Chamber Music Camps and Academies Develop Artists’ Skills and Careers

Each program is a profoundly collaborative experience that reflects the vision and personality of its director

By Laurence Vittes | From the September-October 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

In the midst of evergreen concerns about the health of classical music, chamber music camps and academies serve as laboratories for students intending to pursue music as a profession. In each of their different settings, camps and academies offer students the opportunity to live alongside their professors, playing concerts of their own and concerts with those professors, who also play concerts of their own. Each program is a profoundly collaborative experience that reflects the vision and personality of its director. And each camp or academy takes its own approach to providing vital career-building tools and experiences. 

Season opening of the Baden-Baden Philharmonie
Season opening of the Baden-Baden Philharmonie. Photo: Jörg Bongartz.

According to violinist Ambroise Aubrun, a veteran as both student and teacher of numerous chamber music camps for students on professional career trajectories and now a teacher at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, “Such experiences are important for students, not just to be exposed to different teachers, sounds, and approaches to music but for the connections they make with other students. They offer special opportunities to meet and bond, share a passion for music, and engage in impromptu sight-reading parties. Students really open up when they are away from home in a safe and motivating environment. And in terms of becoming a successful working professional, people I have studied with or met during academies often ended up calling me several years later for a gig.”

I attended four of these immersive, deeply inspiring classical music enclaves this year. In January, it was the winter LyricaFest in Lincoln, Massachusetts, under the direction of Terry King and Laura Bossert. In June, it was Jacob Shaw’s Scandinavian Cello School down the Danish coast from Copenhagen. Two took place in Germany in July: the Second International Chamber Music Academy (ICMA) in Ochsenhausen, in partnership with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), under the direction of Ida Bieler; and the Carl Flesch Academy in Baden-Baden, under the direction of Kirill Troussov. Each proved to be a rich, rewarding educational experience for its participants.


Jacob Shaw and Scandinavian Cello School students playing in hay with cows
Jacob Shaw and Scandinavian Cello School students. Photo: Carsten Snejberg.

Violinist Miclen LaiPang, who joined the Paris-based Trio Zadig in August, has been at both LyricaFest and Ochsenhausen. “The biggest difference is the size of the two festivals,” he says, “with Lyrica having no more than 16 people, while Ochsenhausen has over 40 students. At Ochsenhausen, you receive both solo and chamber music lessons with faculty,” including LaiPang, violist Matthias Buchholz, cellist Hillel Zori, and double bassist Paul Sharpe, “and have multiple concerts to perform both your solo repertoire and chamber music. In addition, for your chamber groups, you are playing with the professor that is coaching your group. At Lyrica, you are working intensely with one chamber group for the entire time you are there while receiving coachings with Laura and Terry, who will come into your rehearsals and coach your group whenever it is needed. Another difference is the instrumentation, since Ochsenhausen has winds and piano while Lyrica has only strings.”

The arrival of the entrepreneurial virtuoso violinist Troussov, who plays on the 1702 Strad that Adolph Brodsky used to premiere Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in 1881, has invigorated the 40th edition of the Carl Flesch Academy in Baden-Baden. The winners of the juried competition perform a concerto with the Baden-Baden Philharmonie (a full-time orchestra) and receive a professionally produced video as part of their tuition. Since its founding in 1981, more than 3,000 top international emerging artists have gathered at the Academy, participating in workshops with renowned pedagogues and going on to become leading musicians and soloists in major orchestras and ensembles worldwide. The awards and scholarships this year will be worth over €20,000, including new sponsorships by Pirastro, Henle Edition, and Gewa.

An ICMA performance with chamber ensemble
An ICMA performance. Photo: Saxton Rose.

Similar to Marlboro, Flesch Academy students live together in a former monastery with the faculty that includes violinist Pierre Amoyal, violist Diemut Poppen, cellist István Várdai, and double bassist Janne Saksala. The participation of the Philharmonie gives the performances an already established audience and exposure for the performers much like they would encounter in professional life. Baden-Baden itself, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has had a storied history. Brahms and Clara Schumann, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, and singer Pauline Viardot spent summers there enjoying the extra-musical pleasures of its location in the Black Forest.


“High-quality videos are more important than ever,” says Troussov. “Being present on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms is almost a must today! Websites with such high-quality video and audio material have a large impact on a musician’s career, and by providing them material for not only websites but video applications for competitions, orchestra auditions, and festivals, plus workshops with international musicians, orchestra managers, and journalists, we are hoping to turbocharge their careers. All students will also be enrolled in a chamber music project,” he adds, “culminating in a concert at the end of the Academy.”

The Ochsenhausen Academy is also doing some turbocharging of its own. Organizers are renovating the historic building in which they now live and work and are planning future luxury facilities. And in October, Ochsenhausen will host the Bronislaw Huberman Festival for Young Musicians, a long-existing annual event created by the Jerusalem Music Center (JMC) founded by Isaac Stern, with Murray Perahia currently its artistic director. Once a member of the Melos Quartet and a new member of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Music and Performing Arts, Landesakademie Ochsenhausen director Bieler has worked for many years to bring the JMC together with the Ochsenhausen. “This festival/project is not connected with either ICMA or UNCSA,” Bieler tells me, “at least not as yet!” But collaborations of this sort broaden a student’s experience and opportunities for meaningful professional connections.


Musicians take a selfie in the snow between rehearsals at Winter LyricaFest
Between rehearsals at Winter LyricaFest. Photo: Laurence Vittes.

A more all-encompassing form of the classical music chamber camp lies down the Danish coast from Copenhagen where Jacob Shaw’s Scandinavian Cello School has grown since its founding in 2016 into a year-round model of cultural self-sustainability—with its own garden and chickens and pigs—where cellists, ensembles, and occasionally artists of other disciplines visit for a weekend or longer to take advantage of the musical coaching Shaw offers. They also draw on his marketing advice (he recently packaged recordings by violist da gamba Maddalena Del Gobbo for DG). The weekend of June 24, it was the young Danish Novo Quartet preparing for the Concours de Génève in October. They played Mozart, Haydn, and Bartók at the Stevns Klint UNESCO World Heritage Site and gave outreach concerts at two senior facilities. There was also lots of food and fun, including a boat trip to the Stevns Klint cliffs after which they whipped out their instruments for an impromptu performance at the village of Lund on a magical midsummer night. Tall and red-haired, Shaw has transformed himself into a sort of Viking, embraced by the small rural community which now has become a summer and weekend home for some of Copenhagen’s musical elite.

These four programs empower their students with meaningful coaching and connection to help them navigate a professional career, and these kinds of opportunities are on the rise. For example, the Edinburgh International Festival offered five international preprofessional-level string players the opportunity to study and perform Mendelssohn’s Octet on August 10 with Stefan Jackiw, Jessica Bodner, and Sterling Elliott. Chosen by festival director Nicola Benedetti through open audition, the five players enjoyed full tuition, including travel and accommodations. With this kind of support available to budding chamber musicians, the future of classical music looks bright indeed.