The mdw’s Youth Master Classes for the Next Generation of Musicians

Why does a university that’s responsible for 3,000 students’ professional training also run youth programmes? The answer to this, though it’s by no means a given, is clear: just who finds their way into a degree programme at the mdw shouldn’t be left to chance!

The mdw, with its location in the so-called “world capital of music” and its select, high-quality teaching staff, has been viewed as a top-ranked place of training for many decades. So one would be tempted to think that there’d be no need to worry about the quality of new students.

©Music School Management Lower Austria / mdw Vienna

Even so, the university has actually expanded its comprehensive youth work in recent times. Since the musician’s profession is a continuum that nearly always begins during childhood, being admitted to a university is not something that happens out of the blue. And young musicians’ enriching engagement with the preparatory level—a matter quite close to the hearts of certain professors for many decades now—has now become a central priority of the mdw’s top administrators.

Long before going to study, young musicians can take advantage of various mdw programmes as well as cooperative arrangements between the mdw and a diverse range of partners in order to get a qualitative idea of what an instrumental performance degree programme is while also getting a taste of university life and their future occupations.

With initiatives such as the Young Masters Programme, and—since 2017—the new mdw Youth Master Classes, young talents living in Austria are to be encouraged to actually follow the call of music that they feel within themselves. It’s also about sensitising young musical personalities to the varied challenges that they’ll encounter later on as musicians. After all, the musical profession is one that is transforming on a constant basis, and today—more than ever before—it is characterised by the strength, conviction, and creativity of individual musical personalities.

©Music School Management Lower Austria / mdw Vienna

In 2016, the Austrian Federal Chancellery called on the country’s universities of music to intensify their cooperation with Musik der Jugend, organiser of Austria’s largest youth music competition prima la musica, which takes place at both the provincial and the national levels. The vision was to offer more support for the successful participants, especially for those expected to embark upon a professional path with music and their instruments.

Likewise since 2016, interesting changes to prima la musica itself have already been placing a stronger emphasis on this target group of young musicians interested in studying music. The solo competitions, which alternate on an annual basis between winds and percussion and bowed, plucked, and keyboard instruments, have been made considerably more intense: from age 14, one can now participate in a pre-university-oriented PLUS category aimed especially at young people studying at conservatories, at pre-colleges, or in preparatory programmes, though it can also be entered by music school students. The standards that have to be met to participate in the PLUS categories are higher with regard to both repertoire size and the quality of one’s playing.

This category seeks to attract “[…] all those among Austria’s young musicians who desire to achieve special things with their art, who sense within themselves a strong talent, great discipline, and an intense affinity, and who are thinking about studying music and perhaps even about an artistic career […]”. (from prima la musica’s 2018 call for entries, p. 16)

2017 saw 180 young musicians take part in the new PLUS categories for wind and percussion instrument players aged 14 to 19, of whom 90 also accepted invitations to the mdw Youth Master Classes. Heavily represented were Lower Austria, Carinthia, Tirol, and the Italian province of South Tirol which collectively accounted for two thirds of the invited participants. And in terms of instruments, the invitation was accepted by above-average numbers of recorder, trumpet, and clarinet players.

©Music School Management Lower Austria / mdw Vienna

What did the mdw Youth Master Classes do for their young participants? Answers to an anonymous online questionnaire indicated the following takeaways: Courage, affirmation, help in assessing one’s own abilities, new friendships, intense exchange, great musical experiences, “connections with like-minded people”, lots of tips on practicing, playing technique, and relaxation, contacts to a “large number of interesting, friendly, and dedicated” teachers, and insights into university life: “the chance to get a taste of everyday university life and get to know the standards of a university of music like this one”, “hearing the opinions of other professors on my musical performance”, and “that there are differing perspectives on and differing ways of playing and learning a piece”.

A few direct quotations: Everyone really was happy to see us there and gave us a feeling of being valued. The other young people were so open and eager for contact, and everyone contributed something. The instructors were exceptionally motivated and tried to address the needs of each individual person. The day was perfectly structured and planned from beginning to end. And for that matter, the whole atmosphere was very positive overall (no competitive thinking) and relaxed. Keep it up!

Our answer to that is clear: you bet we will! The mdw Youth Master Classes project is being made a permanent fixture of the mdw’s variety-packed calendar—and we’re eager to be there and provide support once more when the next large group of young musicians dares to take the next step toward their goals.

In this spirit, the current year will see the university invite young string players, pianists, and singers1 to the second edition of the mdw Youth Master Classes. And to all prima la musica participants, we extend our best wishes—may the force (of music) be with you!

1: The pool of invitees to the mdw Youth Master Classes consists of the solo participants in the PLUS category of prima la musica’s national competition.


Please find further information about the Young Masters on the website of mdw’s Enrichment Programme for the Exceptionally Gifted:

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