A QandA with Professor Karl Kramer

The following is the complete transcript of questions and the answers given by the Dean and Principal of the Sydney Conservatorium – University of Sydney, Professor Karl Kramer in February, for the purposes of an article to be printed in the March 2015 Fine Music magazine. On April 17, Professor Kramer tendered his resignation from that post (to take effect on July 17).

Karl Kramer

Karl Kramer

Q: In your survey of the past 100 years of the Conservatorium’s existence, what do you think would be the high points?

The Con has had numerous high points in its first century, starting with the conversion of the historic government stables into a palace for music education and performance in 1915. Founding Director Henri Verbrugghen (1915-1921) set the vision for the Con to ‘provide tuition of a standard equal to that of the leading European conservatoriums’, and several pre-eminent directors followed, including Dr Edgar Bainton (1934-1948) who established the opera school, and conductor and composer Eugene Goossen (1948-1955) who fashioned it into a world-class music institution. Other important milestones include:
• the expansion of the curriculum into pre-tertiary and university degree programs, as well as other music opportunities for the wider community; the founding of Australia’s first jazz course in 1973;
• the amalgamation of the Sydney Conservatorium with the University of Sydney in 1990, enhancing the Music Faculty’s international reputation and connections;
• the redevelopment and expansion of the Con site from 1997-2001, resulting in the acoustic marvel and world-class facility that the people of Sydney enjoy today; and, of course,
• the tens of thousands of talented alumni that have been nurtured at the Con and have carried the flag for Sydney throughout the world.

Q: In the short time that you have been at the helm of this institution, about what are you most pleased?

The Con is blessed with a hardworking team of staff and a talented and focused student body. The continuing support from the University of Sydney, the State Government, professional arts partners and our Sydney audiences make for a perfect storm of total community engagement.

I am most pleased with these initiatives of the last three years:
• the creation of the Pacific Alliance of Music Schools (PAMS) in April 2014 that saw the 12 elite music institutions from the Asia-Pacific gather at the Sydney Opera House to create an agenda and draft a narrative that would establish closer ties and foster exchange;
• the establishment of Estivo in July 2014, our annual European Chamber Music Summer School based in Verona, Italy, with over 45 tertiary music students from the Sydney Conservatorium taking part to perform over 20 concerts in three Italian cities in a two-week period;
• the creation of the Westheimer String Quartet Development Program and two new annual conducting and piano scholarships, thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors;
• outreach programs such as the University of Sydney’s annual Wingara Mura summer music program that offers an intensive music workshop to indigenous high school students (years 9 and 10); and
• this year’s launch of the Con’s brand new contemporary music performance program—the Bachelor of Music Studies (Contemporary Music) — to meet the changing interests and needs of the music world.

Q: As the premier performance institution in the country, what do you see as the Conservatorium’s current strengths?

We provide a comprehensive degree offering (Bachelors through to Doctoral) across the genres of performance, composition, music education, jazz, and musicology. Our incredible mix of distinguished teachers from Australia and abroad gives us an international edge. Our students learn from practicing composers and musicians from the Sydney Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Opera Australia, as well as other professionals. While performance-based training sits at the core of our curriculum where musicians may develop the skills and aesthetic to become successful performers, composers, or educators (or all three for that matter), students may also utilise a musical education in careers other than music. Additionally, programs of study such as the contemporary music degree help us remain current and relevant in a changing world.

Q: In your opinion, where does the Conservatorium fit in the world’s tertiary music scene?

There are no official rankings of tertiary music schools internationally. However, based on the student musicians I have seen perform over the last 25 years at the tertiary music schools in the US, Europe and Asia, students from the Con are competing on the same level and world stage. As a member of the Pacific Alliance of Music Schools (PAMS) and the International Benchmarking Exercise (IBE) group, the Con takes a leading role in calling the agenda and shaping the narrative of both these organisations. Subjectively (and totally unbiased of course), I am confident that the Con sits at the leadership table of comprehensive music schools throughout the world.

Q: How has, or how is the Conservatorium addressing the needs of a new generation in its acquisition of music skills?

Entrepreneurship is the current buzzword in arts education. But in my view, as John Cage used to say: “You can’t teach the Avant Garde; you can only increase the odds of it happening.” I celebrate the renewed vitality of the heritage we hold dear. I point to the intrepid soloists and chamber players who are colonising clubs and art galleries from state to state. I salute the superstar champions of the Western canon who reach out to unsung peers in jazz, folk, international pop, and world music, cross-pollinating traditions once rigorously kept apart. And I rejoice in the power of social networks to forge in real time a solidarity among multitudes, such as Beethoven envisioned in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony. When the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, numbering 101 musicians from 33 countries, played at the Sydney Opera House in 2011, a worldwide audience of 33 million tuned in.

