Dasha Shenkman

Dasha Shenkman

Dasha Shenkman, a Canadian resident in London, has been a devoted supporter of the arts including several RCM initiatives since 1998. Her next new venture is an innovative recital series at the National Gallery which began summer 2011.


Your family connection with the RCM goes back some time. How did it begin?

It began through my mother: music was a huge part of her life and she was an accomplished pianist. She was passionate in every way, had an idea a minute and never let an opportunity go by. One of her many talents was persuading people to support the arts.

She lived across the street from the College and when she met the then RCM Director Michael Gough Matthews, she had an idea that would benefit both the College and Jaguar, for whom she was acting as consultant. Out of this came the Jaguar RCM Recital series in British Embassies throughout Europe and Scandinavia, to begin with, eventually stretching to Japan and Australia, whereby young musicians from the College would give concerts in British Embassies, a brilliant initiative.


How did your own interest in the arts come about?

My brother and I were exposed to all types of art as children – visual, musical and theatrical. Both of our parents had great curiosity and instinct. Surrounded by this environment, you either get interested or rebel... or do both at different times. I still play the piano and am involved with numerous arts organisations.


Why did you decide to support a number of projects and programmes at the RCM?

We wanted to continue the association with the RCM that our mother had begun. We started with the Belle Shenkman Lecture Series, in which speakers focussed on the importance of presentation and style, principles close to my late mother’s heart.

This series was then replaced by a Masterclass Series: I am a big believer in the masterclass idea. Scholarships are vital, of course, but I think that a masterclass can have greater impact on more people. That appeals to me. I like the principle of being part of a group and everyone learning from each other.


There's a new National Gallery project starting this term. Can you tell us about this?

This is a continuation of a programme that my brother and I set up a number of years ago. The new three-year scheme for RCM musicians is based on the idea of allowing musicians to explore and respond to paintings in different galleries with imaginative programmes. It’s more work for everyone but fantastic experience for the students. I hope it will offer a different way of learning, and encourage musicians to understand the complexity of programming and presentation.


What do you most enjoy about your engagement with the arts?

It’s a combination of things. I love being involved with young musicians. It is a pleasure just knowing them, listening and watching the enjoyment of people making music together. I also like being involved at the grass roots of projects.

As a Trustee of the Concordia Foundation, a charity which builds bridges through music and the arts worldwide, I became involved with a school in Tower Hamlets and now go in each week to work with the kids. This has given me a lot, personally, and shown me roads to other things that has given me great pleasure and added to my life.


Do you have any advice for musicians?

The importance of presentation can’t be over-emphasised. Learn as much as possible from many different performers. You never know who is listening – it might be an agent or promoter!

Do your best, know your stuff and be prepared. Take a rest or even meditate for five minutes before you perform – we should all bear this in mind as we live our everyday lives. Of course, good programming is vital and it’s helpful if students are curious and want to broaden their imagination.


And thoughts for supporters?

You can make a substantial impact and contribution without spending a huge amount of money. It is also uplifting and you get so much back.

This interview first appeared in Upbeat (summer 2011), the RCM magazine.

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