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Alumni testimonials

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Mark Austin

BA in German and French 2009
MPhil in European Literature and Culture 2010

Conductor and pianist

I’m now a conductor and pianist, and perform in the UK and around the world in venues ranging from the Opéra National de Paris to the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre. I am artistic director of my own Faust Chamber Orchestra, and regularly lead educational projects for children of all ages and backgrounds. 

During my university application process I was uncertain whether to study music or languages, but in the end MML was absolutely the right choice. I now use my languages regularly, whether working with foreign colleagues, or performing operas in their original languages. As a conductor, knowledge of cultural background and historical context is essential to gain a full understanding of the music. Following my BA in French and German and MPhil I have since studied Italian - the most important language for opera. My year abroad in Germany (studying Chinese on an Erasmus place) left me with the sense of a world to discover. After Cambridge I went on to a Masters and a Junior Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music, where I’m now on the staff.

In my career as a conductor I require a wide variety of abilities beyond the primary musical ones. These include people skills, leadership, decision-making, business understanding, presentational ability, marketing and fundraising, and lateral thinking. All of these draw heavily on what I learned during my languages degree. The critical thinking required for essays and approaching secondary texts is precisely the skill I use every day to evaluate competing artistic and strategic options. And the sheer breadth of the languages course, including oral skills, translation, synthesis and original argument, and dare I say it, the occasional need to absorb material very quickly, means that I am able to meet a daily range of challenges with confidence.

MML was ideal for my conducting career, but I see now that it would have been advantageous whatever I ended up doing. We all developed the ability to master a topic quickly, to address groups of people confidently, and to enjoy rigorous discussions and respectful disagreements. These are the right skills for a whole range of careers and I’m so grateful for the large number of options my MML degree made available to me.