Imogen Hancock: Oslo – my trip so far…

My last four months of 2016 were spent planning and looking forward to a solo study trip to Norway in the New Year. It was an exciting prospect but also started to feel like a slightly crazy idea – moving to Scandinavia during the coldest, darkest months of the year! Still, kitted out with snow boots and woolly jumpers, I flew to Oslo on 4th January 2017. And now here I am, over half way through my trip, so I decided it was about time to write a post on what I’ve been up to so far…



In 2015, I was one of the recipients of the Julius Isserlis Scholarship, an award from the Royal Philharmonic Society given to graduating students who want to continue their studies abroad. My original plan had been to put this money towards a Masters degree in Germany. However after a change of plans, a fantastic year with Southbank Sinfonia and an inspiring week at the Voksenåsen Summer Academy, I finally chose Oslo as my destination.

Lessons and practice

The main purpose of my trip was to have lessons with a unique team of trumpeters: Norwegian soloist Tine Thing Helseth, Brynjar Kolbergsrud (Co-Principal of the Oslo Philharmonic) and Roeland Henkens (Principal of Den Norske Opera & Ballet). Since being here, I have actually also had a lesson with American trumpeter and composer Anthony Plog (I’d recommend anyone to read his blog!) and next week I’ll be playing to Jonas Haltia (2nd Trumpet of the Oslo Philharmonic).

So far I’ve had 10 lessons, and have felt more and more inspired after each one. It’s been fascinating to chat with these musicians about their careers and to really ‘talk trumpet’ – something which I don’t think I do often enough. I wrote down a number of goals when I arrived in Oslo (related to practice, learning new repertoire and making some career decisions) and I’ve found that reading these every morning has helped me to stay focused so far.

concert oslo.jpgSince I arrived, I’ve attended several rehearsals and concerts of the Oslo Philharmonic – with repertoire including Sibelius 2, Bruckner 4, Rachmaninov 2 and Pictures at an Exhibition, and Mahler 4, Bach BWV 51, Mendelssohn 4 and Ravel La Valse coming up in the next few weeks! Last week I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to the Oslo Opera House (Rossini Cinderella), I went to a concert at the Norwegian Music Academy (Bartok Concerto for Orchestra) and today I watched a performance by Oslo’s Military Band.

I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have made a contact (through Brynjar) at the English Church in Oslo. They have given me the freedom to practise in the church every day that I’m here, something which has totally transformed my trip. It is also a huge help that it’s only 10 minutes away from my apartment and the heating is always on..!!

Scandi Living

It is a well-known fact that Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I was therefore pretty anxious to find out how far my money would actually go! To organise my budget, I spent time booking my flights, renting an apartment through Airbnb and finding out how much each of my trumpet lessons would cost. The rest of the money could then be put towards food, travel and other living costs and – thankfully – it’s lasting ok…

brush lettering.jpgLiving alone was something completely new to me, and I have to say I’m enjoying the novelty of it! Having the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, has been great and I’ve had a lot of time to think and just ‘be’. I’ve also taken the time every day to read, do yoga and practise my new hobby – brush lettering.

I suppose one downside is that there’s been no one here to police the vast quantity of First Dates episodes I’ve watched or judge my cinnamon bun/chocolate intake (75%-off-Christmas-chocolate in the Lindt shop didn’t help…..!) But I do actually feel surrounded by friends here, from both the Voksenåsen course and the Royal Academy of Music. Other than London, I can’t think of another city in the world where I would actually know this many people, so I’m feeling very grateful indeed.


The more time I spend in Norway, the more I am falling in love with this wonderful country. The air and water feel clean and fresh; I’ve enjoyed stunning sunrises over breakfast, beautiful sunsets during afternoon walks and some magical snowfalls; I have truly found every Norwegian person I’ve met to be welcoming and friendly, and practically everyone speaks fluent English (I have been doing an online Norwegian course, though, to at least make an effort!). And, as nerdy as it may sound, one of the things I’m appreciating most is Oslo’s unbelievably efficient transport system. They’ve spent a lot of money on it but it’s definitely been worth it! London, take note…

Well there it is, a summary of my time here so far. I’m really excited to see what the next three weeks bring (other than visits from my lovely boyfriend, my best friend, seeing more of the city’s sights and doing some cross-country skiing) – and, of course, lots of trumpet playing!! I’ll be sure to post another update at the end of my trip but, until then, thanks for reading this far and here’s to a fabulous February.

by Imogen Hancok – RPS Julius Isserlis Scholar

Blog courtesy of

Studying Abroad: the RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship

The RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship offers young musicians the unique experience of studying abroad. Many grant winners have gone on to have fantastic careers – not least the very first recipient of the award, pianist Stephen Hough, whose grant assisted his Master’s studies at the Juilliard School.

Following in his footsteps is harpist Emily Hoile, who also chose to study at New York’s Juilliard School with the help of a £10,000 Julius Isserlis grant in 2011. A second award from this year’s Julius Isserlis Scholarship enables her to complete her studies there.

RPS Admin Assistant, Helen Pearce, caught up with Emily to find out how life across the Atlantic has been treating her…

Emily HoileHelen: What attracted you to the Juilliard School in particular?

