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London’s Royal College Suspends its Head of Strings Over Alleged Misconduct

Violinist Mark Messenger is being suspended after multiple student complaints during his two decades in the role

 

Mark Messenger, 59, who served as head of strings at the Royal College of Music (RCM) for 20 years, has been suspended from his position after the school received complaints about his behavior. 

The school’s string students were informed in an email that their professor’s period of leave would take effect immediately. The school also confirmed that it had brought in external investigators to examine Messenger’s alleged behavior. 

In RCM’s strings department, Messenger had overseen the selection of students from all over the world for its 220 places, and been responsible for guiding their education.

A spokesperson for the school said that “welfare and development of our students is central to [RCM],” and that “following complaints received by the college, an investigation has been launched into issues that have been raised and a member of staff has been suspended.”

According to Messenger’s contact details and biography on the RCM’s website, students travel internationally to study with him and that his “students have an enviable track record of competition success and international acclaim.”

A recent former student told the Guardian, earlier this week, that procedures for reporting and preventing alleged abuse and misconduct at RCM had been criticized for some time, and that string players were often particularly worried about upsetting the teaching staff or being accused of causing trouble.

It is understood that Messenger denies the claims made against him, but has not made any public comments.

In response to an inquiry made by The Violin Channel, RCM declined to comment on the matter.

 

Founded in 1883, the RCM has seen alumni such as Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, while King Charles III has been its president for 30 years.

In response to Messenger’s suspension, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber has called for classical academies and conservatoires to end all one-to-one music teaching. A successful concert artist, he has since moved into teaching, including at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where he served as principal from 2015 to 2020.

“There is no need for one-to-one tuition to continue,” he said. “I personally think groups of three are the best size now for any lesson. It would mean there was much more openness and accountability.”

 

Advocate and violinist Lara St. John today told The Violin Channel, "The idea of no 'one on one' teaching that Julian suggests is basically putting the policing of wayward teachers directly on the shoulders of the students, as well as punishing those teachers who are, in fact, not depraved men. It is not a solution."

"My idea would be for English schools to stop hiring predators, do background checks, and if they are aware of any of this, stop protecting them," said Lara, herself a survivor of a serious sexual assault as a student.

 

Messenger's suspension follows a case in February 2023, concerning violinist and professor Jan Repko, 64, who also taught at RCM — in addition to the Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, Birmingham City University's Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, among others.

Repko had then appeared at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court regarding a single charge of sexual assault, despite multiple allegations across his career.

At the time, an official statement from RCM explained: “An allegation was brought to us in July 2022 which was dealt with promptly through the College’s internal processes, resulting in Jan Repko’s suspension in July 2022 followed by his dismissal.”

Repko pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual assault of a woman over the age of 16 in a hearing at Southwark Crown Court on March 17, 2023. His five-day trial is currently fixed to begin on July 8, 2024.

 

If you have more to add to this story, please reach out to: [email protected]. Your anonymity is assured.

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