Olivia Francis

Olivia's Road to London - Royal College of Music 2014

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I started dreaming of London when I was about thirteen years old, when I first found out about the existence of the "Royal Schools", four renowned music schools in the UK. In my mind, these were like castles in the sky - until I travelled to London to audition, and the dream became a reality. Now I'm 22, so this destination has been nearly ten years in the making, and you can imagine my excitement on being awarded a place. I'm preparing to begin studies at the Royal College of Music just a couple of months from now.

In truth, this project has been in the making far longer than ten years. It really began when I started piano lessons aged 4, with my twin sister Gracie, and I soon became captivated by the violin too, beginning lessons aged 7 with the Suzuki method in Hamilton (my hometown). I recently graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Music (First Class Honours), where I studied with Dimitri Atanassov. My violin teacher for the last five years, he has also been my mentor, guide, and often like a second dad to me. An incredible performer as well as professor, he has prepared me to go out into the world as a violinist and to embark on my next journey - to London.

The programme I'll be doing at the Royal College of Music is a Master of Performance. It's a two-year qualification which involves a ton of practising and performing in all sorts of different situations, including solo, chamber music, and orchestral playing. I'm going to be studying with the wonderful Berent Korfker (check him out at www.korfker.com) and I can't wait to be in London - not just to study at the RCM but to experience life in such a groovy city. The RCM is full of expert faculty and enthusiastic, dedicated students, and I'm excited to be part of that community and to be a cultural ambassador for New Zealand as well.

I have one month to raise the funds needed before I fly out on 31 July. The funds you donate through Boosted will go towards my expenses for the year, including tuition fees, rent, food, and travel costs. By donating, you are showing support not only for me, but also for the development of New Zealand music and young New Zealanders. As a young classical musician, I am so grateful that I can be a part of keeping this genre of music alive. I can't thank you all enough for joining me on the road to London - it will be such an exciting journey. Thanks for travelling it with me.

Liv X


  • London Begins


    Dear everyone,

    I've been in London just over a month now, and tonight marked my first performance as a Royal College of Music student! Over the last couple of weeks I've had a glorious time sharing a music stand with gorgeous Essi from Finland - we've been preparing Mahler's Symphony No.2 'Resurrection', along with a couple hundred other RCM players and singers! It is without doubt the loudest piece I've ever performed in, with massive brass and percussion sections playing at full power and a 180-member chorus. We've had the privilege of working with conductor Andrew Gourlay and are joined in our performances by acclaimed vocal soloists Elizabeth Watts and Sarah Connolly. It was exhilarating to be a part of tonight's sold-out concert, and luckily we have the chance to repeat it, with a second performance tomorrow night. The programme also includes William Lloyd Webber's 'Aurora' and tomorrow night will be live streamed direct from the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall for those who'd like to watch online. Head to www.rcm.ac.uk/live to see the action - kickoff is Friday 24 October at 7.30pm UK time (Saturday morning 7.30am NZ time).

    London so far has been a whirlwind of music, sightseeing and running errands. There have been lots of things on the "Moving To-Do List", such as opening a bank account, signing up for a phone contract, finding the nearest supermarket, and buying a bicycle. I've been fitting these things in among lots of practising and lessons, finding my way around the RCM, and going along to as many concerts as I can. So far I've seen Gergiev and the LSO perform Prokofiev 5, RPO perform Beethoven 'Ode to Joy' at the Royal Albert Hall, Nicola Benedetti at the iTunes Festival, and a formidable recital by Augustin Hadelich and Charles Owen at Wigmore Hall. The best and most relaxing part of each day is my walk back and forth between home and college - it's a beautiful stroll through Hyde Park, and I love to count the squirrels, play with the dogs and jump in the autumn leaves as a respite from daytime busyness.

    To every soul that helped me get to London - thank you infinitely.

    Missing home, but loving London,


    Liv X

    London Begins
  • The Last One!


    Dear everyone,

    There are less than two days left to donate to Road to London - Royal College of Music on Boosted! The project closes at midnight tomorrow (Wednesday night).
    It means everything to me that you have all helped so much already - to raise over $10,000 together is unbelievable!