We are equipping our students with technical and critical aesthetic thinking/reasoning skills, creating for them a wealth of diverse performance opportunities and exposing them to a faculty that sets the bar high and leads by example. We give our students the chance to excel and, equally important, to fail within the walls of this incredible institution. For Con students to make their mark in the decades ahead, they must assimilate the lessons of today’s trailblazers. More than that; they must acquire a habit of constant self-renewal. And we as their teachers must help them invent and nurture that skill set.

Then we kick them out of the nest and let them fly!

Q: Do you think classical music still has an impact in today’s society?

The need for music — the need to play it, to take it in, to share it with others — has been with us since the dawn of recorded time. The harps of Ur, discovered in 1929, date back some 5,000 years, which makes them as old as the invention of writing. Long unrivaled in their antiquity, they are in fact quite recent. In 2008, archaeologists discovered in a cave in southern Germany an exquisitely crafted bone flute, virtually intact. Carbon dating assigns it to the Upper Paleolithic period, some 40,000 years ago. Indeed, Australia’s own Aboriginal culture has survived continuously, on these very grounds of the Sydney Con for over 50,000 years.

Music is both universal and fundamental. Every culture in the world, it seems, has taught itself to coax sounds from a stretched hide, a hollow reed, or a vibrating string. Wherever a child is born or a couple marries or one of us leaves this world behind, we pour our joys and sorrows into music. As the expression of individual or collective spirit, music makes us human, as much as family, as much as language itself.

So does classical music matter; you betcha! You only have to attend a concert by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and other performances at the Sydney Opera House, as well as the many halls, clubs, and theatres in Sydney to see the large audiences that are regularly attending classical and jazz music events. If you have a minute read, Lawrence Kramer’s (no relation) book, Why Classical Music Still Matters (2007); he makes an eloquent and compelling argument. And by the way, Jazz IS classical music!

Q: Being an American, how does our tertiary music education differ from that found in the USA?

Where there is a love and passion for music, there are few differences. Music is a universal language and profession. We all read the same clefs and, in the end, want to tell a story to those who listen. I have found great joy in witnessing a consistently high standard of musical talent here in Australia and the great determination that the staff and students of the Sydney Con have shown in achieving musical excellence.

What I do notice, unlike the US, is that there is a great yearning and affection by Australians to learn about the music of their own country — classical, popular, folk, ethnic. In fact, the teaching of Australian music is embedded in the secondary school curriculum. This is a beautiful thing!

Q: Looking forward, where would you like to see the Conservatorium in the next 100 years?

Currently, the Con enjoys a strong position both nationally and internationally, as we wield considerable influence because of our teaching, research, and service to the musical community. It is my hope that we build on our strengths and influences, while continuing to serve the people of Sydney and, indeed, all of Australia as a cultural hub with the finest musical education available for a lifetime of learning.

* * *

To read Professor Kramer’s letter of resignation, go to http://slippedisc.com/2015/04/exclusive-shock-resignation-of-conservatory-chief/

Con Centenary

Designed as horse stables for Governor Macquarie, the building affectionately known as the ‘Con’, will celebrate 100 years of existence this year.

Sydney Conservatorium

Sydney Conservatorium

Now ranked as one of the finest music schools in the world, the Sydney Conservatorium is living up to its founder’s initial objective. Henri Verbrugghen, who was Director from 1915-1921) had a vision that the Con was to “provide tuition of a standard equal to that of the leading European conservatoriums”. Several other pre-eminent directors followed, including Dr Edgar Bainton (1934-1948), who established the opera school, and conductor and composer, Sir Eugene Goossen (1848-1955), who fashioned it into a world-class music institution.

The Con’s modern transformation came with the amalgamation of the institution with the University of Sydney in 1990, and of course, a major re-development of the site between 1997-2001 saw the building become a world-class facility for all of Sydney to enjoy.

Current Director, Dr Karl Kramer is pleased with 5 new initiatives he has overseen in the last three years. “One is the creation of the Pacific Alliance of Music Schools (PAMS) in April, 2014 that saw the 12 elite music institutions from the Asia-Pacific gather at the Sydney Opera House to create an agenda, and draft a narrative that would establish closer ties which foster exchange.”

“In July 2014, Estivo, our annual European Chamber Music Summer School based in Verona, Italy, with over 45 tertiary music students from the Sydney Conservatorium taking part to perform over 20 concerts in three Italian cities in a two-week period, was established.”

“Thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors, the creation of the Westheimer String Quartet Development Program and two new annual conducting and piano scholarships were launched.”

“I am also pleased to see outreach programs such as the University of Sydney’s annual Wingara Mura summer music program that offers an intensive music workshop to indigenous high school students (years 9 and 10), and this year’s launch of the Con’s brand new contemporary music performance program—the Bachelor of Music Studies (Contemporary Music) — to meet the changing interests and needs of the music world.”

