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Music

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra reflects on its residency in Germany

A non-authoritative and collaborative atmosphere is at the root of the MCO's unusual residency in North-Rhine Westphalia. Orchestra members and organizers talked with DW about a number of interesting initiatives.

Members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra

The MCO consists of 40 top musicians from 20 countries

When an orchestra tours for 280 days a year and has members from over twenty nations, a residency can be a welcome break. Since 2009, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra has been in residence in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, performing regularly in the concert halls of Cologne, Dortmund and Essen. The ensemble also works closely with educational initiatives central to the region.

The brainchild of Benedikt Stampa, director of Concert House Dortmund, the MCO Residency provides the orchestra with the stability it needs to pursue its artistic endeavors. It also gives the different cities of the federal state an opportunity to join forces.

"Normally concert halls would compete against each other, but here they function as a unit," said Andreas Richter, general manager of the MCO. "It's a unique collaboration. They really talk about the music and about creative ideas together."

In this residency, the notion of collaboration goes beyond the concert hall. A strong partnership has also grown between the MCO and the Orchestra Center NRW in Dortmund, which was founded six years ago on the initiative of the four conservatories in Cologne, Detmold, Duesseldorf and Essen. Established to face the rising demands of training music students for orchestral careers, the Orchestra Center NRW is a one-of-a-kind institution in Europe where students learn from, and network with, professionals from ensembles around the world.

North-Rhein-Westphalia on a German map

The MCO's residency in NRW brings the group to Germany's most populous state

Learning together

At the Orchestra Center NRW, MCO musicians coach students on audition processes and hold masterclasses. Students can also audition for the MCO Academy to work with an MCO mentor and play in an Academy project. The most outstanding students are awarded a scholarship to go on tour with the orchestra.

Another MCO Academy project brings eleven academy members and their MCO colleagues together to work with the historical performance practice specialist Ton Koopman. They learn about Baroque performance techniques in sectionals led by experts in the field.

"The MCO atmosphere is collegial, not authoritative," said Sabrina Haane, a consultant at the Orchestra Center NRW. She added that the orchestra strongly supports the idea of mutual learning.

"It's not about us individually. It's about the orchestral collective," agreed MCO violist Anna Puig Torne. "We build the MCO spirit through friendship and social values, which are both really strong in MCO."

An open structure

MCO conductor Daniel Harding

MCO conductor Daniel Harding first guest conducted the group at just 22 years old

In spite of constant changes in formation, repertoire, and location, this spirit is what unifies the group. Cellist Lukas Wittermann, a current academist, sees the orchestra's "open-minded structure" as something unique to the MCO.

"Here, everybody works together, moves together," he said. "There is no 'leader' figure making all the rules. It is like playing chamber music. Everybody is equal."

After a Brahms concert in Essen, members of the audience were invited to a champagne break in the lobby and back into the concert hall for a late-night chamber music performance. MCO musicians have played at a club in Dortmund, and also at show-and-tell sessions at the Philharmonie's Open House in Cologne. Such events have been met with great success as the orchestra establishes its presence in the region.

At home everywhere

Most recently, the orchestra's outreach initiatives have extended to aspiring instrumentalists from the federal state. December 10, 2010 marked the orchestra's first cooperation with JeKi, a statewide program that helps schoolchildren from first to fourth grade to learn an instrument. During the family concert, held at the Concert House Dortmund, the MCO shared the stage with its academists and 30 members of the Ruhr Children's Orchestra, whose ages range from eight to fourteen.

"For many of these young musicians, it gives them great motivation to play with professionals," said Richter, who would like to see such a project turn into an annual event. "It might even be the first time that they could imagine becoming a musician."

Anna Puig Torne, the violist, hopes that most important lesson of all - that music-making is about having "a vision, a way of feeling" - will remain with the younger musicians.

"It's about interacting with each other, about getting to know the world," she said. It is perhaps an especially important belief to live by for this orchestra, whose members can call countries around the world home.

Author: Elaine Yeung

Editor: Greg Wiser