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Polina Korobkova remembers the encounter that would lead her to Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) from her native Moscow. “I chose ZHdK because I had a wish to study with Isabel Mundry. I met her for the first time at a workshop in Moscow and was very impressed by her theoretical precision, critical thinking and passion towards art,” Korobkova recalls. “I immediately realised that she would be the right conversational partner for me and my compositional work.”

An accomplished composer in her own right, the 20-year-old has graced the European music scene with innovative compositions that earned her the “Most Promising Young Composer Award” at the Joseph Dorfman Memorial Composers Competition. Korobkova isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon though, and her time at ZHdK proves it.

Zurich University of the Arts

Acclaimed composer Polina Korobkova is drawn to study at ZHdK due to the interdisciplinary nature of its courses. Source: Zurich University of the Arts

The MA Composition student was drawn to her programme because of ZHdK’s interdisciplinary nature across the arts. “It’s important for me to have the possibility of visiting classes from adjacent fields and to meet people from various backgrounds, with a chance to co-create something together.”

Students at the Department of Music certainly have ample opportunity for collaborative work. The largest of the five departments at ZHdK is home to around 800 students from over 50 countries while also boasting 350 lecturers, many of whom are internationally-acclaimed virtuosos. Lessons take place at the Toni Campus, featuring cutting-edge facilities for musicians that include three concert halls, two chamber music halls, a music club, recording studios (including Dolby Atmos) and a cinema.

At ZHdK, music comes alive in every corner, thanks to its location in one of Europe’s major cultural centres. The department hosts over 600 events each year, mainly from the Toni Campus. Dedicated students like Korobkova can leverage the university’s vast network with local orchestras to refine their talents and take them to the next level.

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Ivan Bašić has graced many concert halls in Europe, and his repertoire keeps expanding thanks to his education at ZHdK. Source: Zurich University of the Arts

Serbian pianist Ivan Bašić knows all about the importance of networking in the music industry. The 2013 Young Musician of the Year is one of his country’s leading stars that has graced numerous concert halls worldwide. Despite his accolades, Bašić’s transition from performer to an MA in Specialized Music Performance student (head of the Music Performance programms: Cobus Swanepoel) was far from smooth-sailing.

Talking of his challenges at the university, Bašić recalls, “I had to get used to new levels of expectations and building up a new network from scratch. Studying music has a lot to do with knowing people by name, as a lot of our lessons are individual. Back in Belgrade, I had the luck of being quite well-known, and in Zurich I knew only my piano teacher.”

That teacher is Konstantin Scherbakov, a celebrated pianist who has performed with over 70 of the world’s best orchestras. “My piano lessons with my mentor Professor Scherbakov was the main reason why I moved to Zurich in the first place,” says Bašić. With close mentorship and guidance from his professors in different aspects of musical performance, Bašić improved on his skills and found success in Zurich.

“They really exceeded my expectations. I believe they turned me into a better musician and someone ready to fully enter our profession,” Bašić notes. He’s now added even more concerts in Switzerland, Europe, and Japan to his repertoire, courtesy of his studies at ZHdK.

On top of passion and determination, artists require a community that believes in their talents to succeed. That’s precisely what ZHdK offers to its students. Whether you’re a budding composer or an experienced soloist, the Department of Music has its own Career Centre where students can drop in for consultations about their professional development and for coaching to boost their portfolio.

“More than two years ago, I met with the Head of Programme at his office as I felt that I wasn’t moving forward, and I didn’t know what to do,” Bašić recalls. “He sat down and talked it over with me, and somehow changed my approach to things. I haven’t had similar issues ever since.”

Korobkova’s experience echoes this sentiment. The pandemic resulted in the cancellation of eight of her premiere shows, and she faced difficulty in finding students to perform her compositions. However, the department was more than ready to accommodate her situation.

Felix Baumann, the head of the composition programme, is an understanding and flexible person who helped me to adjust the standard curriculum to fit my priorities and special needs,” Korobkova explains.

She was able to receive additional composition lessons at the Basel Musikakademie as part of a collaboration between the two schools, and is also the recipient of the ZHdK Excellence Scholarship. “I truly appreciate that the system is so personalised, and that the people responsible for it are so generous that this was possible for me.”

With music degrees in multiple genres that include classical music, jazz and pop, and sound engineering, ZHdK offers a world of opportunities for musicians to shine at the international stage. If you’re keen on following the footsteps of the illustrious students at the Zurich University of the Arts, click here.

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