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How Do I Bow Properly?

The best pianists of the University of Music and Performing Arts (mdw) perform regularly in the Bank Austria Salon, also in order to get their first experience on stage. For, as aspiring artists, merely performing brilliantly isn’t enough. They also have to get any stage fright under control, besides learning how to greet their audience.

Ulrike Sych is Rector of the mdw. In this conversation, she explains why opportunities to perform professionally are important for students and which new tools artists need as they develop their careers.

Ulrike Sych, rector of mdw
Photo: Inge Prader

How important is it to you that the university isn’t an ivory tower?

I think that it’s essential to start gathering practical experience as early as possible. Also in order to know: How do I feel when performing in front of an audience? How do I deal with stage fright? Or how do I bow properly? In addition to their special ability, these are practical tools that artists will need later in life. This is why I’m particularly delighted about our cooperation with the Bank Austria Salon, where our students can present their repertoire to an interested audience.

What does this audience gain from listening to students?

As well as having an educational role, the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna is also one of Austria’s largest events’ organisers. It is essential to us that people from every layer of society have access to our art. Our free concerts offer everyone the opportunity to hear the world’s best students. They can see and hear the stars of tomorrow.

Photo: Herta Hurnaus

Photo: Herta Hurnaus

So they can claim that they heard artists before they became famous?

Exactly. Many global stars began their careers with us, from Kirill Petrenko and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, via Heinrich Schiff and Rudolf Buchbinder to Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, Khatia Buniatishvili and Jessica Hausner. We also have a programme for gifted children and young people. The latest concert in the Bank Austria Salon was fantastic. If you had had your eyes closed you would never have imagined that a child was sitting at the piano.

What do you find so interesting about the Bank Austria Salon in the Altes Rathaus?

The Fazioli piano is very special. Alongside Steinway and Bösendorfer, they are one of the world’s top piano makers. We work hard to provide our students with the best possible resources. For pianists in particular it is essential that a first-class piano is available.

Are you sometimes surprised by the professionalism of your students when they are on stage?

Not surprised, but incredibly proud that they perform so brilliantly. This also gives me more strength to do my work. Our level is very high. By passing the entrance examination, every student actually wins an international competition. The pandemic presented very serious challenges to artistic education because we had fewer opportunities for physical teaching. This makes us even more delighted that, despite the lockdown and digital teaching, our students practiced so rigorously that they were able to maintain their high quality.

Future Art Lab of the mdw
Photo: Herta Hurnaus

Do musicians have to be able to do more today than in the past?

The world of work has changed enormously for artists. For example, they now require digital skills, while knowledge of cultural management and education as well as some scientific expertise are also important. It is now normal for artists to speak about – and even curate – the programme that they are performing. Or to research their music. In our Support Centre for Young Musicians, we talk to students individually in an attempt to discover what talents and interests they have beyond the existing curriculum in order to help them develop their so-called portfolio careers.

What does this mean exactly?

It offers them the opportunity to consciously discover and shape their own career path. This can mean many different things: such as creating new audiences or expertise in such areas as outreach or the crossover between classical and jazz music. The task is to develop a specific artistic profile, to differentiate oneself and to start being innovative at a very early age.