A visit to Basel

17th January 2014 | Musings, Teaching, Travel | 2 comments

I’m getting ready for a trip to the Hochschule fuer Musik in Basel, where I’m giving three days of chamber music masterclasses on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. If you should be reading this in Basel, the classes are open to the public and take place from 10am-6pm each day.

After all the rain here recently, I admit I was rather looking forward to the prospect of some snow in Switzerland – my lazy mental picture of Switzerland always includes snow, but this year it seems the Swiss are having a mild, wet winter like we are. The unseasonal mildness feels strange and oddly disappointing. In my garden, snowdrops are already opening, and it’s only halfway through January.

I looked through a list of the students who’ll be playing to me in Basel. As always these days when I look through lists of music students, I’m struck by the sheer internationality of the names, from every corner of the globe. It is a curious thing. On the one hand, there’s much talk of the challenges facing classical music. People say the audiences are shrinking. On the other hand, it seems that never before have classical music colleges had such a cosmopolitan – and talented – bunch of students. It’s no longer a surprise that there are applicants from China, Korea, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and so on. Sometimes it even seems as if names from the locality are missing. I certainly feel so in London, where it often seems that foreign students are the norm rather than the exception.

I’m touched that these enterprising young people are coming halfway across the world to study music written a couple of hundred years ago in western Europe. What all this means, though, is anyone’s guess. I suppose it proves the anthropologists’ theory that culture is always migratory.


  1. Mary

    “…in London…it often seems that foreign students are the norm rather than the exception”. Yes! Every time I see a new edition of the Royal College of Music magazine I am struck by the same thought. When I was a student at the RCM we all knew who the handful of foreign students were and ‘looked out for them’. Now perhaps it is the other way round. A quick mental review of all my pupils over the past four decades reveals that the most hard working have often been the first UK-born generation of children born to immigrant families (or families where at least one parent was not from the UK). Not necessarily the most gifted pupils, or the ones who reached the most advanced level, but those whose parents took seriously the need to encourage a degree of concentrated effort. Some of my most obviously gifted UK pupils have not fulfilled their potential because their school peer group deemed it ‘uncool’ to be good at something. I know of several instances where my pupils were actively bullied at school (or on the school bus), because they played a classical instrument. In one case the parents moved house in order to be able to send their child to a specialist music school. This was the exception. The others took the attitude that it was better to end the music lessons so the bullying would stop. (It didn’t stop, of course – just transferred to the bullying being about the pupils achieving good marks for school-work.) Exciting, ‘cool’ role models needed?

  2. Mary Conner

    I live near a major state university in NY state, where I often go to the graduate student concerts, and many of the music students appear to be foreign students, often from Asia. (or perhaps of Asian descent) Music is indeed a universal language though as you say interesting to see people around the world playing Brahms and Mozart. It is great fun to watch two small Chinese women energetically playing Rachmaninoff on two huge pianos!
    I teach English as a Second Language and agree that so often the first-generation students and their families prize education in general) so highly.


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