With its world-class facilities and programmes, the Con is able to attract some of the most outstanding conductors, performers, composers, and teachers.

One such new arrival is the international conductor, Eduardo Diamunoz from Mexico. Having conducted all over the world, Maestro Diamunoz, who, from an early age was a friend and musical assistant to the great Leonard Bernstein, is directing the major event in the Con’s calendar to celebrate its centenary, a performance of Bernstein’s Mass.

“In this Opera House concert, Bernstein’s Mass celebrates diversity, tolerance and peace – all aspects for which we crave in this new century,” said Diamunoz.

“It involves all disciplines, with its eclectic musical styles. It encompasses the symphonic, choral, operatic, even rock and roll, blues and musical theatre styles.”

“What I believe students and audience members will take away from this performance is seen in Bernstein’s own comment on the shape of music – ‘the main crisis of our time is a crisis of faith’. Apart from enhancing our students’ own performing abilities, they should have an open mind to the fusion of musical styles.”

“Composers throughout the centuries have striven to create a magnificent work of art, a master work to embody their musical thoughts and express their emotions, a work that they could regard as their Masterpiece for posterity. Still controversial four decades after its conception, the Mass is finally winning prominence in the world’s major concert halls and opera houses, regardless of the religious, artistic, philosophical, and/or ethical inclinations of its audiences.”

Diamunoz believes that this is a most appropriate piece for the Con’s centenary, a benchmark work which reflects musical shifts in the context of a changing world, admitting that with its world-class status and rich musical heritage, the Con draws people from all over the world.

“I believe that the Mass both strongly criticises and respects, not blasphemes, all creeds, all races, all religions, and all mankind. I encourage you to absorb its philosophical, existentialist content with open hearts and minds, as the music moves from introverted, reflexive, and meditative moments to those that are light, magnificent, rebellious, even outrageous. This is Bernstein’s personal homage to our beliefs, our tribulations and concerns, our hopes and dreams, our doubts, our lives.”

Dr Kramer’s and Maestro Diamunoz’s world view of music aligns perfectly. The Con’s Director concludes by saying: “Music is both universal and fundamental. Every culture in the world, it seems, has taught itself to coax sounds from a stretched hide, a hollow reed, or a vibrating string. Wherever a child is born, or a couple marries, or one of us leaves this world behind, we pour our joys and sorrows into music. As the expression of individual or collective spirit, music makes us human, as much as family, as much as language itself.

“So does classical music matter? You betcha! You only have to attend a concert by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and other performances at the Sydney Opera House, as well as the many halls, clubs, and theatres in Sydney to see the large audiences that are regularly attending classical and jazz music events.”

“It is my hope that we build on our strengths and influences, while continuing to serve the people of Sydney and, indeed, all of Australia as a cultural hub with the finest musical education available for a lifetime of learning,” said Dr Kramer.

(This article was first published in Fine Music magazine: May 2015)

Sounds and Souls

Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives
By Ruth Bonetti
Published by Words and Music, The Gap, 2013
ISBN 9780957886186

This is the ninth book from Australian-based author and music teacher, Ruth Bonetti. Bringing a wealth of knowledge, years of experience and up-to-date information about the art of teaching (particularly as it pertains to studio teaching), Bonetti presents here a very readable guide that is easy to read, chatty, filled with wonderful anecdotes, and yet infused with reliable authority. Her self-deprecating manner, at times, makes the reader ascend easily into her world, almost as a participant, rather than an observer.

Sounds and SoulsBroken into three major sections, Part 1 (Teacher), Part 2 (Teacher-Student) and Part 3 (Teacher-Parent), the information is very comprehensive, shedding light on such aspects as Running a Business, First lessons, Methodology, Repertoire, Copyright, Practice Expectations, Motivation, Child Development, Group Teaching, Examinations, Anxiety, Communication, Relaxation, Special Needs, and Gifted Students to name just a few.

There are specific chapters dealing with issues, such as repairing rhythm problems, note-reading, technique, and working with accompanists.

Lots of quotes and references are found from a wide array of legendary people, both from the past and present, such as Claudio Arrau, David Helfgott, Gerald Moore, and even Bette Midler.

Arrau’s reminiscences on being a child prodigy and its effect upon his crucial adolescent years are revelatory. Similarly, David Helfgott’s background as seen through the film, Shine, is worth noting.

Pamela Page recounts the difficult decisions she and husband Max Olding made over their son, Dene’s pathway to study in the USA. Anna Goldsworthy’s relationship with her teacher Eleonora Sivan is noted, with reference to her inspiring memoir, Piano Lessons. Rita Crews OAM outlines needs for teachers to be better trained and qualified, in order that studio teachers may be elevated from hobby status to real educators.

In regard to methodologies and whole teaching systems, there is a concise mention of Suzuki, El Sistema, and Kodaly.

