American vs. European conservatories

July 28, 2010 at 03:04 AM ·

What are the reasons why European conservatories are better than American ones? An obvious one is that Europe has a history and culture of music, while America doesn't really. But I'm looking for some other ones.

Replies (26)

July 28, 2010 at 03:06 AM ·

How can you be sure that the premise of your question is correct?

July 28, 2010 at 04:45 AM ·

I don't  understand why you say that. US conservatories are much more diverse than European ones. I grew up in Europe with a musician father who was a member of one of the best European orchestras in the '60's and '70's. He defected to North America in order for my brother and I to have a better opportunity to become musicians as individuals rather than be subjected to the rigid and protective practices of the European musical scene.

The best musicians, with a few exceptions, come to the US for training. And work. The European orchestras are in big financial trouble, except for the Concertgebow and Vienna. Some US ones as well, but there is much more money in the US even in these troubled times. And capitalism has a longer history in the US than Europe.

July 28, 2010 at 05:54 AM ·

 This is bizarre.  Some, if not most, of the greatest violinists in the world today were trained in the US (especially from when Galamian, Gingold, Zimbalist, etc. were all teaching here).  

Of course Europe also has fine music schools and people don't necessarily have to come here.  Some of the important teachers of our time are teaching in Germany right now.  Also in Spain, Switzerland, England, etc.  

July 28, 2010 at 06:58 AM ·


I think it may because the acoustics of your average teepee lacks resonance.



July 28, 2010 at 12:24 PM ·

That information is just not right, European music schools and conservatories are as good or as bad as American ones, witth some places to go study better than others in boths sides. Great  soloist, orchestra players and teachers have been trained here and there, I would  put in  the same level Jansen, Mutter, Zimmermann, Rachlin, Tetzlaff or Repin, with Shaham, Bell,  Midori, Mintz, K-Meyers or Chang , just to name a few ...


July 28, 2010 at 01:42 PM ·

Hi Amy. The commenters are correct, of course. Excellent violin instruction is available on both sides of the Atlantic (elsewhere too). But when comparing conservatories themselves, the music school that might suit a particular player will depend on that player's interests and experience.

I believe that most conservatories and music colleges need to do significant updating to their curricula to prepare students for 21st-century careers. Please see my posts on The Musician's Way Blog titled "Music education and entrepreneurship" and "Music: The practical career?"

The school where I teach, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, is one of the leaders in contemporary education (btw, all three of our violin professors were Galamian students - Kevin Lawrence, Joseph Genualdi & Sarah Johnson). Other conservatories in the U.S. and abroad are taking steps to modernize, and I applaud their efforts. However, I urge young musicians to look closely at the whole curriculum of any school they're considering.

Best wishes, Gerald

July 29, 2010 at 02:03 AM ·

The members of the Shanghai and (original) Tokyo string quartets were of whom I was thinking when I wrote "if not most".  I don't suppose that's enough of a reason in retrospect...

July 29, 2010 at 12:45 PM ·

Buri wrote: "I think it may because the acoustics of your average teepee lacks resonance."

Then look to Canada: the acoustics in an igloo are terrific.  . ...

Just a bit of a handicap that there is not enough room to do a full up-bow...


July 29, 2010 at 04:20 PM ·

 Here's another way of looking at it:

Are there fewer European conservatories per population than in the US? I've long felt that there are too many American conservatories for jobs available, and this leads to lower standards of graduates and too many who won't get jobs. My assumption--please correct me if I'm wrong--is that because there there are fewer European conservatories, the competition for admittance is higher, as are the standards and rate of job placement. So if my theory is correct, there would be an advantage in Europe because one would be exposed to a consistently higher level (I'm not comparing to our top conservatories which of course have very high standards, but American schools overall, including state institutions and small colleges with music departments).

Any comments?


July 29, 2010 at 04:26 PM ·

Also, how many American conservatories have West and East European trained teachers...  When European musical expertise started to travel abroad Europe (to Asia, America etc), everything began to be more "uniform" everywhere. 

I know America has a stereotype of beeing more permissive or "sugar" softy training added with immature show off but this all depends of the seriousness of the teacher and student!  

If America was just sugar softy training, soloists from Julliard and the Yale, Curtis etc wouldn't exist...



July 29, 2010 at 08:02 PM ·

The consensus seems to be that European conservatories aren't generally better than American ones. But perhaps there is one area where Middle and Eastern Europe does excel: in early music education. I have heard surprisingly good youth choirs and string ensembles from Finland and Hungary, which the Finnish and the Hungarian said were the norm in their countries, and I can hardly find comparable Dutch ensembles of the same quality.

What do you all think?


July 29, 2010 at 10:36 PM ·

Bart, I think that's a very interesting question.  Maybe I'll come back and ramble on it when I have time--or maybe somebody smarter than me will get there first!

July 30, 2010 at 03:27 AM ·


if one plays in an igloo is one `thawing away`?



July 30, 2010 at 05:41 AM ·


Thawing away is generally what causes a husky sound. Those who have whale-blubber wrapped around their bow grips know what I'm talking about...


