Zurich University of the Arts: Preparing orchestral musicians for success
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Zurich University of the Arts: Preparing orchestral musicians for success

He played the cello; she, the viola. When the couple, Nicholas Burkel and Frida Oliver, sought to chase their dreams, they chose Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK).

“It can often be difficult to combine studying and freelancing, so when I saw then ZHdK offers a degree that you not only get to play projects with a professional orchestra, but also gives you the freedom to freelance and travel for auditions without making it difficult to pass due to absences, I knew this was a degree I was interested in,” says Oliver.

“For me, playing in the orchestra is my favourite type of music making, because of the collaborative nature and the fact that this kind of career allows one to develop artistically over a long period of time with colleagues,” says Burkel.

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Frida Oliver. Source: Zurich University of the Arts

The Master of Arts ZFH in Specialised Music Performance with a Specialisation in Orchestra (Orchestral Instruments) prepares people for a successful career working with symphony and operatic orchestras. It deepens musicians’ knowledge while developing skills that the industry demands of them.

Not only do students explore the comprehensive study of orchestral literature in its stylistic diversity, they play in ensembles, train for auditions and master various instruments as well. During some semesters, they can join courses in things like Physiology, Audition Training and Performance Practice, as well as internships with professional orchestras in Switzerland and abroad.

Students can train with Philharmonia Zürich. Organised in collaboration with Opernhaus Zürich AG and Philharmonia Zürich, they will have the guidance of personal mentors.

“This degree has definitely helped me in regards to learning how to prepare efficiently for auditions and concerts — which is knowledge I use all the time,” says Oliver. “I’ve also learned how to better handle having multiple projects going on at one time and how to be more independent in my studies.”

ZHdK is one of the leading art universities in Europe. It offers an extensive range of both bachelor’s and master’s programs from art education to film and music.

“I think that ZHdK offers a very varied education and you could study almost anything related to the arts. Even if it is not in the degree you are pursuing, you can get involved with so many different things and projects within the school and build such a large and varied network,” says Oliver.

Nicholas Burkel. Source: Zurich University of the Arts

The people are just as dynamic. ZHdK welcomes international students and cultivates a culturally diverse environment for students to not only learn from faculty staff, but also from other students. “Having been a student at many different institutions in New York, Oslo and now Zurich, I feel that the environment and system at ZHdK is particularly motivating and really pushes the student to their potential,” says Burkel.

A career in orchestra can be competitive — which is why ZHdK offers support every step of the way. They fuel the ambitions of their students and harness their determination to realise their goals.

“These teachers have all provided me with a different perspective than my main teacher and have helped me realise how diverse my playing can be, and also helped me with my confidence in my own capability as a musician,” Oliver shares.

What’s more, faculty members at ZHdK have direct experience in their fields — a boon to students start their careers on the right foot. For Burkel, his teacher Thomas Grossenbacher is “the most supportive teacher” he’s ever had. “Having the opportunity to learn from someone who has direct experience in the field that I study in — orchestral performance — is a huge asset, and therefore he is able to help in very specific, clear ways,” he says. “Our lessons are very demanding, but still with great support.”

Burkel and Oliver love their new home — so much so that they plan to stay a good while.  “Coming from a smaller city in Norway, I really like living in Zurich for multiple reasons,” says Oliver. “Both, the fact that it’s so central and so well connected to the rest of Europe, is very practical, since I am in a part of my studies where I am travelling a lot for auditions and other projects. I also like that you’re very close to nature, but you can also jump on the tram and be central in no time.”

It’s an ideal city for musicians. “For me, Zurich is a fantastic city to live in because of the quick access to nature, as well as the cultural offerings,” Burkel says. “The central location is also great for musicians, as it is easy to get to concerts and auditions in different cities and countries by train.”

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