. Professor Pekka Helasvuo (Helsinki) gave us an exciting update on the Sibelius complete works edition, to which he had given us a passionate introduction at the meeting in Rome in 2011 and in which he continues to play an important role. The most important news was that work on the string quartets, including the numerous shorter works which have been unavailable except on recording, has now begun. Many ECMTA members will be aware of this repertoire, consisting of a fairly important number of works of artistic and pedagogical interest. We await further updates with growing impatience.
Dr Evan Rothstein (Guildhall School of Music & Drama) gave an overview of the principles underlying his work in the chamber music programme at the Jacobs School of Music Summer String Academy in Bloomington (USA). This programme allows for an alternative to the usual summer workshop focus on high-level repertoire and results by providing more time – at least two-hours rehearsal a day for three and a half weeks, plus two one-hour lessons and a weekly performance class– to explore the processes involved in developing chamber music skills. With this choice, supported by the Academy’s director Mimi Zweig, students might acquire the tools and techniques for score study, decision-making, tuning, phrasing, articulation and creative invention and interpretation in ways that are not entirely linked to the successful execution of a single particular piece. Simona Zajančauskaitė (Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) alerted members of the upcoming International Stasys Vainiūnas Piano and Chamber Music Competition (Deadline for applications: 15 January. See link below for more information) and Professor Petras Kunca (Lithuanian Musicians Union) gave a report on 10 years of Lithuanian participation and contributions to ECMTA: represented by Professor Kunca, a member of the ECMTA Board since the founding of the association in 2007, the participation of Lithuanian music schools and the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre has increased continuously. Since his retirement as Head of Chamber Music at LAMT, the department continues to be actively involved in ECMTA under the leadership of Dalia Balsyte. Through the organization of workshops and competitions, Lithuanian music schools promote the teaching, performance and creation of chamber music as a central part of music education.
A very stimulating and interesting talk was given by Elizabeth Wilson (Artistic Director, Xenia Chamber Music Course, Italy) on “Rostropovich-the teacher”. Ms. Wilson studied with Rostropovich in Moscow and gave a very moving firsthand account of his classes, with historic photographs, recordings and many anecdotes. His classes were conducted as open masterclasses, during which he preferred to play the piano (even though there was an official accompanist present) and talk of artistic interpretation rather than cello technique. The classes were performances in themselves: Rostropovich cajoled and inspired his students to give the best of themselves and went far beyond simply making corrections by helping them understand the essence of the work they were playing. Photographs of Rostropovich with Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh made the visit of ECMTA delegates later that afternoon to Snape Maltings, the Britten Pears School and the town of Aldeburgh, where Britten lived, all the more poignant and meaningful.
Special thanks to our hosts at Pro Corda for their incredibly warm welcome and hospitality, to our Chairwoman Marje Lohuaru and Treasurer/Secretary Piret Väinmaa for impeccable organization and programming, and to all participants for the efforts made to attend.
Guest Speakers: Matthew Jones, Kai Christiansen, Andrew Quartermain, Richard Ireland
Member performers: Michael Tsalka and Yiannis Miralis
Student performers: Lea Valiulina, Merily Leotoots, Ann Meeta Teppo, Ruslan Petrov, Joonatan Jürgenson, Elide Sulsenti, Alessandro Mezzorani
Members Forum presenters: Simona Zajančauskaitė, Elizabeth Wilson, Petras Kunca, Evan Rothstein, Katariina Liimatainen, Pekka Helasvuo, Michael Tsalka