Over the College's first 20 years, it became clear that Robinson was well placed to become a centre of musical, as well as academic, excellence. Not only had the Founder, Sir David Robinson, provided the College with ample space for music performance and practice, and also with a Chapel well suited for recitals and concerts equipped with a fine Frobenius organ, but the College had subsequently acquired a Steinway piano and a Rubio harpsichord. In any given year between 25% and 30% of the undergraduate intake have been talented musicians, even though only a very small number were reading Music for their degrees.
Those few students who were admitted to read Music in the early days were well-cared for by an external Director of Studies, but the College lacked a resident Fellow with close connections to the Music Faculty to provide continuity and planned development for the community of undergraduates reading Music and musicians reading other subjects. As a result, many of Robinson's talented musicians were looking to other colleges with a more formalised musical life for the opportunity to develop their skills to the full.
To address this problem, Robinson College sought and secured initial funding to appoint a resident Fellow and Director of Studies in Music. An excellent appointment was made in the outstanding young composer, Dr Jeremy Thurlow.
The aims of the appointment of a resident Fellow and Director of Studies in Music were to:
- attract a larger number of applications from highly qualified candidates to read Music at Robinson;
- increase the size of the body of undergraduates reading Music in order to create a "critical mass" which assists them all in their studies;
- foster an active musical life in College, pursued to a high level of skill and invention, in which those reading music and talented musicians reading other subjects can reach their full potential.
These aims have been clearly achieved and the College is keen to maintain this development in the musical life of the community, both academically and recreationally. Robinson's choir tours annually, both abroad and in the UK, and has been broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4; outstanding professional musicians such as Aisha Orazbayeva and Peter Sheppard Skaerved perform at College alongside our own students and together and independently they draw in outside audiences from the local area, the region and nationally; the number and quality of applications to read Music at Robinson has substantially increased. Several of the students have gone on to high-level professional careers in music, playing in leading orchestras such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Philharmonia, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and singing in professional cathedral choirs. There have been numerous Firsts among the music students, and also there are regularly postgraduates at the college studying music at Masters and Doctoral level.
Dr Thurlow's presence has not only contributed to academic excellence in Music at Robinson, but also galvanised and directed the music-making of Robinsonians, providing energy and achievements that have enriched the musical community and strengthened its sense of identity. As a composer he has written for a wide range of outstanding ensembles and soloists including the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, the Aronowitz Ensemble, Endymion, Sequenza (New York), Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Matthew Schellhorn, Rolf Hind, Krysia Osostowizc, Aisha Orazbayeva, Duo Concertante, the BBC Singers and the BBC Philharmonic. His video-opera A Sudden Cartography of Song won the George Butterworth Award.
As a musicologist he works on twentieth-century French music, especially post-war figures; his monograph Henri Dutilleux et la musique des songes is published by Millénaire III and he has written various chapters and articles on Messiaen and Dutilleux, as well as writing and broadcasting programmes on Radio 3 on these and other composers. He teaches a wide range of courses including analysis, free composition, tonal composition, 'H&C', and various 19th and 20th-century history courses and dissertation topics, and gives the Music Faculty lectures on the analysis of twentieth-century music. He also runs the visiting speakers and workshop programme for the MPhil in Musical Composition. He is also active as a pianist, particularly in chamber music.
The College has funds in place for this post for a limited period of time and is seeking additional donations in order to support the post of Director of Studies and Fellow in Music in the long-term.