Emily: The main reason I applied to Juilliard was because of the harp teacher there, Nancy Allen, who is the principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic. One of my favourite recordings that I owned was of her playing the Ginastera harp concerto so from there I found out that she taught at Juilliard! Besides Nancy, I think one of the things that really stood out to me about Juilliard was the range of performing arts that people study there. Along with having a fantastic music department, they have equally inspirational drama and dance divisions.

Helen: What repertoire are you working on at the moment?

Emily: I have just taken part in the USA International Harp Competition so for the past few months I have been pretty much exclusively working on the repertoire for that. It encompassed some of the well know standard pieces of harp repertoire such Fauré’s Impromptu for harp and Reinecke’s Concerto, but besides that there were some lesser well known harp works: transcriptions of Scarlatti sonatas for example, as well as a 40 minute recital of your own choice of music. As part of that I have transcribed a couple of works – my favourite is ‘Wiegenlied’ by Strauss, originally for soprano with piano accompaniment. I think there’s just something quite special about the way it works with the sound and resonance of the harp. At the moment I’m thinking about what new pieces to learn this year so am having fun just reading through a lot of music, from the standard harp repertoire as well as some possible piano transcriptions!

Helen: What do you most enjoy playing?

Emily: I really enjoy playing a lot of different styles of music. Since studying at Juilliard I’ve discovered that I really love playing modern music, either solo or in an ensemble. I think as a harpist it’s quite easy to be in your own bubble of solo harp music with it’s distinctive style, that to be in a group, playing extremely challenging music both harmonically and rhythmically, where everyone has to be 100% committed is really refreshing. Later this month I’m really excited to be going to Finland to perform with Juilliard’s new music ensemble ‘Axiom’ and musicians from the Sibelius Academy conducted by Susanna Malkki.

Helen: What have been the highlights of your time at Juilliard so far?

Emily: There have been so many! Getting the chance to perform ‘sur Incises’ by Boulez in my second year was incredible – a mammoth 40 minute work for three pianists, three percussionists and (most importantly, obviously) three harpists. That was probably one of my favourite, and most challenging ensemble concerts that I’ve ever played. Also, earlier this year I organised a collaborative performance of Caplet’s ‘Le Conte Fantastique’ for harp and string quartet. It’s a piece based on the Edgar Allen Poe story ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ so we had a student narrate as we went along, as well as four dancers in my year who choreographed certain sections to heighten the drama. It was really fantastic getting to work with students from the other divisions in the school and learning how they work and think. It’s fascinating.

Helen: New York is a long way to take a harp! How have you managed the distance in terms of transporting your instrument?

Emily: I have been very lucky, in that Juilliard owns ten harps that the harp students can use at any time. Whilst I would have loved to take my harp with me, it ended up being easier practising on the school harps and using them for rehearsals and performances. The main difficulty with this is that you don’t get so much chance to work with one specific instrument and really discover all of its nuances and sounds, but it does make you more flexible and adept at playing many different instruments, something that you have to do a lot as a harpist.

Helen: How have you found living in the US, especially considering you moved there just after finishing school?

Helen: It was quite a funny move. I think that due to the lack of a language barrier that I wasn’t expecting there to be too much of a culture shock. Turns out there are quite a lot of differences between the UK and New York, from the ways in which people interact to the fact that you don’t get a takeaway pizza, you get a takeaway slice. At the end of the day I didn’t find it too difficult to get into the swing of things over there, it was definitely an exciting time so all the differences made the experience more interesting! I lived in the Juilliard dorms for two years, so immediately when I arrived there was a welcome ‘Orientation’ week (the US version of freshers, minus the alcohol) where everyone from the students to the staff were extremely friendly and welcoming. Having lived in New York for three years now I’ve really settled into the way of life – albeit a crazily busy and fast paced one – and am looking forward to really making the most of my final year there!

Helen: What do you hope to do on graduating from Juilliard?

Emily: After graduating from Juilliard I’d love to get out, work with lots of different musicians and artists and just perform! Practically speaking, I need to decide whether to stay in the US and work there, or whether I should move somewhere new and discover a new artistic culture (or in fact return to the UK). So at the moment I am thinking through different ideas and looking into different options- it’s exciting and scary in pretty much equal measures.

Helen: What advice would you have for young musicians who are looking to study abroad?

Emily: If you want to do it, go for it! Studying in a different country is fantastic as it really gives you time to settle into a new place and experience it for a good length of time. Musically it also really interesting studying somewhere completely different, as you can get so used to the way you usually work, and being in a new environment with its own way of thinking and working sort of shakes that up forcing you to think in new ways. I’ve had an awesome time being a student in such a vibrant city, meeting some fantastic people from all over the world, both students and teachers, who I have learnt so much from.

The RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship is a biennial award which offers up to £30,000 for a young instrumentalist to study abroad for a period of two years. It is open to all classical instrumentalists of any nationality between the ages of 15 and 25 who are permanently resident in the UK. The next closing date is 13 March 2015. Please visit our website for further information.