Leeds Conservatoire & Opera North Partnership. 2019 onwards
Cultural Sector Partner: Opera North @Opera_North_HE
HE Partner: Leeds Conservatoire @LeedsMusicDrama

Leeds Conservatoire (LC – Formerly Leeds College of Music) has been delivering conservatoire Music training in the centre of Leeds for over 50 years. A ‘progressive’ conservatoire, LC has continuously developed and adapted its provision to meet the needs of students and the industry it serves. At the core of this progressive ambition is collaboration, not only between the genres of music it offers in its programmes, but also with other cultural partners in the region, nationally and beyond.

In order to realise its ambitions as an education provider, Leeds Conservatoire proactively engages with arts institutions in the city and beyond, embedding the conservatoire as part of the Leeds’ arts ecology, which supports graduating artists and drives cultural activity. Vice Principal, Patsy Gilbert, comments: ‘HE partnerships with arts organisations are key to achieving strategic objectives which will benefit both organisations, but, more crucially, will enhance the art generated in the city. The work of both institutions grows in cultural relevance and opens doors to new projects and ideas.’

In 2018, Leeds Conservatoire formed a partnership with Opera North, the main aim of which was to give students practical access to the largest producing Opera company in the North of England. Undergraduate Classical students at the conservatoire were given access to multiple opportunities, including orchestral ‘side by side’ projects, composition competitions and bespoke masterclasses, devised around the company’s production season.

In addition, a partnership agreement outlined how the organisations intend to work together on strategic objectives around teaching excellence, developing the Leeds talent eco-system, improving access and participation for young musicians, and progressing equality, diversity and inclusion targets. This has resulted in InHarmony placements for students upcoming in the 2021/22 academic year and linking up with networks and outside organisation initiatives e.g. Black Lives in Music and The Opera Studio.

Importantly, both organisations were keen to offer activity which could engage the widest range of students and allow as many as possible to benefit from the access to the company. The partnership would be used to raise aspirations amongst conservatoire students, broadening their understanding of routes to employment, creating opportunities to make industry contacts and demystifying a large arts organisation.

During 2020/21, much of this partnership activity was moved online, but students were still able to benefit from masterclasses, In Conversation sessions and employment support.

The inability to conduct in-person activity pushed both partners to conceive new ways to deliver material, which is seen as ‘equitable’ by students, and continue to motivate and inspire during a period where producing new work is on hold. As a result, the aims of the partnership have gradually shifted – acting as a beacon of post-covid recovery and providing valuable insight into how to creatively work together in partnership under challenging circumstances.

Strategically the partnership has become more inward-looking during this period, focussing specifically on the activity provided to the students rather than the broader cultural objectives the partnership hopes to achieve. The next task will be to work together to focus on the challenges around rebuilding a cultural sector that has been mostly unable to operate for the past year.

Quotes from students at Leeds Conservatoire who have taken part in partnership activity during the 20/21 academic year:

“It was such a pleasure to host the first ON In Conversation talk with Richard (Mantle, General Director of Opera North). A great start to the series of talks and Masterclasses coming up this semester for Leeds Conservatoire students. The atmosphere was very relaxed and I enjoyed having the opportunity to understand a bit more about the in’s and out’s of ON as a company.”

On Opera North 1:1 – connecting conservatoire students with one to one conversations with members of the Opera North Orchestra & Chorus

“I think the 1:1 sessions are beneficial as it gives young music students an insight into the myriad of ways their music degree can be used to build a career as an artist and succeed in their musical journey. It is important in a time such as this; when the Arts are under scrutiny and pressure post Covid; to give those who have chosen to study music some constructive support and realistic advice on how to remain focussed on their chosen pathway and show clearly that a future within the Arts sector is entirely possible and incredibly rewarding.”
Marie Clare Breen, Choral Learning Team,Opera North Education

“He gave me excellent recommendations of music/media and so much helpful advice and I now feel so much more knowledgeable about potential career paths I might want to take as a performer, as well as ones that I hadn’t even considered before. It was such an interesting call and I feel utterly inspired and so grateful that he gave the time to talk to me!”

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