“Freude, schöner Götterfunken...”

3 Nov 2019

Choirs, chamber ensembles, orchestras – modern or classical: LMU students have many opportunities to display their musical talents – and many incentives to avail of these chances.

“Zzzzzzzzz”, “Brrrrrrrrr”, Phhhzzzzzz”: It’s Tuesday, and members of LMU’s University Choir (Unichor) begin their regular weekly session with a vocal warm-up. Around 200 students rehearse every week in the Small Auditorium in LMU’s Main Building – ladies on the right and gentlemen on the left, organized by voice category: soprano, mezzo-soprano/contralto, tenor and bass. They all know why they are here. All eyes and ears are on the end-of-term choral concert they will give in the Great Aula. “That’s our annual highlight,” says choirmaster Anna Verena Egger. The remark is somewhat surprising. After all, the choir is regularly involved in other projects, such as the ‘live-to-projection’ concerts that accompanied showings of the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy at the Gasteig Cultural Center, which featured the Munich Symphony Orchestra. In 2017 the Unichor gave a concert in the Olympiahalle, which was conducted by no less a luminary than Ennio Morricone and attended by the largest audience the choir has ever had in the course of its 60-year history. Morricone, composer of the scores for many classical films, had come across the Unichor on YouTube – and was obviously impressed with what he heard. “Projects like that are of course marvelous and they bring in money for our own concerts,” says Egger. “But that‘s not what the choir needs most.” As a conductor, her principal goal is to introduce her singers to the masterpieces of the choral repertoire – music from the Renaissance, Classical and Romantic periods – and she regularly programs pieces that are seldom performed, such as the “Eight Scenes from Goethe’s ‘Faust’” by Robert Schumann.

Aspirants to a place in the Unichor should be aware that the competition is tough: In every term, on the order of 100 students apply to join the choir – only about every third candidate is accepted. Egger prefers to avoid the term ‘audition’, and speaks instead of ‘getting to know the individual voice’. Those who make the grade receive much in return for their exertions. For instance, every member is offered an individual voice-training program. In addition, the choir regularly goes on concert tours to places like Venice, Paris and St. Petersburg. “Travelling together is tremendously stimulating and incredibly important for a choir,” says Egger. In the spring of 2019, the Unichor visited West Africa. In Benin, its members gave concerts in various cultural establishments, but they also sang in the streets. “This made a very big impression,” Egger recalls, and on these occasions, listeners spontaneously began to dance. Togetherness is important for the choir, not only in a musical sense. The singers meet after every rehearsal for a drink and a chat, and there are two scheduled parties in each semester. Members are all part of the Unichor family. “There are even some Unichor babies,” Egger remarks with a smile.

Making music, travelling together and forming new friendships are also high on the list for the Odeon Youth Orchestra, whose personnel is between 15 and 25 years old. The idea of forming an orchestra was born during a particularly inspiring garden party with young musicians, says one of the orchestra’s founding members, Lukas Werle. “Nobody could have imagined that the mood of elation on that evening would ultimately result in appearances at the Opera House in Santiago de Chile, in Munich’s Philharmonic Hall and Vienna’s Musikverein,” he adds.

In 2017 the orchestra celebrated the 10th anniversary of its foundation with a festive concert in the Great Aula at LMU. In the following year, its 77 members and their instruments set off on a 14-day tour of China. What Felicitas Engel remembers best about the six concerts the ensemble gave is the reaction of the audiences. “While Chileans applauded enthusiastically from the start, Chinese audiences had to be encouraged to do so.” On the return flight, as the plane neared Munich, there was an unanticipated seventh concert, when the orchestra’s brass section launched into an impromptu session featuring a selection of popular Bavarian tunes. – Incidentally, the Odeon Orchestra is seeking new members in all instrumental categories. The next opportunity to hear the orchestra live is on December 1, 2019, when they give their annual Winter Concert in Munich’s Künstlerhaus.