    My last two concerts with the Auckland Youth Orchestra this past weekend were wonderful, and it has been a privilege to play with these talented and committed musicians over the past few years. Now I'm busy packing and sorting out everything on the To-Do List before flying out on Thursday!

    There are only two sleeps left until I leave New Zealand, and I'll miss being here so much - but I'm so excited for the road ahead too. Here's a picture of all the beautiful cards I have received over the last few weeks - thanks for your kind words everybody.


    Liv X

    The Last One!
  • Gratitude


    Dear everyone,

    It's been a really overwhelming week. The Hamilton Farewell Concert was such a special occasion, as it was one of the last times I'll perform with my twin sister Gracie before moving to London.  I was really surprised and touched to see so many people in the audience - including a whole bunch of old family friends who I haven't seen in ages and ages.  There were friends from both primary and high school, my first two violin teachers Maryla Endert and Trudi Miles, a carload of people from Te Aroha (where my grandparents are from, and where I spent my first 8 months) and lots of others too. I can't even begin to thank you all - not only for coming to listen, but for your generosity - together the audience donated over $2000.

    Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting my high school, St Peter's Cambridge, to play a mini concert for the students and speak to them about what it's like to be on the journey to London and towards a professional career in music. 

    Last evening was my final performance with Gracie, at art gallery Aesthete in Hamilton.  A special 'Mid-Winter Christmas' function, the evening involved an art auction, and the hosts generously gifted the proceeds to my Boosted project.

    With all the support over the last week, we have together now raised 57% of the funding target - over $8,500! It's unbelievable and I can't really find proper words to tell you all how grateful I am.

    Now we're onto the next! This weekend will be my last two performances in New Zealand - the first two concerts of the Auckland Youth Orchestra's Heartstrings tour.  We'll be playing in Taupo today and Morrinsville tomorrow, and have a beautiful programme lined up - Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Sibelius Symphony No.1, and the Schumann Cello Concerto, performed by Edward King.


    Four days left to donate to the campaign, and five sleeps until I leave New Zealand!

    Thanks once again to everybody,


    Liv X


    PS - Thanks to Peter Kampenhout for the photo!

  • Hamilton Farewell Concert - Tomorrow night!


    Dear everyone,

    ONE WEEK TO GO! There is one week left to donate to my Boosted project, so please tell your friends if you haven't already.

    Thanks so so much to everyone who came to the Auckland Farewell Concert on Monday! I had a great time performing with Greg Neil, and Eddy King gave a beautiful guest performance of Bach's first cello suite.

    Now onto the next! Tomorrow night is the Hamilton Farewell Concert, where I'll once again be accompanied by my neighbour, the amazing Greg Neil. The concert will also feature my 'other half' - my twin sister Gracie Francis. She will perform the mammoth E major Piano Sonata of Beethoven, Op.109, and accompany me for a couple of pieces too.  We're pictured here a bit messy after breakfast time, aged 1.

    I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow night at 7.30pm at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato. Entry is by donation.


    Liv X

    Hamilton Farewell Concert - Tomorrow night!
  • Ten Sleeps til I leave New Zealand!


    Dear everyone,

    Today's the day - it's the first of my Farewell Concerts this evening in Auckland! The concert begins at 7.30pm at the Lewis Eady Showroom - I look forward to seeing you there.

    Road to London - Royal College of Music is going really well - together we have raised 21% of the funding target, more than $3000. I'm overwhelmed by the generous support coming in from all directions - it means so much that you are joining me on the road to London. There are just 9 days left to donate, so hop onto it if you haven't already!

    The past week has been busy, challenging and incredibly rewarding - I've been playing in the NZSO National Youth Orchestra. With 96 young musicians involved, there was the joy of meeting many new friends and also a chance to spend time with old friends one last time before I travel overseas next week. I'm pictured here with my dear friend of 8 years, Annabel Drummond - what a wonderful violinist, and it's amazing how orchestra can be even more fun when you have a desk partner as great as this girl! The NZSO NYO embarked on one of its most ambitious programmes yet - Strauss' Don Juan and Also Sprach Zarathustra, in honour of the composer's 150th anniversary. We also performed a wonderful new work by Aucklander Sarah Ballard (and premiered it on her 25th birthday!) It was a huge thrill to perform the two concerts in Wellington and Auckland, and I was reminded again of the power of music to bring people together. Many of the NYO members had never met before, but we all had the enthusiasm and drive to collaborate and make great music together, and it's this spirit of collaboration which I can't wait to experience again in London at the Royal College of Music. We were also honoured to work with English conductor Alexander Shelley. He's not only a vivacious conductor but also a kind and friendly person, and I was excited to learn that he also lives in London - I'll see him perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Cadogan Hall in February.

    One more thing - tune in to Radio New Zealand Concert at 1pm today to hear me speak to Eva Radich about my musical journey and road to London. There are just ten sleeps til I leave!

    All my best wishes,



    Ten Sleeps til I leave New Zealand!
  • My week with NZSO: Wounded Hearts tour


    Last week I had the privilege of touring with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as part of the Wounded Hearts tour, with guest conductor Rafael Payare and cellist Alisa Weilerstein. It turned out to be even more exciting than I had anticipated - originally I was only going to play in the Wellington and Auckland concerts, but ended up playing the Napier, Tauranga and Whangarei concerts too, replacing a second violinist who was ill. I was so grateful for the opportunity to help out, as it was my first chance to tour with the band.

    Several experiences on the tour stood out as memories I'll cherish for a long time.

    The chance to meet Alisa Weilerstein. I've looked up to her ever since I first heard her recordings about seven years ago, and it was incredible to see her play in real life (although I got pretty starstruck, and it took over a week of rehearsals and several concerts before I worked up the courage to speak to her). Her approach to her instrument and to the Sinfonia Concertante was something else - literally breathtaking.

    Speaking with NZSO principal flute Bridget Douglas on the last evening of the tour, I was reminded that my first experiences of live symphonic music were NZSO concerts - when I was about five, my parents began taking my twin and I along to see the band play when they toured to our hometown, Hamilton. I remember it being a big achievement the first time Gracie and I managed to stay awake for the symphony after the interval - not just the first half. Bridget (and her hair!) is one of my strongest and earliest memories of the NZSO, and Gracie and I had posters of her on our bedroom wall. Growing up, it always seemed beyond improbable that I would ever have the chance to speak with one of the NZSO musicians - let alone tour with the orchestra!

    Being a part of the 2nd violins was really special. I had the chance to sit with most of them at different concerts throughout the programme, and was inspired by their skill, dedication, and their willingness to be so welcoming to a newbie and put up with my rookie mistakes.

    The past week has left me feeling encouraged to continue developing and to make heaps of progress while at the Royal College in London, in the hope that one day I'll grow up to work with such a great band and inspire the next generation of musicians as the NZSO has inspired me.

    Pictured here blurry and happy after the Auckland Town Hall concert with NZSO 2nd violin boss, the irrepressible Andrew Thomson.

    My week with NZSO: Wounded Hearts tour
  • Watch this video!


    Today's the day for another mini-launch: it's the Road to London - Royal College of Music campaign video!

    Filmed and edited by my dear friend and stunning photographer Rachel Walkerit was shot at sunset high up on the hill at Cornwall Park in Auckland. I think it will be especially interesting to some of you who might not have seen me for a while - take five minutes out of your day to check out this little piece of cinema which gives a bit more insight into my life and the Royal College of Music project.

    You can view it right here on the project website or on Rach's own Vimeo channel at http://vimeo.com/99563741 . Don't forget to tell everyone you know to have a gander at it too!

    Talk soon,

    Liv X

    Watch this video!
  • Farewell Concerts


    Thanks so so much to everyone who has already donated - it's so exciting and it means a lot that you are keen to help me achieve this dream. Please keep telling your friends - and remember, $5 is more than zero! - I'm so grateful for anything people can give to help me on the way.

    SIGNAL BOOST: I will be performing two Farewell Concerts before I leave for London:

    The first will be in Auckland on 21 July with the effervescent Edward King
    Lewis Eady's Showroom, 75 Great South Road, Remuera
    Tickets $30/adult | $10/child
    Pre-booking recommended, as the venue only holds about 70 people.

    The second will be in Hamilton on 24 July with my other half Gracie Francis -
    Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato
    Entry by donation

    I will be accompanied at both these concerts by the fantastic Greg Neil.  Please come along if you can, and bring along your friends, family and colleagues.

    See you soon,

    Liv X

    Farewell Concerts