The chapter, Positive Parent Relations is wonderfully sprinkled with delightful descriptions, marking parents as zealous, pushy, proud, high-flyer, low-flyer, helicopter, overcommitted and Philistine parents, all useful for the teacher to know with whom they might be dealing. Of course, generalisations can be harmful, but this is where true intelligence and knowledge of your students and their families is necessary.

This book should be added to recommended reading lists for aspiring teachers. If you have an advanced student looking at studio teaching, maybe this would be a great gift. Since instrumental and vocal pedagogies are rarely taught now at the tertiary level, books such as this, fill vital gaps. As well, Bonetti’s bibliography provides starting points for much further research into the profession of studio music teaching.

Elgar, Britten, Walton

Li-Wei Qin (Cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Zhang Yi (Conductor)
ABC 481 1243

In this recording we find a stunning soloist, Li-Wei Qin who, from an early age, made huge strides in the concert world. Now 39, Qin is one of the world’s great cellists, who had lived and studied in Australia for a number of years after his family moved her from Shanghai, when he was 13 years of age.

Elgar Britten WaltonThis new release of works by English composers from the first half of the twentieth century, Elgar, Britten, and Walton, showcase a diverse range of compositional style.

Elgar’s famous and well-loved Cello Concerto has seen every acclaimed cellist add it into his or her repertoire list. Qin’s performance is complete, with his sublime artistic account and skillful technique.

Walton’s Cello Concerto, written in 1956, sets out a totally different structure for a concerto with its lyrical, moderately-paced first movement, a passionate, faster second movement, and a final movement, which is a Theme with Improvisations. Playing a 1780 Guadagnini cello, Qin adroitly traverses all the hills and dales of this work with alacrity, virtuosic mastery and poetic sensitivity.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes (a series of pieces from the opera Peter Grimes) under conductor Zhang Li, shows the exploration of evocative tone colours, contrasting melancholic and dramatic brass moments, brilliance of strings, and fluttering woodwinds (suggesting seagulls). This performance perfectly captures, in instrumental form, the drama within the seaside village and the interactions between its central characters.

Apart from this being a great recording to have in one’s collection, for the music teacher, there are many study purposes: it is great for HSC students in topics such as An Instrument and Its Repertoire, Music 1900-1945 (for the Elgar and Britten), Music 1945-1990 (Walton); as well, for more generalised music teaching, this disc provides opportunity to explore orchestration, tone colour, and structure.

Essential Keyboard Excerpts from Great Ensemble Literature

The Rest: Reference & Enrichment for Pianists
(Essential Keyboard Excerpts from Great Ensemble Literature)
Selected and annotated by Janis Cook
Published by Janis Cook 2014 (http://cookandco.com.au/shop )

the-rest-ed-800pxOftentimes, students and teachers can find anthologies of piano arrangements of orchestral music, but this new book is a completely new idea. The extracts contained therein are exactly reproduced from the orchestra scores. It is neither arranged nor simplified, thus pianists can truly play or study what the pianist actually plays in the selected orchestral works.

The works here are by composers, old and new, and many of them were excellent pianists, themselves. The contents are arranged by composer in alphabetical order, rather than say, chronologically. As a result, it starts with Thomas Ades and finishes with Carl Maria von Weber, with tons of varying styles in between.

These are essential keyboard excerpts from mainstream orchestral and chamber repertoire, which heighten the skills and artistry required by every serious pianist; concise exercises in style, character and technique, which bring diverse aspects of pianism into sharp focus.

Teachers and students can use this stimulating collection as a different way to master specific technical skills, for Sight-reading development, for the study of the piano within the orchestral palette and its idiosyncratic timbre offering.

It is more of an exercise book; it is not a collection of beautifully chosen pieces for solo performance.

Of the modern repertoire that would not be so available in any form are pieces by Amy Beach, George Benjamin, Brett Dean, and Giya Kancheli. They sit alongside the more well-known composers such as Bartok, Beethoven, Bernstein, Brahms, Copland, Dvorak, Falla, Grainger, Haydn, Holst, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Puccini, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Respighi, Saint-Saens, Schubert, Strauss, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

What is most useful is the author’s notes before each excerpt, in which she contexts the selection within the larger orchestral work from which it comes, as well as providing preparation and performance tips.

At the end of the book, there is some very instructive information about the piano in conducted works, extended techniques, piano in small ensembles, the Celeste, the pit, and some problem solving hints. Similarly, the orchestral layout diagrams of a Romantic orchestra, as well as the specific layout for Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste are beneficial for study purposes.

This is a text that would have great application in the piano studio, as well as the classroom. In the NSW music curriculum, it would be a valued resource in the Preliminary and HSC study of “An Instrument and Its Repertoire”, “Music of the Last 25 Years”, “Music 1900-1945”, and many other topics.