The Abaco Orchestra: An exercise in democracy

The Abaco Orchestra can mobilize up to 100 players, and therefore has ample experience with large-scale works in concert. In order to finance a planned performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony (with more than 400 singers), the orchestra resorted to crowd funding because its budget could not cover the rent for the Philharmonic Hall in Gasteig. The ensemble’s instrumentalists include not only students, young professionals are also welcome to join its ranks, In keeping with this spirit of openness, decisions are made democratically. “The main works on our programs are chosen by the orchestra as a whole, and the conductor is selected on the basis of auditions – for a 1-year term, which may (or may not) be renewed,” says Katharina Bömers, who (voluntarily) takes care of public relations. The current conductor, Vitali Alekseenok, has progressively updated the Abaco Orchestra’s repertoire, which now includes works by 20th-century composers, such as Alban Berg’s Violin Concert and Nikolai Myaskovsky’s Cello Concerto. The orchestra has toured Mallorca and appeared at the Festival International de Musique Universitaire in Belfort, and is particularly well-known for its experimental programs. One of these crossover events featured orchestral arrangements by young composers of songs composed by the band Donnerbalkan. “Some passages involved multitasking – singing or dancing while playing the violin,” Bömers recalls. “That‘s something we’re seldom asked to do!” The Abaco Orchestra recruits around five new musicians each year – mainly string players, but also winds. Rehearsals are held in the Erlöserkirche in Schwabing, and in halls at LMU, Munich’s Technical University (TUM) or the College of Music and Dramatic Arts. The main item in this term’s concert will be Schostakovich’s 7th Symphony (Leningrad).

Music, mountain-climbing and sailing

The Academic Choral Society Munich (Akademische Gesangverein München, AGV) occupies a unique niche in Munich’s musical landscape. Originally founded as a student fraternity – and choir – at LMU in 1861, it soon set up a theatrical group as well. Indeed, the latter is Munich’s oldest amateur theatrical company. The AGV now consists of no less than ten musical and theatrical groups, ranging from big band to brass band, from symphony orchestra to choir, and from drama group to improvised theater. Anyone can join (the Scholastika Jazz Orchestra was set up simply because the Big Band already had enough musicians on call!). And the AGV offers more than purely artistic pursuits. It owns a house on Munich’s Marienplatz, an Alpine chalet on the Hausberg in Garmisch and a sailing area on the Ammersee.

Those interested in discovering lesser known musical treasures would be well advised to consider joining Munich’s Palestrina Ensemble, which specializes on Renaissance polyphony and Gregorian chant. The Ensemble was started in 1994 by Mirjam and Venanz Schubert, and it was soon giving concerts in Munich and all over Bavaria. Among the highlights of the choir’s history are an invitation to perform in the Campo Santo Teutonico and in the church of Santa Maria Dell’Anima in Rome, and the recording of Palestrina’s Canticum Salomonis made in association with Bavarian Radio, which is available on the Naxos label. As the group is small and many students have to leave upon completion of their studies, the ensemble is constantly on the lookout for new members. Budding applicants should have a good voice and should ideally be able to sight-read well.

Munich has many more ensembles in which singers and instrumentalists can find a home, such as the student orchestra StOrch, the ensemble MünchenKlang, the Young Munich Symphony Orchestra, the Akademische OrchesterVerband, the Symphonic Ensemble of Munich, SiNFONiETTA (whose members are drawn from both of Munich’s universities) and the Munich International Orchestra, which is primarily recruits its personnel among exchange students and visiting researchers.

The Munich Classical Players, a chamber orchestra consisting of students of Munich’s College of Music, is the brainchild of Maximilian Leinekugel, a 23-year-old conductor and LMU student, who also serves as Music Director of the Collegium Muwicum (an ensemble made up of students of Musicology at LMU) and Animato, an ensemble made up of enthusiastic amateur musicians. “Classical music is widely perceived as old-fashioned and boring nowadays,” he says. “This is unfortunate, because it can still be a source of inspiration and delight today. After all, like any other kind of music, it is a product of emotions and personal feelings.” His concerts aim to project a modern image of classical music that appeals to young audiences in particular. With this goal in mind, Leinekugel founded a youth orchestra in cooperation with the local music school in Vaterstetten, his home town. “I am convinced that youth orchestras are the far the best tool for stimulating interest in classical music among young people,” he avers. For this initiative, he won the Tassilo Prize for Services to Culture, sponsored by the Süddeutsche Zeitung 2018.

