Berklee College of Music began exploring the possibilities of a base in Valencia in Spain some four to five years ago, says director of operations Jorge Rostoll. The plans became a reality 18 months ago in January 2012.
Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Berklee is renowned as one of the largest independent music schools in the world, and its courses in contemporary composition and performance are second to none.
The institute looked at several different options when it came to expanding abroad but, reveals Rostoll, Valencia held a fistful of trump cards. A huge legacy of music and musicians (“There are around 500 symphonic bands in the surrounding areas”) and a strategic position for connections into Europe, the Mediterranean, and, courtesy of the Spanish language, to South America, were two major factors. “Third, Valencia is one of the most popular cities for students abroad,” says Rostoll, himself a native of the area (as if that was difficult to spot). “It’s safe, it’s a wonderful city, it’s small and manageable. And there’s the weather, the beach, the underground, the buses… all those things came together and Berklee was convinced to come here.”
The college occupies two floors in the ‘Anexo Sur’, a 150m-long curving annex of El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (the Queen Sofia Palace of Arts) in the dazzling City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia.
Designed by Santiago Calatrava and the late Félix Candela, this futuristic collection of civic buildings built in a drained riverbed was inaugurated in April 1998 with the opening of L’Hemisfèric - a planetarium and IMAX cinema resembling a giant eye - with the Palace of Arts being last part to be completed in 2005.
Now the principal tourist destination within Valencia, the City hosts multiple performance spaces, museums, an aquarium and more. But this temple to aesthetics has also attracted controversy, viewed by some observers as a symbol of wastage, over-spending and incompetent management at a time when Spain is fiscally distressed.
Rostoll is aware of what some critics have written, but ultimately sees the music school as a force for good. “The students and the college are contributing to the local economy, so it has to be seen as a good thing. It’s a great place for Berklee, and it’s great for Valencia too,” he says.
The college was created in two initiatives: teaching areas and facilities as Phase One, the studio and the music technology hub as Phase Two. Building was scheduled around the academic year in order to allow teaching to commence at the first opportunity.
The academic area includes ensemble rooms, classrooms, private instruction rooms and practice rooms, built with the highest standards of acoustic room treatment, and providing sonically isolated, soundproofed spaces. (There are fibre ties to the nearby Palau, as you might expect, which the college hopes to exploit thoroughly in the years to come, with recordings of concerts and other interactive initiatives to enhance the student experience.)
Genelec speakers are used throughout the facility, a mixture of 8020, 8030, 8040 and 8050 monitors. “We don’t use many brands - but we try to use the best,” says Rostoll. Yamaha speakers can be seen in the rooms where more substantial sound reinforcement, for live instruments, is required; Audio-Technica headphones and microphones are also in plentiful supply. Otherwise, Genelec is clearly the most visible brand on display. “Genelec is great,” Rostoll adds. “If we have any issues, they sort it out. It’s so easy!”
In one of the standard teaching rooms, Rostoll highlights the Genelec 8030s and Mac Mini-based DAW stations, while pointing out the view out into the City, where it’s “always sunny”. He’s very pleased with the construction and aspect of the rooms, which were designed with support from the Boston staff.
The college co-ordinates three streams of teaching. Firstly, short programmes in summer, which are “good for marketing and looking for talent”, says Rostoll. The second programme is “global studies”, whereby students from the Boston campus spend a semester in Spain as part of “an international experience”.
“We started with 26 students in January 2012,” explains Rostoll. “They remain at the campus because their silhouettes have been painted around the building. Their souls are now part of the environment,” he smiles. It’s an endearing touch.
The third programme is a series of Masters courses, a first for the Berklee College. Full-time courses are available in film, TV and video games, in the music business, and in performance, with a course in technology and innovation in the pipeline for September 2013, headed by recent AES convention keynote speaker, technologist Stephen Webber. The mix of students is important too: 115 are currently in attendance, including 20% from other countries other than US, including Germany, Switzerland, UK and Argentina – and four from Spain. Up to 300 students could be admitted when the facility reaches its full potential.
Phase Two of Berklee is the music technology complex, which houses two technology labs and five recording studios, including a world-class scoring stage. The scoring stage and recording studios A, B, C, and D were designed by acoustic consultancy Walters-Storyk Design Group in collaboration with college staff.
The scoring stage is a 126sqm facility that includes a live room of about 80sqm with high ceilings and with variable surfaces for diverse acoustical configuration; the 46sqm control room is based around a Euphonix System 5 console and a mixture of Meyer Sound Acheron and Griffin Audio speakers.
But that is the only space where Genelec monitors do not feature. In the tech labs, for instance, there are 20 Mac-based workstations available running a number of software packages and Avid Artist controller surfaces, plus a full 5.1 Genelec surround system for the room and AT headphones for each student. Here is where the Masters for composition for film, TV and video games is taught: hence the unexpected addition of an Xbox at every desk. A separate area at the far end is where the tutor can ‘patch in’ to each student’s work, as well as doubling as an isolated recording booth for projects outside of teaching times.
The four recording studios enable students to develop, produce, design and complete projects in advanced professional production. Again, acoustic design and sound isolation has been paramount. Almost unbelievably, there’s a major transport artery running over a bridge just metres away from the Spanish campus, but strategic use of isolating neoprene and floating walls and ceilings means the vibrations of traffic are imperceptible to the WSDG/Berklee rooms.
These studios, ranging from 12.5sqm to 18.5sqm and tie-lined to each other and a central live space once again feature a number of DAW options (Logic, Digital Performer and Pro Tools) supported by Genelec monitoring (including larger 1039 midfield units in Studio A). In total, there are some 60 Genelec boxes throughout the Valencia campus. “When it came to spec’ing the equipment, we looked at the purpose of each room, then worked out what we needed for each,” relates Rostoll. “So I called and spoke to Genelec, and we’ve started this great relationship. They came and tuned the system too. “We always try to be at the high end and the cutting edge.”
Investing in premium brands sends a message to the students that it takes their presence there seriously too. “Yes,” agrees Rostoll. “We invest in the faculty, in the technology, and in the talent of the students. They are very serious, focused and talented. Berklee is very strict with its admissions: we have 10,000 apply in Boston, and we admit maybe 800.
“Our mission is to help students succeed in their careers,” emphasis Rostoll. “That is all we want.”