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BMus Strings

Introduction

The Strings department offers outstanding opportunities to explore your musical passions. With a high staff-student ratio, we have a friendly and supportive learning environment that responds to individual needs and promotes initiatives.

We strive to maintain and develop an environment where both staff and students feel they have a share of its ownership. We encourage our students to participate in shaping the Department into an artistic community that responds to the aspirations of tomorrow’s musicians.

The majority of our teaching staff are professional musicians working in Scotland and beyond. Being surrounded by four professional orchestras in Glasgow alone and the only conservatoire in Scotland, the Strings department is integrated into the professional musical life of Glasgow and our students are in regular contact with it through personal contact as well as apprenticeship schemes. Students search for identity through creativity and artistic experimentation, and develop a clear overview of what it is to live and work as musicians today.

Introduction

The Strings department offers outstanding opportunities to explore your musical passions. With a high staff-student ratio, we have a friendly and supportive learning environment that responds to individual needs and promotes initiatives.

We strive to maintain and develop an environment where both staff and students feel they have a share of its ownership. We encourage our students to participate in shaping the Department into an artistic community that responds to the aspirations of tomorrow’s musicians.

The majority of our teaching staff are professional musicians working in Scotland and beyond. Being surrounded by four professional orchestras in Glasgow alone and the only conservatoire in Scotland, the Strings department is integrated into the professional musical life of Glasgow and our students are in regular contact with it through personal contact as well as apprenticeship schemes. Students search for identity through creativity and artistic experimentation, and develop a clear overview of what it is to live and work as musicians today.

Programme structure

Year 1

The String Department offers a comprehensive first year of study which focuses on consolidating technical basics as well as helping you develop a broad musical outlook. Ensemble playing, supported by close supervision, plays a key role in this. Fundamental techniques are appraised in Technique Classes by making a video which you later review in consultation with your Principal Study Tutor. This dialogue forms the basis of your Tutor report which in turn facilitates your continued development as a musician.

 

Year 2

Upon successful completion of Year 1, this period of study develops the process of becoming an independent musician, and offers a wider range of ensemble activities. You will also have opportunities to take chamber music as a credit-bearing component. By the end of Year 2 you are expected to be fully equipped musically and technically to begin to engage with the profession and the public through developed performance skills.

 

Years 3 and 4

The second part of your degree will offer a range of opportunities to work with professional musicians in a side-by-side context. The notion of practice-based research is introduced, and you are encouraged to foster critical thinking through performance. We help you develop the independent musical thinking and informed musicianship required of today’s musicians – connecting your musical instinct and your intellect becomes critical to you as a musician. In Year 3, the chamber music exam is in collaboration with a keyboard instrument. In Year 4, in preparation for your next stage it becomes either a mock Masters audition or a mock Professional Orchestral audition. In both Year 3 and 4 the end of year exam is a public performance – a platform to express your artistic personality. We seek an ability to think creatively and express yourself with consummate skills and artistry.

Staff and masterclasses

The String Department is staffed by artists who enjoy professional careers alongside their work at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The intimate size of the department means that students receive excellent contact hours and attention from the team, whilst benefiting from each staff member’s considerable professional experience and external contacts.

David Watkin – Head of Strings

Visiting Professor

Pedro de Alcantara

Violin

Ilya Gringolts – Visiting Artist

Leland Chen – Visiting Artist

Simon Fischer – Visiting Professor

William Chandler – Co-Leader, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Ruth Crouch

Francis Cummings – Sistema Scotland

Tamás Fejes – Assistant Leader – Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Andrea Gajic

Chris George – Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Katie Hull – Assistant Leader, Scottish Opera

Maya Iwabuchi – Leader, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Gina McCormack

Angus Ramsay – Principal, Scottish Opera

Laura Samuel – Leader, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Justine Watts – Leader, Scottish Ballet

