Rachel Beckles Willson

Rachel Beckles Willson is the founder of Music Boat. She is a multi-instrumentalist, researcher and composer, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, University of London.

Two recent and ongoing projects are Today is Good!, a song-writing project with asylum-seekers, and Beyond Mode, a quartet developing modal music of the Mediterranean. She discovered the oud while doing research into music in Palestine, and subsequently transformed her music-making, studying with Necati Celik in Istanbul, and becoming a regular student at Labyrinth Musical Seminars in Crete, 2010-2015, working on makam composition with Ross Daly along with singing, improvising and performing with many celebrated teachers (Christos Barbas, Ahmed Erdogdular, Omer Erdogdular, Harris Lambrakis, Yurdal Tokcan, Evgenios Voulgaris).

As scholar, Rachel has published numerous articles and books, including Orientalism and Musical Mission: Palestine and the West (2013), and Ligeti, Kurtág, and Hungarian Music during the Cold War (2007). While Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, she taught courses on Intercultural Performance, Music and Orientalism, and Ensemble Performance among others, and supervised doctoral research on topics from the Hungarian folk revival to Kuwaiti song. After 19 years in academia she is now working freelance.

In an earlier life Rachel was a concert pianist, following training at he Royal Academy of Music, London and the Liszt Academy, Budapest, where she was a student of Ferenc Rados and Gyorgy Kurtág. She also studied composition and saxophone, and performed widely in Europe as soloist and in ensembles, broadcasting regularly for Hungarian radio. Her specialism was new music – repertoire written after 1945, and she worked with several major figures including Messiaen, Berio and Kurtág. In 2003 she co-directed a major London Kurtág festival which won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award.