Meet Tony Woodcock, Music graduate and honorary fellow

21 November 2014

You graduated from the School of Music in 1974. What were your highlights from studying here?

Working with an outstanding professor, Richard Elfyn Jones, who worked with me as my tutor.  He was an extraordinarily intuitive musician who could turn to the piano and replicate a work he'd heard only once.  An amazing talent! Also some of the great artists who came to work at the Department in small residencies, such as the composer Olivier Messiaen.

What made you choose Cardiff University for your studies?

Wales became a very important part of my early life and I came to love the place. It has always provided me with the most glorious opportunities and I shall be eternally grateful. Cardiff University was a natural choice.

You've enjoyed a successful career but what is your main career highlight?

Commissioning Sir Paul McCartney to write the "Liverpool Oratorio" when I ran the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

You became president of New England Conservatory in June 2007. Tell us about that role

Because education in the U.S. is very differently funded to Europe, much of my time is spent with fundraising; I have to raise a lot of money, for example to help students to afford the tuition rates. But I am also in charge of the whole organisation, from the academic side - what's happening with the curriculum, both in terms of recruiting & keeping key members of the faculty and also positioning the organisation so that it is seen to be really competitive - to marketing, finance, and Board engagement.

What has your biggest achievement been in this role and what do you enjoy most about your work?

  • Totally repositioning the orchestral program and appointing the conductor Hugh Wolff to lead this
  • Creating the Sistema Fellows program which has trained the most amazing young leaders in the philosophy and implementation of the Sistema model.
  • Creating the Entrepreneurial Musicianship program which provides new extra musical skills to help in the management of a career.

You returned to Cardiff University in July 2014 to receive an Honorary Fellowship. What does this mean to you?
It was my Ithaca moment! I returned after 40 years and was received with such warmth and generosity. It was a most emotional and joyous moment for me.

Cardiff still has tremendous vitality and energy. I so enjoyed returning. It feels as if the last 40 years have whizzed by. I'm still in the continuum but in a different part of it. It's the same but different. It's like time travel!

You're a trained violinist. Do you still have the opportunity to perform?

I was performing up until 3 years ago but there is just no time to practice. I'll get back to it at some point.

What are your future aspirations?

To create more time for personal development and to be able to share with more people and audiences what I have learnt and experienced over a long career.

I believe that you should never get complacent. You should always be considering what the next challenge is, just to keep you feeling alive and active. It's funny, but my wife and I are drawn more and more to Europe. We've been in the states nearly twenty years but we really enjoy coming back here, so who knows.  

And finally, what do you like to do in your free time?

Sleep!! And when not sleeping, reading contemporary fiction and travelling.