Baroque Violin

Huw Daniel – Dunedin Consort

Ruth Slater – Amsterdam Baroque

Viola

Jane Atkins Principal, Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Lev Atlas – Principal, Scottish Opera

Andrew Berridge – Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Scott Dickinson – Section Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Duncan Ferguson – Co-principal, Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Baroque Viola

Alfonso Leal – Dunedin Consort

Violoncello

Robert Irvine – Senior Lecturer, Artistic Director of Red Note Ensemble

Aleksei Kiseliov – Principal, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Martin Storey – Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Betsy Taylor – Associate Principal, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Alison Wells

Baroque Cello

Alison McGillivray– Principal, English Concert/ Concerto Caledonia

Double Bass

Tom Berry – Asst Principal, Scottish Opera

Iain Crawford – Asst Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Ana Cordova – Principal, Royal Scottish National Orchstra

Nikita Naumov – Principal, Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Accompanists

Liivi Arder

Chamber Music

Duncan Ferguson – Co-ordinator

Robert Irvine

Bernard Docherty

Xander van Vliet

William Conway

Maya Iwabuchi

Laura Samuel

Alison Wells

Masterclasses

All students have an opportunity during their time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to take part in workshops and masterclasses with some of the world’s most renowned performers, including:

  • Pedro de Alcantara
  • Nicola Benedetti
  • Simon Fischer
  • Ilya Gringolts
  • Rinat Ibragimov
  • Alina Ibragimova
  • Lutsia Ibragimova
  • Ralph Kirshbaum
  • Lawrence Power
  • Joel Quarrington
  • Rachel Roberts
  • Jacqueline Shave
  • Joseph Swensen
  • Raphael Wallfisch
  • Pieter Wispelwey

Why choose us?

  • High staff-student ration
  • 90-minute individual lesson on your principal study each week
  • Expert teaching team, many of whom are principal performers in the orchestras of Scotland’s national companies
  • Regular masterclasses from the world’s leading string performers, including Nicola Benedetti, Leland Chen, Ilya Gringolts, Pedro de Alcantara, Raphael Wallfisch and the Brodsky Quartet
  • Numerous professional experience and mentoring schemes available
  • Regular collaborations with Scottish Ensemble, Red Note Ensemble, the RSNO and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

How to apply

Applications for the Strings programme should be made through the UCAS Conservatoires website. There is a UCAS application fee of £24 (which is in addition to the audition fee) which allows you up to six choices of programme of study.

Before applying we recommend that you read the Guide for Applicants which provides information regarding entry requirements, and the full application and audition process. Please download the Guide for Applicants – BMus here.

Late applications may be considered, find out more on our Apply for Music page.

Preparing for an interview

The audition/interview panel will take account of all aspects of the applicant’s profile i.e.:

  • performance at audition/interview
  • commitment to the particular programme
  • potential to benefit from the programme
  • academic qualifications
  • personal statement
  • performance qualifications
  • performance/practical experience
  • references
  • contextualised data

Applicants are selected first and foremost on the basis of merit and potential. However, due attention is also paid to the range of Principal Studies accepted in order to ensure the optimum experience for each student and to sustain the critical mass required for curricular activities, such as the symphony orchestra and choral activities.

David Watkin Interview

New strings head at Conservatoire is ready to shake up the system

The Herald interview by Kate Molleson , Wednesday 25 February 2015

 

David Watkin, newly anointed Head of Strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is leaning forward at his desk, describing in animated detail a class he intends to introduce to the RCS curriculum.

David Watkin, newly anointed Head of Strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is leaning forward at his desk, describing in animated detail a class he intends to introduce to the RCS curriculum.

Kate Molleson

‘Wild-Card Thursdays’ will see string students turn up once a week for a two-hour session about which they know nothing at all. They might be required to dance or to improvise theatre sketches. They might find themselves singing, playing their instruments to a backdrop of Latin verse or simply lying on the floor and breathing properly. It’s all a long way from the traditional music-college diet of scales and arpeggios.

Watkin is what you might call a lateral-minded musician. He conducts and he coaches young people, but most Scottish audiences will know him as a superb cellist: he was a soloist, chamber player and principal cello of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra until an autoimmune condition forced him to stop playing just over a year ago. For many instrumentalists, such a blow would be spirit-destroying. Watkins doesn’t suggest that the past year has been easy, but when we meet he is full of a drive and optimism that can’t be feigned. “I’ve always been a musician first and a cellist second,” he says. “Maybe losing the cello wasn’t so bad because it’s only ever been one avenue of musicianship for me.”

In conversation, Watkin is rather like his playing: energetic and fiercely intelligent but also playful and light-handed. His references dart between obscure musicological texts and the Pixar film Ratatouille. He uses the latter example – a cartoon about a Parisian rat who becomes a chef – to illustrate how real expression can cut through any pompous guff. “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere,” he says, quoting the movie’s notorious food critic Anton Ego. I suspect it probably sums up his own approach to music education, too.

The new RCS job couldn’t have been better timed for Watkin in terms of occupying the gaping space that cello playing filled for 40-odd years. But it’s clear that the new position isn’t just a fall-back. Watkin talks passionately about his father’s work as a peripatetic violin teacher in Port Talbot during the 1970s – “he was teaching every kid the violin in the biggest council estate in Europe, long before Sistema” – and applies the same principles of broad reach to the RCS, talking intently about the importance of the institution being a resource for the whole of Scotland.

As for those Wild-Card Thursdays? If it all sounds a bit fuzzy – well, it isn’t. At the core of Watkin’s mission is a deeply serious approach to music-making that pivots around the decidedly unfuzzy discipline of theory. A couple of years ago he wrote a potentially game-changing article for The Strad magazine in which he outlined what he thinks is wrong with the state of string teaching in music colleges and string playing in general.

“At conservatoires,” he wrote, “music theory has been pushed to the margins in the minds of many young performers (and often their teachers), whose goal is to build formidable technique. After all, technical prowess is easier to measure than musicianship, and it’s generally the prime currency at conservatoires, auditions and competitions.” The thrust of his argument is that a thorough grasp of theory is essential for any inquisitive, thinking musician. “How can we find real meaning in a piece if we do not understand how it works? How can we be eloquent without grammar? How can groups discuss interpretation without a common language?”

The article caused something of the stir he intended. “As I pinged it off, I thought, ‘I can kiss goodbye to any guest teaching at any conservatoire in the English-speaking world.’ It is quite damning of the status quo… But look,” he beams. “The RCS gave me a job!”

Watkin himself never went to music college: he studied musicology at Cambridge (where he was also a choral scholar) and learned cello privately until he began picking up work in various London orchestras. Before long he was drawn into the early music crowd, attracted by its “genuine sense of discovery and revolution. This was the late 1980s,” he says, “when there were still the real pioneers around. Today the technical standard has probably gone up in early music, but that sense of discovery has been diluted because it’s being taught. It’s a shame when early music, which was such a revolutionary thing, gets reduced to a new orthodoxy. When you get teachers saying, ‘all you’ve got to do to get work in early instrument groups is play a bulge here and no vibrato here…”

At the heart of Watkin’s approach to pedagogy is a desire to empower students to think for themselves, which can’t be a bad starting point for any head of department. He tells me about something he almost wrote in that Strad article but didn’t because he knew it would distract from the matter at hand.

“At that time there was a huge furore about scandals in music schools and colleges. For me, behind all the stuff about theory is the fact that a relationship between teacher and pupil cannot be dictatorial. It has to be a two-way collaboration; both people have to be learning. My dream is that one day the student comes back to the teacher and says, ‘that’s a minor subdominant chord there – so it can’t be an up-bow like you told me to do’. The faults of the system can be righted from either side.” Listening to him talk, I get the sense the RCS could have hired no better person to instigate the process.

