Honorary Fellows interview series

Honorary Fellows: Tony Woodcock

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Tony Woodcock became President of New England Conservatory in June 2007, following a career as an orchestra manager in both the UK and the United States. After graduating from Cardiff University in 1974 he began a career in arts management with positions at the Welsh Arts Council and South East Arts, returning to Cardiff in 1984 as General Manager of the newly opened St David’s Hall. He has held Chief Executive positions with a number of orchestras and is widely respected for revitalising the financial performance and artistic leadership of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony, Oregon Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra. 

For those of us who don’t know much about running a conservatory of music, can you tell us what it is that you do?

As President of the New England Conservatory, my basic job really is very similar to being an orchestra manager. I have to raise a lot of money, for example to help students to afford the tuition rates. I also have to look at the whole academic side of 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.

You are widely respected for revitalising the financial performance and artistic leadership of various symphonies and orchestras. What skills do you think have helped you along the way?

I think one of the key characteristics is creativity. I also think problem-solving and leadership have helped me enormously throughout my entire career. 

I know that you were General Manager at St David’s Hall for a while. Has much changed since you were last here?

Not much. I still get a thrill when I walk in the doors. It is still an amazing auditorium and it is absolutely world class in both its acoustics and its reputation. Long may it continue! 

Was your graduation held here, like it is nowadays?

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No, it wasn’t. It was at the Students’ Union actually, which was brand new then. 

You’ve worked in the US for quite a while now; how different is it living over there? Is the work culture different?

Americans’ are very intense, so they work every hour that God gives them – sometimes to the detriment of relaxation and reflection. I do respect them enormously for what they are able to achieve. 

Do you have any tips for graduates looking to move to the US to pursue their career?

Get involved, as travel and studying in a different environment and culture is an amazing opportunity to develop both intellectually and as human beings. It’s time absolutely well spent.

As both a trained violinist and also an orchestra manager, it’s safe to say you’ve had a successful career. What advice would you give to music graduates looking to have a similar career?

Firstly look at all the angles and don’t just give up easily, as it’s a tough industry. Think about what gives you an edge – if you think of it in sporting terms, think about why Federer or Nadal are better than everyone else. They are only 5 or 10% better than others but they have that professional edge that takes them above everyone else. 

How does it feel receiving an honorary award from the university that you studied at?

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’ve had a great career but do you have any more aspirations? Do you see yourself moving back to the UK or is the US the place for you now?

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.  

You can see Tony’s official video interview here.

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