Philip Meaden, New Man at Leeds: Making More of a Difference

John Robert Brown

In April, Philip Meaden took up the post of Principal of Leeds College of Music. As a student, Meaden had attended the Royal Academy of Music, where he trained as an organist. "Now I conduct more than I play - though I do play a bit," he says. "I'm more a performer than a researcher. I come from that background. I worked as a professional performer for the better part of ten years when I left the Academy."

"Then I took a job as assistant director of music at Alleyn's School, in Dulwich, which gave me a London base for my performing activity. But gradually I got drawn in. First I was seduced by the teaching side of things, which I really enjoyed. Then I was offered the post of Director of Music, which was great, because it gave me a chance to make more of a difference to what was going on. Gradually I got drawn in – first to teaching and then to administration. Slowly, the playing went. I did start a PhD from a research point of view, on Mendelssohn's relationship with the Philharmonic Society, as I was particularly interested in nineteenth-century performance practice. Again, I came from the performance side, rather than the academic side. I went from Alleyn's in Dulwich to be Director of Studies at Trinity College of Music, and then to be assistant principal at Trinity. I continued in the role of strategic development consultant at Trinity when I went to Benslow as chief executive. "

"The combination of the consultancy at Trinity, down at Greenwich, and the post at Benslow, up in Hitchen, just killed the research side of things. I was too busy, with no time. Now I still read around the subject, but my interest is in the research informing a performance. One real luxury, which I didn't enjoy when I was just playing all the time, is that I can actually prepare each programme properly, both from a research point of view and from the actual playing side of things."

"Coming to Leeds, people have been extremely welcoming, though I've never lived here, or worked here, or had any connection – though my wife went to university here, which helps. She knows the city quite well. We're both delighted to be here."

"Leeds College of Music is fascinatingly poised. The college joined the Higher Education sector three years ago. What excited me about coming here was the opportunity to consolidate the college's position as a new Higher Education Institution, and also the real breadth of what goes on here – jazz, popular music and music production, running alongside the traditional stream of a conservatoire. Without a shadow of a doubt, it's the way forward."

"I'd like Leeds College of Music to be the college of choice for forward thinking musicians. In that, I embed a lot of what we did at Trinity, which was to make the college the conservatoire for the region, so that it's rooted in its community with students out there as part of the community. At Leeds we have more than 1,000 students in our access and outreach departs now, a big operation."

"I'm hoping that there will always be a market for the elite, top end, concert platform. There's also a growing market for versatile performers, those who have an awareness of different genres, but are not necessarily equally fluent in all of them. Here, they work with a community, as part of a community. I do feel very passionately about that; Leeds is ahead of the game. It doesn't sell itself enough in that way; there's a job to do. So it's those three things: to make it the conservatoire of choice for that kind of musician; that it's renowned for the distinctiveness and quality of its provision – there's a lot to celebrate here - and the fact that it's relevant, that it's part of its community, that our students will leave here as employable, versatile and relevant musicians."

Meaden intends to build on the achievements of his predecessor, David Hoult. "We've got all the right things here. We have the student hall of residence, which is brand new and right on top of the building, so that the students have immediate access to the facilities here. Actually, that sets up an interesting set of expectations, which aren't necessarily present in the other conservatoires. There, the students live some distance away. Here, the students expect access to resources in a way that we aren't necessarily able to provide - yet. There's a bit of a tension there. But on the whole it's a brilliant thing. David Hoult did a great job with the hall of residence, a great job with The Venue [the college's new concert hall], and a great job in terms of moving the college into the Higher Education sector from the Further Education sector. Quite clearly, that's where its mission should be placed."

One immediate change is that Philip Meaden hopes be more visible than David Hoult was able to be. Meaden has already relocated to Leeds. Enjoying the city's rich musical community (which supports the International Piano Competition, Opera North and the Conducting Competition) is part of making more of a difference to what's going on. It's a good start.

First published in Classical Music magazine, September 2008. Used by permission. Reproduction prohibited

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