July 30, 2010 at 06:17 AM ·

Are there Ivy League igloos ? In Alaska ??

Maybe these Palin to insigificance.

Whatever, the idea of building a conservatory onto an igloo seems pretty dumb.

July 30, 2010 at 06:24 AM ·

Bart, Have you heard Coosje Wijzenberts group De Fancy Fiddlers or slightly less polished but nevertheless a good group is the String orchestra Camerata from the Amselveen Musiek School.These are bothe of a very high standard.The Silvay brothers did much to change music education in Finland and The Helsinki Strings is a world class group.Needless to say they are Hungarian and took to Finland the Kodaly method which is used prevalently in Hungarian elementary schools.Sucess is based on incorporating music in the general and public education system.Pity that other countries haven't caught on.In Italy what little music education there was in the public schools has now been axed 

July 30, 2010 at 06:52 AM ·

In the UK, too, music services in State Schools have been cut back. Our conservatories presumably rely heavily on candidates from our few specialist Music Schools to fill their places.

What's puzzling is that at a time of a general dumbing-down of education here a great many talented and capable young musicians continue to emerge - more indeed than there are "jobs" available. 

July 30, 2010 at 08:06 AM ·

If I had the opportunity, I think I would choose the one attended by Paganini.   

July 30, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

 "Whatever, the idea of building a conservatory onto an igloo seems pretty dumb."

It's no wonder our orchestras seem frozen in time. Someone should put them out of their misery--maybe shoot them from a helicopter?

July 30, 2010 at 08:22 PM ·

Janet, thank you. The Fancy Fiddlers were the reason I wrote "hardly" instead of "not". I revisited their web site and enjoyed some of their music today. It is perhaps no coincidence that the group was founded on occasion of a visit to Hungary.

And of course I should not forget the Haydn Youth Orchestra, from Groningen, the city where I live. Both the Fancy Fiddlers (Coosje Wijzenbeek) and the HYO (Josien Le Coultre) were the result of the activities of an inspired teacher.


July 31, 2010 at 06:13 PM ·

I am a European so I thought I´d thrown in a few cents. I personally don´t thinkl it can be stated that music conservatories are better in one country than in the other. There is a  different emphasis in every conservatory and it depends on the individual player which conservatory suits him best. I know musicians that have been to conservatories on both sides of the Atlantic and I don´t see notable in their approach to music based on where in the world they attended conservatory. Rather their approach to music is entirely their individual approach,

And of course both sides of the Atlantic boats of some great conservatories. USA has Juilliard and Curtis and Europe has Royal College of Music, Trinitty college of music, Stuttgart, Sibelius academy as well as many others.

August 1, 2010 at 03:24 AM ·

Igloo? Ice?  Alaska?

This is where my violin thinks he is at the minute I put my hands on it!   I should tell him, "don't worry, you're just felling the point(s) of the iceberg!!!"  


August 2, 2010 at 03:47 AM ·

I also disagree with the premise. For performance standards, I'd like to know which European conservatory exceeds Curtis and Julliard? For theory, Mannes is probably second to none. and Mannes is second maybe to the Paris Conservatory in solfege (if you care about that sort of thing).

Actually, I've seen performance standards - technically, anyway - go up everywhere, and level the playing field. Anoher advantage that the U.S. has had since WW II -with so much immigration, is diversity. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in countries like Poland, Hungary, Finland, etc. which may well have very high standards, most of the faculty is likely to be of the respective country. In the U.S. in any given conservatory, your violin teacher might be Russian, your chamber music teacher, Austrian, your orchestra conductor French, your theory teacher, American, etc. There is something to be said, certainly, for spending some time in Paris or Berlin, to absorb a particular style or ethos. But if you're only going to attend one or two schools, you're more likely to get a broader exposure at an American conservatory. And don't just live in the practice room. My home town of New York is about as international a city as can be.

PS - some funny stuff re igloos, etc. But whalebone lapping on bows (the kind that alternates dark brown and off-white) really did come from whales! Now, it's mostly faux whalebone - made, I'm told of genuine faux. ;-)

August 2, 2010 at 05:25 AM ·



August 2, 2010 at 11:27 AM ·

International diversity can be found in conservatories here in Europe as much as in America. In the field of classical music in my country a large percentage of the players/teachers are foreigners so there´s a lot of variety here when it comes to teachers of different nationality. Conservatories such as in London and Germany also have a really varied groups of students from all over the world as well as teachers. I know of a handful of people from my country that attended/have attended different conservatories  in Europe and they seem to mix in pretty varied company internationally speaking.

So the music scene in conservatories in Europe is varied. One of the main contributing factors to that would be the European mainland. With so many countries interlinked it´s impossible not to have variety. As well as there generally being a big number of immigrants in European countries. Just in my own little country there are now thousands of immigrants from all over the world. That makes us pretty varid eh? ;)

August 2, 2010 at 01:10 PM ·

If that's the case, that's fine. Maybe it was another faux pas! Or was it a faux, faux pas? What is the experience of other Europeans on in this regard? OK, trying to be witty so early in the morning in a language in which I have a vocabulary of about 25 words, is giving me a headache!  But I still maintain my position re standards.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine