Professor Jo Cole

Head of Strings


Strings - Head of Strings

Successful and versatile orchestral and chamber musician

Dedicated and experienced educator

Diverse career also includes outreach and consultancy work with big business

Studied at the Royal Academy of Music: Head of Strings since 2010

Cellist Jo Cole has had a substantial playing career spanning more than 25 years. A distinguished, seasoned orchestral cellist and experienced chamber musician, Jo has a record of versatility, which includes period performance and innovation in outreach.

Jo’s playing career includes many years’ membership of the Academy of St Martins, Co-Principal of the City of London Sinfonia and as a regular performer with the London Symphony Orchestra. She continues to perform professionally whenever this is possible alongside her substantial commitment to her students at the Academy.

Jo studied at the Academy with Florence Hooton and David Strange, then with Ralph Kirshbaum. She was Deputy Head of Strings at the Royal Northern College of Music from 2006 to 2010.

Jo was appointed Professor of the University of London in February 2016.

Personal philosophy of teaching

Jo Cole writes:

Every journey through a musical life is different, although there are certain aspects that every musician recognises. My responsibility includes ensuring that understanding the facts about a performing career are instilled sooner rather than later. There is no substitute for authentic advice for students about what happens ‘out there’.

I want the time our students spend at the Academy to be not so much an educational means to an eventual professional outcome, but an apprenticeship to a performing career from the moment of enrolment. As individuals discover the wealth of possibility open to fine, creative young artists, the scope for a stimulating life in music becomes multi-dimensional. Helping students to keep any and every door ajar is vital – while also supporting the enthusiasm for specific areas of performance which may emerge.

By their nature, stringed instruments are often played collaboratively, and this carries with it the need for string players to develop sophisticated methods of creating shared – but not diluted – visions. The ‘holy trinity’ of solo, chamber and orchestral playing is deployed throughout the courses of study, to ensure that musicians have the necessary awareness to perform on a huge variety of platforms with natural assurance.

Of course, a string player at the Academy must be given every opportunity to be the best player they possibly can be. They must be instilled with a sense of excitement and purpose in their own musicianship and they must be helped to embrace the life towards which they are heading without fear but with respect for its power, potential and pitfalls. In essence my role is to ensure that the equipment for the journey is high functioning, to guide, to advise, to avert unnecessary terrors and to share what I know so that my errors don’t become anyone else’s!

Read Jo’s blog

Selected recordings (with commentary)

English Piano Trios, Cantamen (BMS)
Track 3: Phantasie in A minor, John Ireland

I was fortunate enough to spend some years in the piano trio Cantamen – until the demands of our other respective performing commitments caused its natural conclusion. Our recording of English piano trios was a memorable highlight of those years and was a particular joy to me as I have a great affection for pastoral English music

Roberto Gerhard, Cantamen (MSV)
Track 5: Cello Sonata. II: Grave

It was relatively rare for me to record anything as small as a trio – let alone a duo, but Cantamen was also invited to make a disc of the complete works of the Spanish composer Roberto Gerhard, for violin, cello and piano – which include a beautiful cello sonata. We recorded this in a secluded chapel near Winchester in the small hours of the morning on a series of summer nights. This was to avoid traffic noise contamination - but we had reckoned without the occasional bat!

John Rutter Requiem. CLS, Stephen Cleobury (EMI Classics)
Second movement, ‘Out of the Deep’

Other recordings which punctuated my playing life were with the City of London Sinfonia: John Rutter’s Requiem – the cello solo in ‘Out of the Deep’ was done in two takes in Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, which meant we had an early finish to the session and made me very popular with my colleagues, but I felt that most of the work was done for me by that glowing acoustic.

Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols. CLS, Richard Hickox (Chandos)
Track 1

At City of London Sinfonia we also did a disc of Christmas Music by Vaughan Williams. I have always been very fond of the Fantasia on Christmas Carols and playing the cello solo at the beginning of this premiere recording for strings and organ was a treat for me – especially with the wonderful baritone Roderick Williams singing the vocal solo.

Handel Concert Grossi op.3, ASMF, Iona Brown (Hanssler)
Track 5

The Academy of St Martins had a strenuous diary of recording interspersed with tours with intense but hugely enjoyable schedules all over the world. It was actually quite unusual for the orchestra to give concerts in the UK – though this has changed in recent years. However the recording sessions did take place in London and were a regular feature of life directed by either Iona Brown (the ‘Little Band’) or Neville Marriner (the ‘Big’ Band.)

Among many sessions I strongly recall recording the Handel Concerti Grossi including op.3 no.2, which has an unusual duo for two solo cellos. Lionel Handy – fellow cello professor here at the Royal Academy of Music – was Principal Cello. I rode shotgun, a format in which we worked together for eight years and which I loved.

Nicola Lefanu, Goldberg Ensemble (Naxos)
Track 3: Cancion de la Luna

Other projects which hold precious memories include Britten’s operas, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Erato) Peter Grimes (Chandos) – which received a Grammy – and Death in Venice (Chandos) – all with CLS/Richard Hickox.

Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement (Chandos) – which only has single strings in the very small scoring, was also fun to do. At the time of writing, I’m looking forward to the Academy production in 2015. It’s a quirky amusing work – and there were similar experiences recording unusual pieces. Nicola Lefanu’s Catena for 11 solo strings springs to mind, a recording for the Goldberg Ensemble which also includes her Cancion de la Luna for counter tenor and string quartet – a beautiful piece inspired by Lorca.

With the LSO I was also fortunate enough to be involved in numerous memorable recordings – one very special one, the Barber Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham/Previn (Deutsche Gramaphon) remains a favourite, both the recording and the recollection of working with a great artist and a great orchestra.

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