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The Tutors

Simone van der Giessen, viola

Violist Simone van der Giessen was born in Amsterdam in 1984. Since the age of 5, music and the violin have played an important role in her life. In 2002, Simone moved to the U.K. to continue her studies with Jan Repko at the Royal Northern College of Music. It was in Manchester, that as a founding member of  the Navarra String Quartet, chamber music became the centre of her musical life. In 2004 she began studying viola with Predrag Katanic and after graduating in June 2006 with First Class Honours she won the RNCM’s Cecil Aronowitz Prize for viola and performed Walton’s concerto for viola with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra. In 2009 she performed in the Royal Festival Hall with pianist Amy de Sybel after receiving a Martin Music Scholarship. 

Outside of the quartet, Simone is in much demand as a chamber musician and is frequently invited to perform with chamber orchestras and ensembles such as the Aronowitz Ensemble, Britten Sinfonia, Ensemble 360 and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Other chamber music partners have included Anthony Marwood, Paul Watkins and Richard Lester. 

Simone’s biggest influences came from her professors Jan Repko, Predrag Katanic, Alasdair Tait and Chris Rowland at the RNCM and David Takeno at the GSMD. Other musical influences came from studies at festivals and schools such as Bowdoin and California Festivals, the International Musicians Seminar, Cologne Hochschüle and Chamber Studio with the AlbanBerg Quartet, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, Thomas Riebl, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eberhard Feltz and Ferenc Rados. Simone was grateful for the generous support of both the Prince Bernard Cultural Foundation of Holland and the Martin Music Scholarship Fund throughout her studies. 

Simone plays on a mid 19th Century English viola of an unknown maker.

Donald Grant, violin

Donald was brought up in the small village of Roybridge in the Highlands of Scotland. When not running around the hills or climbing he could be found playing music of all sorts and it quickly became his life’s passion.

He grew up immersed in traditional music as his father was a Gaelic singer and teacher. He sang songs from when he could speak and loved attending courses at Sabhal Mor Ostaig and attending the National Mod and Feisan nan Gaidheal. Mostly he just loved playing WITH people.

He found himself at St.Mary’s Music School and the Royal Northern College of Music and had a brilliant time at both. It was on his first day at the RNCM that the Elias Quartet began life. That was nearly 17 years ago…

In 2009 Donald gathered some of his most favourite people and musicians to record his solo album “The Way Home’.

“Superb debut release… breaking down the barriers of what we know as traditional folk music” *****  Maverick Magazine

There is nothing more that Donald loves than collaborating. The more diverse the better… from playing and writing string arrangements for the lovely Kate Rusby, featuring on Catriona Mckay’s futuristic folk album “Starfish” to free improv on “Late Junction” with Trish Clowes – he loves it all.  A highlight of 2015 so far was leading the GRIT orchestra at the opening night of Celtic Connections. He is a also member of folk band “The Secret North” who will soon release their album “Live”.

Donald has a dog called Arthur and you can often catch them in the coffee shops of South East London.

Nathaniel Vallois, violin


Nathaniel Vallois was born in Paris and later studied in Israel and in London. His teachers included Miriam Solovieff, Yair Kless, Itzhak Rashkovsky and Ruggiero Ricci, and he has drawn much inspiration from his association with the great American violinist Camilla Wicks. The recipient of many prizes and awards, he gave his UK solo debut in 1993 at the Canterbury Festival. Since then he has concertized extensively as soloist and chamber musician, including many concerto and recital appearances in London's main venues and across Britain. He has performed concertos by Bartok, Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Britten, Bruch, Dvorak, Glazunov, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Walton. He was a founder member of the London Archduke Piano Trio and performs with many chamber music groups.

Nathaniel Vallois is the Senior Violin Teacher and Lecturer at the Birmingham Conservatoire, and is on the violin and chamber music staff at the Purcell School of Music. As well as being regularly invited to play and teach in summer courses and festivals in Britain, he has performed, broadcast and given masterclasses in the U.S.A, France, Germany, Spain, Israel, Romania, Turkey and South Africa. In 2014 he performed and gave masterclasses across China and in Brazil.

Nathaniel's recordings include a recital CD of French music entitled Beau Soir and a CD of chamber music by Hugh Wood, on Toccata Classics, which was awarded 5 stars by the BBC Music Magazine in 2010. He has a great interest in historical artists and recordings, is a regular contributor toThe Strad magazine and consultant for record companies.

Margaret Edis, Alexander Technique


Margaret has over 35 years of experience teaching the Alexander Technique to musicians. She has taught regularly at The Royal Academy of Music for over 20 years and has given classes at the Royal College, Guildhall and Trinity Colleges on numerous occasions. She was Alexander Technique teacher to the National Youth Orchestra for 15 years where she taught young musicians both individually and in groups. She also gives classes on the postgraduate programme at the conservatoire in Bern, Switzerland. Margaret and Gillian have worked closely together over the years and the course will allow Margaret to observe the participants playing and to work, in consultation with Gillian, on specific issues to create greater freedom and ease in performance.

