“There’s always a great effort behind all musical success stories”

On the 20th anniversary of the Advanced School of Music of Catalonia, we interview its Director, Núria Sempere, who has been in charge since the end of 2018

Our main AIM is to position artistic and professional excellence alongside social commitment MANY WOMEN BACK OUT AND OPT FOR OTHER CAREERS

Rosalía, Joan Magrané, Sílvia Pérez Cruz, Raquel García-Tomás, Clara Peya, Salvador Sobral, Gemma Humet, Arnau Tordera (Obese), Xavier Sabata and Marco Mezquida are just 10 of the 2,500 musicians who have emerged from the classrooms of the Advanced School of Music of Catalonia (Esmuc) in the 20 years of its history.

What did the creation of Esmuc mean 20 years ago?

It meant equal treatment of all types of music for the first time. Prior to that moment, there had only been a degree in classical music, not in jazz, modern, flamenco or traditional music. When Esmuc came along it completely broke with these hierarchies and allowed everyone to have a taste of everything. Esmuc is a school with a fully inclusive curriculum, in the sense that we are not just instrumentalists or composers, but all students end up with a curriculum that includes all different visions. It’s nice, then, to hear Joan Magrané say that if he hadn’t done early music with us, his compositional work would probably not be like it is, or Rosalía saying that her view of the professional world would be very different without having taken subjects in production and management.

The world has changed a lot since then.

Yes, that’s why we must be receptive to the tensions of the 21st century. The most demanding thing is to position artistic and professional excellence alongside social commitment. This is Esmuc’s primary aim and also that of all European music schools that are providing higher education. We can no longer continue to looking inward. We need to start looking outwards and to make sure that our graduates are able to transform a world that needs professionals who can understand it.

How would you describe Esmuc students?

In terms of training, some 60% have studied in conservatories and the other 40% in music schools or non-regulated music institutions. In terms of origin, 58% of undergraduate students are from Catalonia, 36% from the rest of Spain, 4% from the European Union and 2% from the rest of the world. There is one element to work on, however, both in Esmuc and in other centres, which is a gender balance.

For example?

Production and management and pedagogy are very equal in terms of gender. Interpretation of classical and contemporary music, or early music, too. Musicology, on the other hand, is very female biased, with 70% female students. Whereas jazz and modern music, conducting, sound engineering, flamenco and traditional music are very male dominated subjects. Overall, however, the numbers are at 60-40, because most studies are fairly equal.

There will be no more women conductors, or composers, or sound engineers, if these percentages are not reversed.

Yes, in fact we’re currently analysing a question from a survey that reported how before higher education there was a lot of parity and the problem was taking the next step. The percentages of men and women who take our entrance exam are very similar, as are those who go on to pass it. The problem, however, is that before getting to that point, many girls decide not to pursue higher education because of this image that says that conducting, or composition, or electric bass, are for men. We’ve noticed that many back out and opt for other careers. That’s why, with our Year 10 and 11 students in secondary we started a mentoring activity in schools and conservatories. You have to tell them, “I did the access exams and passed. Don’t be afraid, because it is possible, and I am the proof.”

What are the percentages among teachers?

It’s terrible, 80% men and 20% women... But I can’t do anything about it. It is taken into account and we try to reverse it when there are selection processes, but on equal terms. That is, if there are two equal candidates, we opt for a female teacher.

Which degrees are most in-demand?

The most popular are jazz and modern music. For a place on the degree in singing we have 50 applicants, for example. These are things we need to rethink, but I don’t think it’s worthwhile increasing the number of places just because there’s demand. However, we are reviewing the global numbers with the education department, so that there is less pressure on the 600 places we offer. It’s the same number as in 2001, when there were six million of us in Catalonia. There are now seven and a half, so we will have to see if we can increase the number of places. It’s not just a demographic issue, but a geographical one as well.

A new ‘talent show’ on TV3 will be dedicated to finding “the best anonymous voices in Catalonia to make them stars”. It seems that to become a star, all you need to do is win a contest.

Yes, it’s annoying, because there’s always a great effort behind all musical success stories. There’s knowledge, which is sometimes formal and sometimes informal. I wouldn’t want to judge the sources of knowledge, but there’s always a lot of work behind it.

interview music

Twentieth anniversary

Esmuc has planned a special programme to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert at the Barcelona Auditorium of the Great Symphony Ensemble conducted by Francesc Prat, which will premiere works by Ariadna Alsina, Marina Ortega and Núria Giménez, all students of Esmuc. Also in the Auditorium, the Esmuc Jazz Project will perform the works that five teachers – Lluís Vidal, Joan Díaz, Joan Sanmartí, Joan Monné and Francesc Capella – have written for five soloists. Xavier Torres, Carola Ortiz, Pablo Selnik, Santi de la Rubia and Óscar Latorre have already made a name for themselves on the Catalan scene. Among the special anniversary events is also the Esmuc project La Bottega d’Opera at the Josep Carreras Auditorium in Vila-Seca and at the parish centre of Sant Pere de Ribes.

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