At the heart of the exclusive district emerging around the Gendarmenmarkt lies the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin, directly behind the famous concert hall. Eisler’s signature in red neon above the entrance, the bicycle stands in front of the building, the young women and men sitting at the plastic tables in the foyer drinking coffee from a machine, the cacophony of instruments and voices–the “Eisler” forms a counterpoint to the white tablecloths in the restaurants and bars on Charlottenstrasse, the elegant shops and the many tourists in this quarter.
For virtuoso musicians and conductors the path to fame can start here: the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin is one of the most famous music academies. In 2010 it celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Every year, 150 graduates start out from here on their way to lives as professional musicians – among them stars like the cellist Sol Gabetta. Half of the students are from abroad, like the master-class student Anna Alàs i Jové, a mezzo soprano from Spain, and Adrian Pavlov from Bulgaria, who is studying composition and conducting. Both are about to become professionals. At this decisive stage in their lives they also avail themselves of the connections that “Eisler” teachers have with concert halls, opera houses, and theaters in the city. Among these are famous musicians like Gidon Kremer or Thomas Quasthoff. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta have led orchestra workshops and master classes.
Anna Alàs i Jové is involved in the interpretation of early music, and she will soon be singing in an opera for children in the workshop of the Staatsoper Berlin. She came to Berlin because she wanted to study under Wolfram Rieger and Anneliese Fried. All she knew about the school’s patron Hanns Eisler before she arrived here was that he was a composer and pupil of Schönberg’s.
Meanwhile, it is the building on Gendarmenmarkt whose fame awakens curiosity about the almost forgotten composer. Who was this man Eisler, who had to flee from the Nazis and was then treated with hostility by petty-minded people in the GDR? The school was given his name in 1964, but it was an honor that Eisler never experienced. Adrian Pavlov, who is currently networking with the New Music scene in Berlin, found out about Eisler’s works long before coming to Berlin. He very much appreciates the fact that the academy is focusing on the artist to mark the occasion of its 60th anniversary.
The academy has been presenting the annual Eisler Prize in the categories Composition and Interpretation to its students since 1993. Adrian Pavlov received it in 2010, and not for the first time. This autumn he will conduct a short opera by Boris Blacher. It will be the eleventh “k.o.” (the abbreviation for Kurzoper, or short opera) project staged exclusively by students of the academy and the Universität der Künste.
Professor Claus Unzen, director of the Stage Direction study program, heads the project series together with a number of Berlin theater people. “What good is it if students only stage things inside the academy and in front of benevolent parents?” he asks. “They should learn to cope with the critical appraisal of an audience and of professionals at an early stage.”
Great musicians are often modest, even humble. Both Anna and Adrian are also very grateful to their teachers. Yet the Eisler academy was almost doomed to disappear. After 1990, when Berliners started unifying their divided city, the music academy in the East was on the list of things to be crossed off. After all, an academy already existed in the West, today’s Universität der Künste. It was not all that clear at the time that Berlin would become the creative center of Europe. However, Annerose Schmidt, the then rector of the academy, successfully defended the “Eisler.”
The din of the building site on Charlottenstrasse comes in through the open window of the office of today’s rector, Jörg-Peter Weigle, and the wind is shaking the slats of the blinds. When asked what distinguishes the Eisler academy from the 23 other German music academies, he points towards the window. “Three opera houses, five orchestras, the independent scene, Berlin as the capital of the performing arts, excellent teachers firmly established in the international music world, our links with the Philharmonic, the concert hall…” The list goes on.
It should also be mentioned that Sir Simon Rattle, musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic, has conducted the school’s symphony orchestra several times. Rattle’s son Alexander is a clarinetist and is currently completing his diploma at the Eisler academy. In addition to the symphony orchestra, the school has a chamber and a study orchestra, a choir, a symphonic brass orchestra, the Ensemble Eisler Brass, and the ECHO Ensemble für Neue Musik. The students put on 400 concerts a year.
Professor Weigle is himself a graduate of the “Eisler.” “The form of tuition that we knew, which involved imitating everything the master did, is largely gone. Today it is all about finding one’s own personality, one’s own interpretation.”
Walking the path to fame and finding your piece of heaven demands more and more creativity. “I would like to develop further, have fun doing my work”, says Anna Alàs i Jové, “but we cannot plan for the distant future.” Her next year at the “Eisler” has been guaranteed by a scholarship. “I also work as a pianist,” says Adrian Pavlov. “I live for music and cannot imagine ever doing anything else.”