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David Burke

Studied: BA Management and Music

Graduated: 1996

Place of Work: London Philharmonic Orchestra

Position: Finance Director and General Manager

Why did you choose to study Management and Music?

Music and Management are two subject areas that really fascinate me. When it came to applying to university, I could not choose between them and so decided to look for a course that would enable me to explore both. Back then, no universities offered such a course, but Royal Holloway offered the opportunity to take a minor elective, so I applied for Management with Music. Once I arrived, I was able to convert this to a join honours degree with the support of my tutors Derrick Chong and Erik Levi – the course had to be specially approved by the senate.

Tell us about your time at Royal Holloway.

It was incredible. I studied composition with John Woolrich, clarinet with Nicholas Cox, and innovation with Sir Alec Reed. As an 18-year-old from Yorkshire, this opened up a whole new world to me. Within minutes of walking into my first year room at the top of Williamson Block I had made friendships so strong that I still keep in touch with many of them 18 years on from university.

In my first year I did not make it into the orchestra, but this meant I had time to explore other areas of interest. In addition to my studies, I helped friends put on plays, spent some time with the technical crew on drama productions, learnt how to play pool and the rules of rugby. In my final year I established a 22 piece big band. We begged and borrowed music at the start, but by the end of its first year we had recorded a CD, commissioned music, and earned enough money to buy our own equipment.

What is your current role at the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and what do you do in a typical day?

As the General Manager and Finance Director, every day is different. First and foremost I ensure that the finances of the organisation are kept in order, but if the budgets are good and the systems in place this should be fairly self-running. I try to stretch the budgets as far as they will go, in order to get the musicians, conductors and soloists of the best possible standard, and to give them the environment in which they can create their best work. The other part of my role involves working with my colleagues to ensure that the administrative side of things runs smoothly. There is no ‘typical’ day: that is one of the things I love about the role.

What are the best parts of your job?

These are challenging times and the role has been very full on since I joined fifteen months ago. However, at the end of it all, I get to walk down the Southbank to listen to a world-class concert and spend the interval talking to people who care very deeply about the organisation that I work for. It’s great to feel that I played a part in making it all happen.

How have your studies helped you in your professional life?

Looking back, I was always going to do the type of job I do now, but when I applied to university I was much less clear! My studies enabled me to gain a greater understanding of all the basics, from marketing to international finance, historic analysis to performance practice. Whether it is appreciating the detail of the work of our musicians, or statistical analysis of the latest ticket information, I probably use 90% of what I learnt on a regular basis.

Do you have any advice for students looking at working in the arts industry?

I can only talk through my own experiences, and I managed to get a lot of these whilst I was still studying, through managing the big band, listening to the insights of guest business lecturers, helping to produce plays and the scholarship to Dartington. I have been very lucky but that is partly because I worked hard to be in the right place at the right time, and that started with choosing Royal Holloway.


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