RWCMD – my year comes to an end

By on July 5, 2018 in Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Uncategorized

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It’s now a year since I first received the phone call that led to my appointment as Interim Principal of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Now, one year on it is hard to believe that I am coming to the end of my time at the College. I have had a wonderful time, made so many new friends and am leaving with high hopes for the future here in Cardiff!

Since my last post on the RWCMD the summer has been filled with some exciting performances: I loved the Richard Burton Company’s Candide by Mark Ravenhill with the audience invited in through the theatre to an inner stage for the second act. Other highlights  included the Symphony Orchestra’s concert in St David’s Hall with Samuel Hau as soloist in Szymanowski’s Violin Concert No 1 and brilliant playing from the orchestra under David Jones in works by Gershwin and Bernstein, The Magic Flute in Martin Constantine’s enchanting contemporary account of this magical tale with Gareth Jones as conductor and the Conductors’ Showcase featuring Tom Crane, Christopher Holley and Andrew Thompson directing works by Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Khatchaturian and Shostakovitch – a Russian feast.

On 20 June, the Ian Stoutzker Prize final featured Laura Deignan (clarinet) in works by Ireland and Weber, Grant Jameson (euphonium) in works by Horovitz, Carl Hohne and Karl Jenkins, Nuno Lucas (piano) in works by Ravel and Mozart and Charlotte MacClure (violin) in works by Enescu, Bartok and Sibelius. In the end, Laura Deignan’s Weber Concertino won the day with an eloquent account that won over jury and audience alike. Congratulations to Laura.

Other memorable performances included the Musical Theatre’s Betty Blue Eyes with George Stiles settings of Alan Bennett’s enchanting lyrics in a story from post-war Yorkshire and Feast, a Faustian tale of fine dining and foolish choices by our puppeteers in the cavernous surroundings of the Depot.

I also enjoyed a moving performance of Twelfth Night with Esme Allen as a touching Viola and Alex Wanebo equally passionate as Olivia. These two presented the ‘make me a willow cabin’ scene as part of an Evening of Music and Drama that we presented before TRH Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at their beautiful home in Carmarthenshire this week. The whole performance directed by Marilyn le Conte was a delight and has contributed to a festive mood at the end of our summer season.

More seriously, I finish my year with the news that the Murphy Report may soon be out with indications about the College’s future development to be revealed. I wish John Derrick all the best in taking this forward. We have announced a secondment for John Cranmer as Director of Academic Development  with Kevin Price to be Acting Director of Music for 2018 – 2019. Today we launch the new Alumni Association and in Sepember the inaugural Staff Development Day will give more voice to our distinguished teaching staff.

And lastly, students. Students are really at the heart of all that happens in the RWCMD. Thank you to Brian Weir and to SU President, Lloyd Pearce for an amazing year and for all that you have done to support the progress of the College.

Au revoir!


Schubert Ensemble – the end of an era

By on July 5, 2018 in Schubert Ensemble, Uncategorized

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The last few weeks has been extraordinary in living alongside the Schubert Ensemble as it completed its final year. Last Saturday’s final concert at the Barn on Doug Paterson’s farm brought together many close friends as the ensemble played Louise Farrenc, Fauré, Dvorak and Judith Weir before receiving  yet another standing ovation from the assembled company. Judith’s Song of Departure said it all – a touching, witty and heartfelt farewell piece for an ensemble that has done 35 years in nearly 50 countries round the world with all those amazing first perfromances and recordings along the way. Having finished the Song of Departure, there was a feeling in the hall that that was the ensembles last breath, but luckily they were persuaded to pay their arrangement of Strauss’ Morgen which indicated that life for all members will go on and they probably will paly again at some stage….who knows?

This last concert came at the end of a year with two US tours, Roumania, Scotland and the North and countless other concerts. They completed their Kings Place series in the autumn and played their final Wigmore Hall in March. A remarkable feature of the year has been the creation of a legacy website with all the recordings and premieres on it:

And there is also a legacy fund which will allow ensembles to apply for grants to perform Schubert Ensemble commissions. Details can be found on the website.

Human Rights Institute at Mansfield College

By on July 4, 2018 in Mansfield College

It was a red-letter day at Mansfield College on 15 June when Helena Kennedy’s dream of an Institute for Human Rights in Oxford came to fruition with the opening of the Guy Hands building and the Bonavero Instutiute of Human Rights. Presided over by the Chancellor, Chris Patten, the building was opened by Kofi Annan with Principal, Chancellor, Institute Director Professor Kate O’Regan  and the former Secretary-General of the UN making moving speeches.

In the evening the dinner in the Chapel Hall brought everyone together with another great address from Chris Patten, this time from the pulpit of the chapel, followed by speeches by Guy Hands and Yves Bonavero. Helena Kennedy had decided to include music in the day with a band playing in the marquee and a concert of Zimbabwean mbira music and Syrian Oud music. It was therefore an honour for Jane and me to play Handel’s G minor trio sonata at the dinner with Josef Laming as accompanist. Having played our G B Caird Centenary Concert in Mansfield Chapel last October, it was good to be there again!

Mansfield College Main Building and JCR with Library on the left.

Mansfield College, Oxford

Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition

By on July 3, 2018 in TWIMC

From 2 to 6 May, I was a jury member for the Tunbridge Wells International Music Compeition held at Mayfield School as part of the Mayfield Festival of Music and the Arts. With Levon Chilingirian, David Strange, Angela Malsbury, Benjamin Frith and Ian Fountain we enjoyed many excellent performances in our piano, wind and string rounds before combining for the semifinals and finals. The winners of each section were:

Piano: Ryan Drucker (winner); Jinah Shim (2nd prize); Andrei Iliushkin (3rd prize)

Strings: Toby Hughes, double bass (winner); Joy Lisney, cello (2nd prize); Ray Liu, violin (3rd prize)

Wind: Matt Glendening, clarinet (winner); Emma Halnan, flute (2nd prize); James Gilbert, clarinet (3rd prize)

The section winners provided us with a thrilling final which in the end resulted in Toby Hughes winning the competition and the audience prize: a clear indication of this exceptional player. Congratulations to Toby.

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Toby Hughes


The Silver Swan

By on July 3, 2018 in BBC

Recorded in March and broadcast on 3 May, my contribution to BBC Radio 3′s My Life in Music was The Silver Swan. Producer Rosie Boulton approached me to write about music that had had a profound influence on me in determining my life in music. It was quite hard to pinpoint a single work or works from the thousands that could be mentioned: the first time I played in the National Youth Orchestra was Tchaikovsky 5 for instance, but what about Mahler symphonies, all those operas I played (Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Strauss), Gurrelieder and so on? And chamber music (Mozart K452 or K361, Beethoven quartets, Bartok) and those records that I wore out as a child (Richter playing the Wanderer Fantasie, Dennis Brain’s Mozart Horn Concerti, Ansermet and The Rite of Spring)?  Stop me, like you the list is endless!

I sent Rosie some initial ideas from all these (including a piece on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons which is another story….), and what came back was her feeling that my Silver Swan told a special story. So I hope you enjoy it – a memory of singing in a punt in Oxford in c. 1964. I shared the series with Chris Wood, Kerry Andrew, Karine Polwart and Sally Beamish, by the way – their contributions are great!


The Silver Swan


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Rosie Boulton

A new Principal

By on July 2, 2018 in Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Helena Gaunt

The process of appointing the new Principal for the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama came to an triumphant conclusion on 9 April when the Board, chaired by John Derrick, confirmed the appointment of Professor Helena Gaunt from 1 September this year.  Helena has been Vice-Principal and Director of Guildhall Innovation in recent years having held a number of positions at the Guildhall beforehand. An oboist who has been a member of the Britten Sinfonia amongst other orchestras and ensembles, Helena has a strong research record publishing on one-to-one tuition in conservatoires, orchestral musicians in the 21st century and collaborative learning. She has also been the host of the highly successful Reflective Conservatoire conferences and is Chair of the Innovative Conservatoire Partnership (ICON). I am delighted to be handing over to Helena – it feels as though the baton is firmly in her hand and we appear to be still in the box as I let go! I wish her all the best for a great era ahead.

Bromsgrove International Music Competition

By on July 2, 2018 in Bromsgrove International Music Competition

As President of the Bromsgrove International Music Competition, I attended the 2018 Final on 7 April in the Routh Concert Hall at Bromsgrove School. It was an amazing final with brilliant performances from Irena Radic (piano), Lewis Banks (saxophone), Luke Jones (piano) and Bartosz Glowacz (accordion). Adjudicators Meurig Bowen (Chair), Sarah Bruce and Roderick Williams must have been under pressure to choose a winner from such diverse and high level performances but in the end they chose Luke Jones as a very worthy winner performing Rachmaninov’s  Etudes Tableaux 5 and 9, Op 39 and Medtner’s Sonata No 9, Op 30. Congratulations should go to Chair Ian Morris and all those involved in organising this marvelous music festival.


Sir James Caird Trust

By on July 2, 2018 in Sir James Caird Trust

This year’s auditions for the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarship Trust went off well with two good days in Glasgow on 4 and 5 April and a day at the Wigmore Hall on 6 April. It is heartening to see that the application numbers are increasing but these tend to be concentrated amongst singers and string players with only a small number of woodwind, brass, percussion, piano and other disciplines applying. We hope to encourage more awareness of these valuable awards which are open to young musicians who have had one or more Scottish grandparent. Please pass on this information to anyone who might be interested:

The level was very high with a number of reall outstanding performnaces. Congratulations to Glen Cunningham (tenor), Katherine Bryer (oboe), Liam Bonthorne (tenor), Catrin Woodruff (soprano), Jessica Ouston (mezzo soprano), Donald Robinson (cello) and Diana Sheach (french horn) on receiving the top awards.

It was, as ever, great to work with Patricia McMahon and Hector Scott on the Music Panel and thanks to Samantha Boyd for all that hard work in running the auditions.


Not a dull moment…..

By on June 25, 2018 in Barbirolli Oboe Competition, Oxford, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Schubert Ensemble

When Easter Day arrived this year I realised that I had had a March in which most of the elements of what was always to be a crowded year came together. This involved my primary role for the year as Principal of the RWCMD with practising and performing on the oboe, conducting the Radcliffe Orchestra in their spring concert, teaching, being a trustee of the Munster Trust and on the Board of the National Childrens’ Orchestra, attending the winner’s concert of the Barbirolli International Oboe Competition (the wonderful Ilyes Bouffadain-Adlof) and attending concerts and plays at the College. But in addition my family were just as active: Jane had twelve concerts that month with the Schubert Ensemble including a trip to Scotland and the North as well as a Wigmore Hall concert in this their final year as an ensemble; and Lizzie was equally busy at school, taking Grade VII violin, playing in the NCO and generally nagivating the family diary.

Which all goes to show that you can pack a lot in if you want!

The Radcliffe Orchestra is remarkable in consisting mainly of doctors and other staff at the John Radcliffe Hospital and other Oxford hospitals. It is a full symphony orchestra that tackles ambitious repertoire with an admirable and positive approach. That professional medics can also maintain their playing at a really a good level is remarkable…….a thing that I know well from having a brother-in-law who does just that as well as many musical medics as friends. My programme was really ambitious – La Forza del Destino overture, Strauss 1st Horn Concerto with the excellent John James as soloist and Elgar 1. Here individual sections played with distinction and the back desk solos were played with a quality that Sir Edward would surely have approved of.

On 18 March, I performed Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid in St John the Evangelist, Oxford in a highly inventive celebration of Ovid’s bimillennium based on Handel’s Semele with danced version of the Metamorphoses choreographed by Lucia Boué. The Oxford Girls’ Choir and Cantiaquorum was directed by Richard Vendome and the event was produced by Penelope Martin-Smith. It was a treat to play these much loved characters for Mika Tse (Pan), Amelie Rothwell (Phaeton), Lucia Boué (Niobe), Libbeth McShane (Bacchus), Emily Wenban-Smith (Narcissus) and Lisa Milne (Arethusa).

It is an honour to be a trustee of the Countess of Munster Trust, a trust that awards a large number of significant grants to talented  young musicians for postgraduate study. Being a trustee is a pleasure but also involves quite a lot of time in the spring each year. Candidates are now asked to supply video recordings to be selected for audition and so it is incumbent on the trustees to view and hear these in February and March – hence the sight of me with earphones on at all spare times including during train journeys (mostly between Didcot and Cardiff) and late-nights in hotel rooms (especially the Angel Cardiff).

My work for the Royal Welsh College had many points of interest in the month as well. On the 5 March I went to Manchester to attend the spring meeting of the ConservatoiresUK Principals’ Board. It has been great to re-connect with this having been a member for all those years when in Birmingham. Linda Merrick is doing a great job as Chair and dealing with the pressures of a post-Brexit relationship with Europe as one major task. The future of the Erasmus programme is a facer for all as the UK conservatoires have done so much to build up their connections, partnerships and projects with Europe. Countless students come to the UK from Europe to study and UK artists look to Europe for work. We can but pray for a good outcome.

On 8 March we were delighted to welcome the Welsh Minister for Culture, Lord Elis-Thomas to the College having also had a meeting earlier in the year with the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams. Our concerns are to try to work alongside the Arts Council Wales and all other cultural organisations to build the infrastructure where much seems to be under threat at the moment. Most notably the Music Services in Wales are facing a difficult future with huge cuts being made by local authorities. We are now busy involving the Music Education Council to support our musci teachers for the next generations……

At the end of the month I enjoyed the College’s New 2018 mini festival including Isley Lynn’s Albatross and Katherine Chandler’s Buddy – most effective new work, played by our dynamic students. One More Look, a review of works by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was also very enjoyable and full of energy. And then there was La Cenerentola an enchanting production by Martin Constantine and conducted by David Jones. Sophie Dicks and Christine Byrne shared the title role both singing in great style whilst Rhodri Jones’ Ramiro and André Henriques’ Dandini were both excellent. The understudies were good too – including Edmund Caird as Dandini, but here’s a proud father talking!

So that was March……





A year to remember……

By on June 24, 2018 in Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

As I come to the end of my year at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, this is to note my weakness as a blogger – there never seems to be time to write about what’s going on! So this is catch-up time and I expect there will be a number of posts to cover the ground since my last post at the beginning of the year.

So, starting in January the year began with the realisation that I was nearly half-way through my assignment as Interim Principal and there would be a lot to do ahead. I had undertaken to review Hilary Boulding’s Five-Year Plan for the  College which ended in July 2017, the College needed to complete the process of appointing a permanent Principal, the Murphy Review remained unpublished and the financial future of the College remained an enigma. In addition, there were all the regular things to keep an eye on – courses to review, league tables to be concerned about and the overall well-being of students and staff.

But don’t let me give the impression that all these things have been solitary responsibilities. We have been lucky to have appointed John Derrick as Chair of the Board. John has made a huge difference to the College since his appointment in the summer and by January it was clear that he was leading very strongly on the appointment of the new Principal with the great help of Jennifer Barnes of Saxton Bampfylde. John has shown interest in and also been involved in a full range of responsibilities and activities at and for the College.

John Derrick, Chair of Royal Welsh College of Welsh and Drama

John Derrick, Chair, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

In addition, I have throughout the year been helped enormously by a great team of colleagues not least the six people who comprise the Senior Management Team with me: Scott Allin, Sean Crowley, John Cranmer, Brian Weir, Lucy Stout and Executive Admnistrator, Amanda Townsend. This is a team that runs the College with efficiency but also sets the tone: creative, friendly, caring about all people and all matters.

The early months of 2018, therefore, were taken up with a lot of ground work – commissioning departmental strategic reviews, drafting the Strategic Review itself, shortlisting candidates for the the post of Principal and working on the financial and organsational  future fo the College.

But there were some marvellous artistic experiences too: a beautful concert bt the WNO orchestra in the Dora Stoutzker Hall with Angus West playing Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto most eloquently, the RWCMD Symphonic Brass in a concert entitled Crossing Borders, the opening night of WNO’s La Forza del Destino at the Millennium Centre, the semi-finals of the Stoutzker Prize for instrumental soloists featuring some brilliant performances from our students and other student performances from the Richard Burton Company  in The Night Watch, In the Next Room and Between Riverside and Crazy.

All this set the scene for the appointment of the new Principal at the end of February and a March to remember…… this space!

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