Classical Examiners

RSL Awards Classical Examiners

In preparation for the release of the 2020 Classical Piano Syllabus we have been training a specially selected panel of examiners, led by our Chief Examiner – Dr Andrew McBirnie. Each of these examiners has been appointed specifically for their knowledge of the piano and their background in classical performance.

Examiners include graduates of the Royal Conservatoires, holders of PhDs in composition and performance, and composers of classical music.

Dr Andrew McBirnie

Andrew McBirnie was born and brought up in Portsmouth. He studied at the University of Bristol, graduating with a first class BA degree in music, and at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied with Justin Connolly and gained a PhD in composition from the University of London.

Andrew taught in independent schools, and was Director of Music at The Oratory School, Reading. He was Chief Examiner in Music for London College of Music Examinations, based at the University of West London, from 2002 to 2008, where he also taught on the BMus course. After a brief period living in the USA, during which time he taught at Oklahoma City University, he returned to the UK in 2010 to become Director of Examinations at the Royal Academy of Dance, a position he held for ten years, before becoming Chief Examiner at RSL Awards in 2020.

A former composer finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year, Andrew studied at Tanglewood in 1995 with Henri Dutilleux, and at Dartington in 1998 with Peter Sculthorpe. His music has been performed throughout the UK and internationally by a wide range of orchestras, ensembles and soloists, broadcast on Radio 3, commercially recorded by Onyx Brass, Avenue A Ensemble and Paul Ayres, and published by UMP, Breitkopf & Härtel, Stainer & Bell, Tetractys, and LCM Publications.

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Dr Rob Upton

Rob is an experienced performer and educator. He holds a Ph.D. (Music performance analysis) from the University of Nottingham, along with LRSM (Piano Performance) from ABRSM, and is an associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA Advance HE).

He has been a music tutor across the East Midlands for over twenty years. A specialist in classical piano, he is a performance tutor at a number of universities (including The University of Nottingham and Loughborough University) and teaches at several primary and secondary schools across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Alongside his portfolio of teaching, he is a keen performer and has performed as soloist with the University of Nottingham Philharmonia, Nottingham Philharmonic Orchestra and Halesowen Chamber Orchestra, and has toured with several award-winning theatre productions. He specialises in twentieth-century and contemporary classical music.

Before joining the RSL Awards Team, Rob has been an internal and external performance examiner across a number of higher education institutions. In addition, he acts as a consultant for several schools assisting their GCSE and A-Level music applicants in their performance submissions.

Rob’s approach to exams is completely candidate-centric, with the applicant’s experience on the day of high importance. Having previous acted as an exam steward, he is acutely aware of establishing an environment in and around the exam room that will support candidates in demonstrating their best.

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Kirstie Smith

Kirstie is an experienced performer and educator. She has a B.A. Hons: (Studied piano with Sir Michael Roll & Beate Popperwell at Welsh College of Music and Drama), PGCE/PCETL, TCL diploma, Piano, vocals & Theory ABRSM Grade 8.

As a young person, Kirstie’s performance career started with her first professional stage appearance as a keyboard player in a Strict Tempo Dance Band (The Gordon Talbot Band) aged 14 onwards, and Performed Chopin’s Revolutionary Study and Schubert’s Impromptu Opus 142 No.3 in Bb at Piano Masterclass with Sir Peter Donahoe aged 15.

With experience in school and peripatetic teacher have been a former Head of BTEC National Performance Arts, New College Swindon (F.E), and running a piano and vocal teaching practice.

Kirstie has been examining with RSL Awards since 2014. Her personal thoughts on examining are to make it the best possible experience for the candidate;

“I have such horrid memories of the whole exam process so vowed never to make any candidate feel the way I was made to feel when I sat my piano exams. I always try to ensure each candidate has a positive exam experience and actually looks forward to taking the next one!”

Olivier Depardon

Olivier is a film music composer, who has recently relocated to London from Montpellier, France. Having composed more than 50 soundtracks (music for documentaries, short, feature and corporate films) for tv and cinema. Much of his work is orchestral or piano-centered.

A graduate from Music School of Le Chesnay , near Versailles, France, in Classical Piano, also having studied jazz and composition at American School of Modern Music in Paris, France.

He has a strong appreciation of Brahms and Rachmaninov for their romanticism and their energy, and also the French impressionists Debussy and Ravel who have undoubtedly greatly influenced the contemporary film music composers.

As a teacher both in France and in London he specialises in being innovative with piano repertoire, for example with piano pieces from soundtracks or giving a glance to music composition.

Olivier is a relatively new examiner with RSL Awards, but brings a uniquely Francophile approach to assessment;

“When I arrived in London three years ago, standardised music exam boards represented a whole new world to me as the concept does not really exist in France! It’s really an anglo-saxon thing and as a musician, the UK has always been ahead in terms of music education and examination. That’s why it was a very exciting challenge for me at RSL Awards, and my passion for music education was also a strong incentive. I enjoy examining all aspects of the examination as each part shows a wide variety of different skills from notation accuracy, technique, expression to memory and aural skills.”

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