On 1 November, the European Chamber Music Master – ECMAster will see its formal launch. The ECMAster is a two year joint programme at the master’s degree level for pre-existing chamber music ensembles. It is operated by seven leading higher music education institutions in Vienna, The Hague, Oslo, Paris, Manchester, Vilnius and Fiesole in close collaboration with the European Chamber Music Academy – ECMA.

Not many people will know that the idea for the ECMAster goes way back to a project that ran during the late 1990s in the framework of the European Union’s Socrates programme, one of the predecessors of the currently running programme ERASMUS+. This project, entitled “Curriculum Development of Post-Graduate Courses for Chamber Music”, looked into how institutions could work together in the field of chamber music at the European level. The activities involved a small European network of conservatoires called Polyphonia, which included the mdw and was coordinated by the Utrecht Conservatory at the time. Polyphonia later developed into the large ERASMUS Network for Music “Polifonia”, which was coordinated by the European Association of Conservatoires (AEC) and ran from 2004 to 2014.

It is interesting to read the reports from the original Socrates project. With it having taken place during the pre-Bologna process era, one can see that the institutions were challenged by their lack of a common terminology and understanding of each other’s educational systems. This project’s working group also identified a lack of proper course descriptions and teaching materials in the chamber music field, for which the decision was made to launch a series of “fact-finding missions” to investigate chamber music teaching at the various institutions and also promote contact between chamber music teachers from various European countries. The working group, which included Johannes Meissl and the author, also talked a lot (or perhaps one should say: “dreamed” a lot…) about how more intensive European cooperation in the field of chamber might take shape, but it was clear at the time that there was not yet any framework within which these ideas could have been taken forward. At the project’s conclusion, the main concrete outcome was a report describing the approaches to chamber music teaching at various institutions. And while the working group was then disbanded, new ideas were born and an informal international network of chamber music teachers arose in its place.

Over the years that followed, Europe’s higher education landscape changed drastically. The Bologna process, which began in 1999, introduced the bachelor/master structure as well as tools such as ECTS and qualification frameworks in all European countries. Just more educational bureaucracy, one might think at first—but they were in fact all tools to help develop an understanding at the European level about each other’s educational systems and approaches. Members of the original Socrates working group were also involved in various European developments: Johannes Meissl was one of the masterminds behind the creation of ECMA, and this author spent many years working for the European Association of Conservatoires (AEC).

It was therefore a significant sign of times having changed when some of the original Socrates working group’s members came together again in another working group in the framework of the ERASMUS+ Strategic Partnership project ECMA – Next Step, which ran during the 2015–2018 period under the coordination of the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. It was here that the philosophy on European cooperation in top-level chamber music teaching embodied by ECMA came together with the benefits of the Bologna process, which had in the meanwhile created a framework for European-level cooperation in higher education.

The ECMA – Next Step project pursued two main objectives. Firstly, it worked to develop an integrated joint master’s degree programme offered by seven European conservatoires in which ensembles could benefit from the cultures and expertise of the various institutions and develop a truly international network. Secondly, in the interest of creating a joint curriculum, it worked on several chamber music teaching-related topics such as teaching methodologies and approaches to assessment. This led to a publication entitled “Teaching and Learning Chamber Music”, which addressed many issues having to do with chamber music teaching. The project also produced a series of videos from sessions with ECMA’s chamber music ensembles that can now be found on the ECMA website. But the project’s most significant ultimate outcome, finalised last September under the efficient and competent leadership of Kjetil Solvik and Tone Jordhus at the Norwegian Academy of Music, was the creation of the ECMAster.

The ECMAster programme is constructed in such a way that during its two years of advanced study, two obligatory exchange semesters at two different host institutions form an integral part of the curriculum with support from Erasmus+ mobility funds. As a result, the ECMAster ensembles spend semesters 1 and 4 at their home institution and semesters 2 and 3 at two different host institutions. In addition, the ensembles also participate in at least six ECMA sessions, thus obtaining access to a European network for the chamber music profession. By facilitating tailor-made curricula, the ECMAster enables students to develop their specific artistic, technical, reflective and social skills as well as to act as strong, independent, and innovative ensemble musicians who are able meet the high professional demands of tomorrow’s music scene. And the admitted chamber music ensembles will benefit from the expertise, cultures, and traditions of three separate music institutions in three different European countries.

It is wonderful to see how old dreams can still materialise even if things can take a very long time. And now, the ECMAster will offer new and exciting opportunities to young musicians from all over the world who have the ambition to perfect their skills and expand their knowledge in an international setting. Let’s hope that the ECMAster will also point the way for other subject areas in music as an example of how European cooperation can be of great benefit to students, teachers, institutions, and—ultimately and most importantly—to the great art of (chamber) music itself.


The ECMAster at the mdw

The fact that chamber music is now among the internationally recognised strengths of the mdw, with the Joseph Haydn Department of Chamber Music, Early Music, and Contemporary Music of the mdw viewed as a worldwide leader, is based on a deliberately chosen strategy: regular chamber music-making by all instrumental performance majors at the mdw is encouraged by the curriculum, by the most diverse onsite projects, and by highly active work to provide students with performance opportunities. And for the purposes of intensification and specialisation, the department’s access to international networks provides opportunities to constantly orient oneself toward and also help shape the top international level.

In the interest of all of the above, the development of the Joseph Haydn Department has been quite closely linked with European-level initiatives ever since its establishment. Furthermore, the Department’s involvement in the original Polyphonia project provided crucial help in structuring chamber music at the mdw and, step-by-step, implementing it both within the curriculum at large and as its own main artistic subject.

The most important step, however, has been the active role played by the Haydn Department (and the mdw) in developing ECMA – the European Chamber Music Academy, which has existed since 2004 and been formally established as an association headquartered in Vienna since 2007. Nine partner universities and festivals from all over Europe currently form ECMA’s core family of institutions, which now cooperates with a continually increasing number of concert organisers, festivals, and further places of education within the most varied formats.

For the mdw’s rich chamber music scene with its pre-existing curricular possibilities ranging from instrumental studies specialisations to the master’s degree programme and the postgraduate programme, the ECMAster thus now represents the well-ripened “cherry on the cake”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *