My life in Conservatoires

Having worked for three conservatoires and with the entire world of conservatoires for over thirty years, there is no simple way to describe this major aspect of life. As a performing musician I have always been intrigued by the question of how best to develop the education and training of performing artists. Conservatoires now combine professional education and training in performance at bachelors, masters and research levels with their junior conservatoires, their extensive educational and artistic collaborations and with their roles as arts venues. They are extraordinary and complex institutions which are continually developing in this process. I have been involved in many different ways in my work for conservatoires and this is best described in a narrative way.

 

My appointment as a professor of oboe and then Head of Woodwind at the Royal Academy of Music from 1984 stemmed from my oboe teaching and a belief that teaching needed structural connections that could make it most effective. I started my administrative role at a time of considerable change for conservatoires. Under the leadership of Sir David Lumsden, the Academy changed from its diploma system and made an important contribution to the development of Bachelor and Master degrees in performance.  I was part of a remarkable team that brought about many changes and the creation of a woodwind curriculum in the BMus course was an exciting part of my work. With inspiring professors on all woodwind instruments, we instigated regular performance classes, invented our first approach to intensive orchestral training, developed the training for the LRAM Teachers’ Diploma with connections with Music Services and Schools and we built links with professional orchestras and other arts organisations. Visiting teachers came from all over the world, the bassoonists Mordechai Rechtman and Klaus Thunemann, clarinettist Karl Leister and oboists Ray Still and Thomas Indermuhle amongst many others. Working with the wonderful professional teaching staff which included William Bennett, Celia Nicklin, Tess Miller, Angela Malsbury and John Orford, and exceptional students at the Academy was a special privilege. As Head of Department I succeeded predecessors Gareth Morris and John Davies, sought to build on the ethos that they had created whilst adapting the department for the huge changes that were taking place around us.

 

As Head of Orchestral Studies I contributed to developing the orchestral programme with regular visits from distinguished conductors. These included Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davies, Rudolph Barshai, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Roger Norrington to name a few. The composer festivals organised by Paul Patterson, that brought, amongst others, Olivier Messiaen, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, György Ligeti and Krzystof Pendereski to the RAM, gave the orchestral department some inspirational challenges for all involved. Orchestral training became more focussed with attention given to gaining a wide knowledge of repertoire, to preparing for auditions and defining the route into professional work. All this needed careful planning as talented young musicians also require time and space to work on their playing.

 

My work at the Academy caused me to have the courage to apply for the post of Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire in 1993 and my appointment brought sadness at leaving the Academy but enormous rewards in the work I was able to do in Birmingham. Again, it was the achievements of a great team of colleagues and inspired guidance by Vice-Chancellor Peter Knight that brought about the progress of this wonderful institution, so what follows has no sense of hubris to it. I was lucky, too, to take over from Kevin Thompson who in turn had succeeded Roy Wales and before him Louis Carus. These Principals had made considerable contributions to the growth of the old Birmingham School of Music such that my era had the feeling of lift-off from a well-prepared base.

 

Over a period of about seven years we a revivified the Junior School, developed the BMus course, started the MMus and postgraduate suite of courses and established the Conservatoire as a Research Centre. Two further BMus courses in Raga Sangeet (South Asian Classical Music) and Jazz, demonstrated the liberal artistic understanding that the Conservatoire is renowned for. Composition became an important influence on our work as was the Capelle Baroque Orchestra and the range of electives in World Musics. More importantly still was and is the Conservatoire’s connection with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the training schemes that were developed have for many years been exemplary. In addition, the Birmingham Conservatoire Association, a volunteer-led organisation of alumni and friends became an important influence on the well-being and the influence of the Conservatoire as a whole.

 

The Conservatoire grew artistically and academically at a formidable rate and this went hand-in-hand with its emergence as a performance venue, as a provider of outreach to communities, as an international collaborator with many other institutions across the world and especially through the Association of European Conservatoires and, at home, through the umbrella body, ConservatoiresUK.

 

Many great musicians were involved during this time. Sir Simon Rattle as President offered amazing advice and often came to take orchestral masterclasses. Through the CBSO, other conductors visited: Gennadi Rhosdestvensky, Frans Bruggen, Pierre Boulez, Sakari Oramo, Sir Mark Elder and many more. We also were privileged to welcome the many distinguished musicians who gave masterclasses and performances for us over the years. Major projects included the EU-funded Integra composition with electronics project, the Charpentier Centenary 2004, Boulez in Birmingham 2005, the Association of European Conservatoires Conference 2005, the IDRS Conference 2009 and the Music and Dance Scheme’s Reach for the Sky Performance in 2010.

 

After 17 years and on reaching the age of 60, I took the decision to leave the Conservatoire in 2010 and handed over the role of Principal to David Saint. Within a short space of time, I was approached by Codarts Rotterdam (the former Rotterdam Conservatoire) and joined them as Artistic Director of Classical Music in January 2011. With a great team of colleagues, this has involved me in leading the 100-strong instrumental and vocal teaching staff, leading the artistic programme including orchestral and chamber concerts and projects, developing an overall strategic plan, developing the Rotterdam Philharmonic Codarts Academy of Orchestral Training with Rotterdam’s distinguished orchestra, running regular Open Podium events for students, developing junior education and training and acting as a link with many other cultural organisations in Rotterdam.

 

Major projects for Codarts have included joint orchestral concerts with the Royal Conservatory in The Hague (Schönberg’s Gurrelieder conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw in 2011, Berio’s Sinfonia and Rendering conducted by Etienne Siebens in 2012 and Mahler’s Tenth Symphony conducted by Susanna Mälkki in  2014), The Big Day 2013 and 2016.  An orchestral masterclass on Sibelius 2 with Yannick Nézet-Séguin in 2014 and a performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony with Valery Gergiev were among the many individual performance projects that took place during my time in Rotterdam and it was especially rewarding to work on collaborative events between the departments of Classical Music, Jazz, Pop, Musical Theatre, World Music, Dance and Circus Arts.

My tenure in Rotterdam came to an end in July 2016 when I was succeeded by Okke Westdorp. In 2017 I was honoured to be asked to stand in as Principal of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama following the departure of Dame Hilary Boulding. Now a leading European conservatoire of Music and Drama, the College is an exceptional performance promoter with its fine Dora Stoutzker Hall. It is rapidly developing its role as the National Conservatoire of Wales with multiple collaborations and outreach programmes. 

All this work confirms my belief that conservatoires are exceptional artistic, educational, academic and cultural institutions which function at a high level, in a holistic way and as performance venues thus providing an inspirational environment for young performing artists. It has been a truly wonderful experience to have had such a long association with conservatoires in the UK, Europe and across the world.