Ursula Smith, cello

Ursula Smith is a Cello Professor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London,(where she is also Senior Tutor in Chamber Music) and Conservatorium Maastricht in Holland. She has given guest masterclasses at many different conservatories in Europe, Japan and China.  In 2014, at the invitation of Lukas Hagen, she was a jury member of the International Mozart Competition for string quartets in Salzburg and in 2019 will be on the jury of the Banff International String Quartet Competition in Canada.


Ursula studied with Emma Ferrand and Ralph Kirshbaum at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. She was a Fulbright scholar at Yale University where she studied with Aldo Parisot and graduated with a Master of Music degree. She participated in masterclasses with Steven Isserlis, Pierre Fournier, György Kurtág and Andras Schiff in Banff, Geneva and Prussia Cove. She was a finalist in the 1993 Osaka International Chamber Music competition in Japan.


From 2006 to 2012 Ursula was a member of the Zehetmair String Quartet , a quartet which performs  and records for the most part from memory. She performed with the quartet in many of the world’s top venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, the Concertgebouw ,the Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall. Festivals include  Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Schleswig Holstein and Salzburg.Highlights of their work included a  Schumann cycle at the Wigmore Hall, and taking part in Elliot Carter’s 100th birthday celebrations in New York in 2008.The quartet’s 2007 ECM recording of Bartok’s 5th quartet and Hindemith quartet opus 22 won the  Chamber Music Diapason D’Or of the year in France.Other chamber music discs include the complete Beethoven folk songs for piano trio and voices for Deutsche Grammophon, playing with amongst others Marieke Blankenstijn and Malcolm Martineau.


Ursula was also Principal Cello of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra from 1993-2002 and has guest lead the cello sections of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Northern Sinfonia.


As a soloist, Ursula has performed with conductors such as Jorma Panula, Andrew Litton and Mark Wigglesworth. She gave the British premiere of Nigel Osborne’s cello concerto, and toured South America playing John Tavener’s “Eternal Memory” for cello and strings. In 2013, to mark the Britten centenary, Ursula commissioned two new works for solo cello from the British composer Sally Beamish and the Danish jazz composer Jacob Anderskov. She will be releasing a cd of the complete Britten suites and the two new works for Meridian records in summer 2018.

Gillian Thoday, cello


Gillian is a cello tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music, Chethams School of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, Jnr. Department. Her approach to teaching has been strongly influenced by her years of study in Germany with Andre Navarra, one of the greatest cellists of his generation, and by her own extensive experience as a performer and teacher. She combines a strong emphasis on technical schooling with a recognition of the need to nurture each individual's musical voice. She aims to impart the technical, musical and organisational skills to make each student's personal work as effective and independent as possible. Many of her students have won awards and are themselves now successful members of the music profession.

Gillian's performing career has included solo appearances at all the major recital venues in London and TV and radio broadcasts for the BBC. She has worked extensively with chamber ensembles in the contemporary field including radio broadcasts, recordings and tours in England, Europe and the USA, and has herself commissioned new works. In the orchestral field she has worked with most of the major orchestras in London and as a guest principal and studio player. She is also in demand as an adjudicator and external assessor for conservatoires such as the Royal Academy of Music.


Krysia Osostowicz, violin


Born in London of a Polish family, Krysia Osostowicz is one of the leading violinists of her generation, well known both as a soloist and chamber musician. She studied at the Yehudi Menhuin School and Cambridge University before completing her violin studies in Salzburg with the Sandor Vegh. She has given concerto and recital performances across Europe and made a series of award-winning recordings.


Well known as a chamber musician, her reputation was established with the pioneering piano quartet Domus, which initially toured with its own portable concert hall—a large white geodesic dome seating 200 people which took them to all kinds of places which had never experienced concerts before—and went on to win a worldwide audience and two Gramophone Awards in ten years. She now leads the Dante Quartet which she formed in 1995 and which is now recognized as one of the finest quartets in Britain. As an independent chamber musician, Krysia Osostowicz has collaborated with artists such as Radu Lupu, Steven Isserlis, Ernst Kovacic, Michael Collins, Levon Chilingirian and Christoph Richter.


Krysia has made over twenty CD recordings of solo, duo and ensemble repertoire. Her Hyperion discs of Brahms, Fauré and Bartók were all enthusiastically received: the Fauré disc (with pianist Susan Tomes) winning a Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, and the Bartók solo sonata shortlisted for a Gramophone Award.

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