Music can also play an important role in much broader contexts. For example, in some concerts, students at LMU’s School of Arts not only form the choir on stage, but are involved in the organization behind the scenes – as in the case of the concert entitled Sehnsucht. Musik. Ankunft (Longing.Music.Arrival) earlier this year. The concept for this concert was developed in courses given by Dr. Dana Pflüger, who heads the Praxisbüro Kunstwissenschaften at LMU. Together with promoter Albert Ginthör, she had previously been closely involved with the conception and organization of the open-air concerts on the Gärtnerplatz in Munich, and had also worked on the project “ZAIDE. EINE FLUCHT”. Inspired by Mozart’s little-known (and unfinished) Singspiel “Zaide”, it brought that work’s central theme of flight up to date by casting refugee musicians in leading roles. Sehnsucht. Musik. Ankunft developed into an intercultural concert, which was presented at Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace. On the program were folksongs from Afghanistan, Syria and Germany, which were confronted and contrasted with arias from classical operas. In July, the concert was repeated in a modified form (under the direction of Leonie Hundertmark and Dr. Tobias Emanuel Mayer from LMU’s Institute of Music Education) at a school in Munich. The pupils who attended the concert had previously been introduced, both thematically and musically to its themes of flight, migration and homeland in several workshops. “The concert was received with great enthusiasm by the audience of schoolchildren,” Mayer says. The success of the event can no doubt be partly attributed to the fact that the young audience also had the opportunity to put questions to the Afghan refugee and musician Pouya Raufyan about his life at home, his music, and how he made his way to Germany.

Sometimes, research projects can spark the formation of ensembles. Professor Alexandra Kertz-Welzel, Director of LMU’s Institute of Music Education, first developed an interest in ‘community music’ during her time as a postdoc in Seattle. The term refers to the role of music-making in communal settings – on the street, in prisons, by brass bands in rural areas or rock bands that visit nursing homes – in the context of social work and therapy. As a result of this interest, a samba band has been formed, which performs once a week in the Institute of Music Education. Students and LMU staff members, as well as individuals from outside the University, are welcome to join in these sessions. No specialist knowledge is required. “The group is led by a percussionist, who previously had nothing to do samba whatsoever,” Kertz-Welzel says. Indeed, the Institute has given birth to a wide selection of bands, but also to chamber choirs like the Munich Vocal Ensemble and the Lucente Chamber Choir. In addition, the Institute has started a series of “Open Stage” events, which are open to all who wish to make a statement, whether in music, song, speech or dance. Needless to say, music at LMU is not the sole preserve of the Institute of Music Education. For example, the Institute of Romance Philology and Literature has its own choir, which focus on vocal works in French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

A popstar at the LMU Entrepreneurship Center

There are no facilities for musicians in LMU‘s Entrepreneurship Center on Giselastrasse, but the Center does have a pop star on its staff – Robert Redweik – ‘Germany’s coolest lecturer’, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He started his first group at the tender age of 12. The band went to make two studio albums and performed all over Germany and in neighboring countries. In 2011 he not only earned a doctoral degree at LMU for a thesis on “Organization and Success of Business Angel Networks”, he signed a recording contract with the Warner Music Group and was recruited as a songwriter by the publisher Universal Music. Since then, he has worked with musicians like Midge Ure, Christian Neander, Howard Carpendale and Udo Lindenberg. The competing organizational demands made by the band, rehearsals and promotional activities were not easy to master, he remembers. “But it worked out in the end, because most of the gigs took place in the evenings and on weekends, and as an undergraduate and graduate student I had enough flexibility to be able to cope.” In his day job, he now deals with things like entrepreneurship, business planning and finance. He recommends that LMU musicians who have their eye on a recording contract “should keep that goal in view, and work toward it by building up contacts with other musicians and people in the music business, writing and playing their own songs – performing as supporting acts at first, and then in their own shows.“ Asked if fans have turned up in his courses who were more interested in Redweik the popstar than in Redweik the lecturer, he admits that “it has happened,” before adding, “but not very often.”

What are you looking for?