Before I go, Watkin opens a desk drawer and rummages around for a CD. It’s his last recording, Bach’s complete cello suites, made in the months just before he stopped playing and due for release next week. Late in 2013 he was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic condition that relates specifically to his fingers: when he presses down on the strings, his blood vessels break. Now he can demonstrate a few bars in a lesson but six hours of rehearsal is out of the question. “I managed to get that recording done in early December,” he says, looking down at his hands. “My fingers would be black and blue by the end of the day, but I got it done.”

I head home and put on the first disc, and find myself in tears by the end of the first suite’s Allemande. Watkin’s playing is breathtaking: poised, tender, searching, eloquent. The fast movements really dance, the slow movements really sing. The sound is gorgeous – gut strings on a 1670 Cremona instrument for the first five suites and a smaller, earthier, slightly earlier five-string cello for the sixth. There is grit and solemnity, pain and resolve, but no trace of the anger that his illness must have caused during the recording. Mostly, Watkins shapes his phrases with all the time and love in the world. It’s a truly beautiful parting statement.

Entry requirements

  • Scottish Highers – 3 passes (grade C or above)
  • A Levels – 2 passes
  • International Baccalaureate – minimum score of 24 with 3 subjects at Higher Level

Subject recommended

  • Music at Higher, Advanced Higher or A Level or equivalent
  • English at Higher, Advanced Higher or A Level or equivalent

Other Standards

A strong indication of potential is sought at the entrance audition for this programme. Successful applicants will normally be of a standard at least equivalent to Grade 8 with Distinction of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in their Principal Study.

We offer a flexible approach to students taking Highers over more than one academic year and/or who achieve their qualifications in more than one sitting.

Entrance to the Conservatoire is based on talent, potential and ability, therefore consideration will be given to relevant experience which is deemed to compensate for any traditional education. We accept a wide range of qualification, including international qualifications. If you wish to check the suitability of your qualification/experience, please contact us ( admissions@rcs.ac.uk ).

English Language

The language of study is English. Applicants whose first language is not English will be required to provide evidence of proficiency in English. We accept the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Other equivalent English Language qualifications may be considered, please contact us (admissions@rcs.ac.uk ) for more information.

  • IELTS – 6.0 with a minimum score of 5.5 in each component

Audition Requirements

Audition requirements can be found in the BMus Guide for Applicants on the following website

Fees & scholarships

Tuition fees for academic year 2016-17

  • Scottish/EU Students – £1,820
  • Rest of UK (RUK) Students – £9,000
  • International (Non EU) – £15,135

Scottish/EU students

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) will pay tuition fees for all eligible full-time Scottish-based and other non-UK undergraduate EU students, who are studying in Scotland at degree level for the first time. Students should apply to SAAS for payment of tuition fees even if they are not applying for any other means of support. Eligible students can also apply for student loans through SAAS . For further advice and to check eligibility contact SAAS directly on 0300 555 0505 or visit their website .

Rest of UK students

Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland studying in Scotland will be eligible for the same funding/loan package that they would benefit from if they attended an institution in their home country. For further advice please visit student finance England , student financeWales , or student finance Northern Ireland as appropriate.

International students

Students from outside the EU typically fund higher education by a variety of resources, depending on the home country. More specific information on funding options relevant to specific countries can be found here .

Scholarships

Any potential student who auditions for a place at the Royal Conservatoire will automatically be considered for a scholarship. They are awarded on a combination of talent, potential and financial needs.

Scholarships for viola students: We are delighted to announce three new scholarships worth 75% tuition fee per year available to US and Canadian viola students for entry in 2017/18. More information about Scholarships is available here

Sources of external funding

For more information about alternative funding sources, including external scholarships and bursaries, please visit here.

The Conservatoire’s International and Student Experience team are available to advise and assist applicants and current students in respect of queries about funding your studies at the Conservatoire. Please email or telephone +44 (0)141 270 8281/ +44 (0)141 270 8223 for further information.