The John Barbirolli Memorial Prize for Cello


Carlo Alfredo Piatti Caprice No 6 for Solo Cello
Gabriel Faure 
Romance for Cello and Piano Op 69
Johannes Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano in E Minor Op 38

Jakub Smola cello
Jordi Bitloch piano

Gabriel Faure Romance for Cello and Piano Op 69
Carlo Alfredo Piatti Caprice No 12 for Solo Cello
Johannes Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano in F Major Op 99

James Conway cello
Jordi Bitloch


Carlo Alfredo Piatti Caprice No 2 for Solo Cello
Gabriel Faure 
Romance for Cello and Piano Op 69
Frederic Chopin Cello Sonata in G Minor Op 65

Fangning Dong cello
Jordi Bitloch

Eduardo Vassallo panel

The RNCM is committed to reducing its carbon footprint. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far but know we need to do more as we work to create a more sustainable world. One way we can make a huge difference is to minimise the number of printed programmes and free sheets we produce each season.

This is why we’ve decided to move away from mass produced, single use print for most of our events, offering an online programme of up-to-date information instead. Additionally, many of our concerts now include a personal introduction by members of staff and students, which gives insight into the repertoire performed as well as an opportunity to get to know our community a little more.   

Where printed programmes are still required, such as RNCM Opera performances and end of term showcases, content is thoughtfully produced using limited resources. An online option is also available for those wishing to support our mission.

We always welcome feedback from our audience members and would like to thank everyone who has supported our mission so far.



Eduardo Vassallo

Hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Eduardo began playing the cello at six-years-old. His father was a professional bass player and would take him to rehearsals and concerts from a very young age. Eduardo says ‘one day he asked me if I would like to study cello and I said yes – in the space of a week I had my first cello and my first lesson. I’ve never looked back!’ Eduardo studied with Nicolas Finoli in Buenos Aires, with Radu Aldulescu and Pierre Fournier in Switzerland and with Boris Pergamenschikow in Germany. He says ‘I was very lucky to have the chance to work with these great teachers; I am very grateful to all of them!’

Before he joined the CBSO Eduardo was section leader cello of the National Symphony Orchestra in Argentina, a founder member of the National Radio String Quartet of Argentina and a member of the Camerata Lysy in Switzerland where he met his wife, and CBSO Violist, Catherine Bower. As section leader cello Eduardo says he has many highlights ‘but the Simon Rattle and Andris Nelsons years were very special’. Outside of the CBSO, Eduardo is passionate about teaching; he taught for 32 years at the Royal Northern College of Music, and still teaches at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He enjoys listening to and playing tango with the ‘El Ultimo Tango’ quintet, playing chamber music and solo pieces and watching football from around the world. He is also involved in several festivals in South America, some of which involve working with youngsters from deprived backgrounds. If that weren’t enough, Eduardo also has his own Latin American cello festival every two years in Buenos Aires. With all that activity it’s probably no surprise that Eduardo’s final favourite activity outside of the CBSO is taking holidays

Jakub Smola

Jakub is a cellist from Pilsen, Czech Republic, currently studying his third year of the BMus (Hons) Course with Gillian Thoday at the RNCM. Born into a musical family, Jakub started playing cello at the age of 7. After finishing studies at the Clerical Gymnasium in Pilsen, Jakub studied cello with Renata Strašrybková at the Prague Conservatory. In the year 2014 Jakub won the first prize in Czech national solo competition. One year later he has received the award of Pilsen Orpheus which provided him with an opportunity of solo performance with the Pilsen Philharmonic orchestra.

Jakub has a great passion for chamber music. During his studies in Pilsen, as a member of a baroque quartett, he twice won the national chamber music competition. Before coming to the RNCM, he studied chamber music in various ensembles under the guidance of Jaroslav Kulhan. Jakub is a member of Cello Ensemble of St. Cecilia and of Janeček’s Quartett whose core repertoire consists of Czech folk music which is also Jakub’s great passion. He regularly attends International Summer School of Early Music in Valtice. Jakub is very grateful for the support of ABRSM Scholarship which he received for his current studies at the RNCM. He plays a cello made by Mathias Heinicke.

