The Royal College of Music: Providing world-class music in the heart of London

The Royal College of Music: Providing world-class music in the heart of London


Editor-in-chief, Kate Hawthorne, holds an exclusive interview with Director of the Royal College of Music, Professor Colin Lawson CBE for KCW Today. 

Ludwig Van Beethoven claimed that ‘Music is a higher revelation than wisdom and philosophy in their totality’. Many would agree but the practice of translating this essence and Art Form into a successful world-class conservatoire takes more than a formidable talent.

It requires immense stature, knowledge and experience. To steer an International ship, through moving borders and boundaries, with a crew of the world’s most brilliant and creative minds, the Commander must also possess a propensity towards humour, humility and a forensic attitude towards responsibility.

Enter Colin Lawson, Director of the Royal College of Music. The RCM, in the heart of the Royal Borough (founded in 1882) is an International Conservatoire for music education, performance and research housing the world’s finest musicians. The nurturing and education of such potential talent across such a diverse section takes profound dedication.

Professor Lawson, CBE, read music at Oxford, is described as a brilliant world-class performer and played principal Clarinet in Britain’s leading period orchestras. Colin Lawson has recorded, toured, released several CDs of his work, and appeared as soloist in international venues and major concert halls throughout the world. As with his CV, and the letters after his name, there are too many achievements to mention. In 2016 he was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to music and music education.

With the results of the EU referendum in June 2016, businesses were faced with uncertainty and turmoil and educational institutions beset with their own fears as to how this would affect their international standing, student intake, revenue, and future planning.

Colin Lawson cast some light on the matter:

“We had difficulty in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, with the uncertainty going forward as we rely on students to bring quality as well as fees. Half our student body is from outside the UK. Eastern Europeans start music as early
as three and are playing eight hours a day by the age of 10. Their recruitment is essential and the quality of competition so high it helps maintain the highest of standards with UK and International students. We also have 75 EU staff and rely on their continental perspective and collaboration on international research projects. Research projects help drive institutions forward financially and work together internationally on bids. It’s an essential part of our business beyond strictly musical boundaries; it’s pivotal to our growth and work and the broader context of performing, science, music and motherhood.

However, now the UK Government has announced that EU students applying for 2017 entry will be eligible to apply for student loans and grants for the duration of their course. This eligibility will continue throughout their course, even if the UK exits the EU during that period.

The RCM was founded on the principle that world-class music education should be available to anyone with the talent and potential to succeed, regardless of their background or personal circumstances. Throughout our 130 year history the College has upheld this ethos; welcoming, nurturing and training the best and most promising talent from around the globe. Nearly 50% of RCM students receive financial help and this is extended to our international students, ensuring that financial means are not a barrier to achieving musical excellence.

We are rated number 2 in university rankings in Europe and number 1 in the UK. But, whilst this is important, what is more important is the stand against instant gratification where people won’t put their phones down to listen to a Mozart symphony let alone a Bruckner.We need to change this attitude.

Sport has a broader appeal than us. Why? Yes it’s good that Sport is so popular
but music should at least be on the same level playing field in education. We need to change this and are constantly fighting to do so.

We see a lot of potential going to waste in local schools. Good music has always been expensive to produce and for years has relied on patronage and sponsorship. We could bring so much more diversity of opportunity if properly funded. Our Sparks Junior programme provides proper tuition but it’s only for 30 people a year. If we want to continue training world-class musicians we have to get them early, but it’s unfashionable to be training at this level, but not in Sport. We are competing against the American College scholarship system and free tuition in Germany. Having said that we have the huge advantage of London being a most attractive location.

I am immensely proud of our diverse community of students and staff. Their exceptional talent and creativity makes a huge contribution to daily life at the RCM. RCM’s internationalism constantly reminds me that music is a language with the power to transcend borders and this inspires me to look beyond the uncertainty and focus on the RCM’s long-term vision; to continue to demonstrate our connections to Europe and the rest of the world, strengthen international partnerships and create opportunities for cultural exchange.

Combining growth and sourcing funding is an eternal part of the College’s work.

Our More Music Campaign was launched in February this year to raise £40 million pounds to support development of new state-of-the-art facilities. More performance spaces are essential to support more than 500 annual public events. To date we have raised 60% of the sum required. Our Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, will be completed with Flentrop currently building a bespoke new organ tailored to suit the space. Within the RCM complex a new museum will house our international collection of musical instruments, works of art, manuscripts and substantial historical research. A new building by John Simpson will extend the language of the school building with an ultra-modern interior.

We are providing 420 new rooms where students can live, rehearse and practice. With property prices at a premium and restrictions on playing music in residences, providing ‘sound practice space’ is a major challenge and consideration.

Technology is a necessary and important part of our world. Live-streaming extends the reach of the College.

Additional audiences provide income but the real value is bringing in the families, visitors and friends of students across the globe. The new technology allows remote creativity and interaction with our performers, musicians and academics and opens up greater opportunities and exposure for collaboration.

Our live performance programme is extensive and is an essential part of our DNA. We have lunchtime workshops for example, which the public can attend free of charge, in addition to our performance programmes throughout the year.

Colin Lawson summarised his views with this message:

“I give my assurance that the quality of the RCM’s training, our unrivalled performance opportunities and our support for and commitment to European students will never change. All of us at the Royal College will be working hard to ensure the RCM remains the number one choice for talented musicians from all over the world”.

The responsibility for nurturing such potential talent across a diverse section
of creative and sensitive individuals is one thing. The knowledge, challenges and the skill sets required to manage and enhance the world’s leading International Conservatoire take remarkable courage, and a finely tuned musical and fiscal baton. A rarity.

A standing ovation for Professor Lawson!

To view the Royal College’s Performance programmes visit


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