James Conway

James Conway is a Cellist currently studying at the Royal Northern College of Music under Nicholas Trygstad. During his time studying at RNCM, James was awarded the Leonard Rose Award for Cello, and was a previous finalist in the Barbirolli Cello Competition, as well as being Principal of the RNCM Symphony Orchestra and getting the opportunity to work with Manchester Collective. He has had the privilege of participating in masterclasses with internationally renowned musicians such as Alban Gerhardt, Raphael Wallfisch, Roel Dieltiens, Julia Lichten, Hannah Roberts, and Steffan Morris. James has received coaching from principal players and members of the Hallé, LPO, LSO, RLPO, BBC Philharmonic, London Mozart Players, Harlem Quartet, Elias Quartet, Linos Trio, Trio Karenine amongst others.

He was a member of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra 2022, through which he worked with renowned conductors and musicians such as Christoph Eschenbach, Karl Urbanski, Steven Isserlis, Veronika Eberle and Sean Shibe amongst others. James previously studied at the Royal College of Music Junior Department under James Halsey and was awarded the Esther Coleman Prize for ‘outstanding contribution and achievement’. During his time at RCMJD, James was a highly active chamber musician and embraced the opportunity to play in the Purcell Room, as well as being Principal Cello of the RCMJD Symphony Orchestra, and Principal Cello for the recording and premiere of a new work for English National Ballet.

James was also a Cellist in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and in his second year was given the role of String Leader. With NYO, he has worked with some of the world’s leading conductors and soloists including Sir Mark Elder, Mark Wigglesworth, Kirill Karabits, Sir George Benjamin, Gustavo Dudamel, Duncan Ward, Tamara Stefanovich and Nicola Benedetti. The NYO gave James the opportunity to play in many of the UK’s most notable concert halls including the Royal Albert Hall (Proms), the Barbican, Royal Festival Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Symphony Hall Birmingham, Snape Maltings, amongst others, as well as many venues abroad including the Konzerthaus in Berlin. He was Principal Cello of the NYO Inspire Orchestra in 2017, having been involved with the NYO Inspire Programme since the age of thirteen.

Fangning Dong

As a soloist Dong was the winner of the AiQin National Cello Competition 2008 in China, and with his piano trio (Trio Havisham) he has won the Hirsch Prize, the 2022 Cavatina Intercollegiate Competition in Wigmore Hall and the RNCM’s Chris Rowland Prize of Year. He was also awarded 2nd Prize of the Concorso International Music Competition.

Awardee of the Tunnell Trust Dong was born into a musical family, his grandfather was a respected cellist who played in the China Central Orchestra. His mother plays the violin and was the leader of the opera orchestra. Influenced by his family, Dong began to learn piano at the age of six and studied cello with Prof. Han Xiaoying at the age of seven and also received the guidance from Li-Wei Qin and Young Song. At the age of ten, he won the first prize in the National Cello Competition in China, later has made his debut with Xi’an Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra as a soloist at the Concert Hall of XCOM.

He is currently pursuing his master’s degree under the guidance of Prof. Hannah Roberts at the RNCM has been generously supported by the Rowland Hardy Cello Award. As a young cellist who loves the stage, his solo performances could be found at Bowdoin International Music Festival, Cello Family Busan Festival, The Julliard International Music Festival, Salzburg Music Festival, and the AllegroVivo Music Festival. He has received a lot of amazing guidance by Josef Luitz, Lynn Harrell, Michel Strauss, Alexander Baillie, Daniel Veiss, Alban Gerhardt, Wen-Sinn Yang, Ludwig Quandt, Alexander Buzlov, Istvan Vardai. Dong currently plays a 1694 Ruggeri cello kindly supported by the RNCM.

Jordi Bitlloch

Jordi is the current Junior Fellow in Accompaniment at the RNCM. Born in France to a musical family, Jordi attended the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey as a teenager, studying under Ruth Nye, and later the University of Arts in Berlin (Germany) under Pascal Devoyon, where he earned undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in performance. During those years he also attended courses and masterclasses with Ferenc Rados, Klaus Hellwig, Heime Müller (chamber music), Dietrich Fiescher-Dieskau and Eric Schneider (vocal accompaniment). His international breakthrough came when he won second prize and audience prize at the International Beethoven Competition in Bonn (Germany). He has performed throughout Europe as a soloist and chamber musician and has been a guest at festivals such as the Klavierfestival Ruhr (Germany), Music in Paxton (Scotland), Jeunes Talents (France) and Euriade (Holland).