ARCO Exchange


ARCO Exchange was launched in 2017. Selected ARCO students and staff from South Africa have been fully funded for specific projects, and to attend congresses, courses and festivals in South Africa and the UK. So far, partnerships have been established with Chethams School of Music, European String Teachers Association (ESTA), Colourstrings, Lake District Summer Music, National Youth String Orchestra, Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, and Pro Corda. In several cases the experiences and connections made have been life-changing.

See below from left to right Njabulo Nxumalo, Mbali Phato and Kwanda Buthelezi after their debut on BBC World Service in 2017 in Birmingham.

Photos below show them performing in the Recital Hall at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and participating in master classes at the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition.

In the case of Njabulo Nxumalo (double bass) when he visited the UK in 2017 he was still a violinist. Njabulo went to watch a City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concert and he sat near the double bass section. He fell in love with the sound of the double bass and he has never looked back.


Sifiso Mbatha (cello) was invited by National Youth String Orchestra to attend their Easter Course in the UK in 2019. They were so impressed with him that his airfare and course fees for the following year’s summer course were sponsored. It was across these two visits that he was invited to audition for the Purcell School, a specialist music school. Sifiso subsequently spent two years studying at the Purcell School after being offered substantial financial support.

See below Sifiso Mbatha in London before performing at St John’s Smith Square in 2019

Sifiso Mbatha and Lindo Buthelezi on the Isle of Man watching the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, March 2019

Louise Lansdown with Sifiso Mbatha and Lindo Buthelezi at National Youth String Orchestra in April 2019

Kamogelo Maraba (cello) was invited to attend the Pro Corda North Chamber Music Course with a full bursary and travel sponsored several years in a row.

Kamo went on to audition for the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

South Africa

Some of the most enriching and inspiring activities for Sowetan ARCO students have been ARCO-arranged supported travel and participation in major festivals and musical collaborations across South Africa. In 2019 eight ARCO students were invited to perform at the “Voorkamerfest” in Darling, Western Cape where they gave seven performances of their very own show “Beethoven was 1/16th Black”.

A few weeks later all twenty-three ARCO students were sponsored to travel to Cape Town where they spent four days staying with host families, collaborating with Rustenburg Girls High School and performing at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.

These four photos show the ARCO students who travelled to perform in the “Voorkamerfest” in 2019. Preparation concert in Johannesburg, photo shoot at MICM and photos from performances in Darling.

These six photos were taken during the collaboration with Rustenburg Girl’s High School in Cape Town in 2019.

In both 2022 and 2023 a small group of ARCO students have been supported to attend the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival where they performed a unique ARCO concert of almost entirely South African music, and in some cases music they had composed themselves. In addition, they were involved with the orchestral and chamber music activity that runs throughout the festival, enjoying the opportunity to play big symphonic repertoire and also play chamber music with other South African musicians.

‘In 2017, through ARCO, at the age of 12, I was granted the privilege of traveling to the United Kingdom. This was the most exciting experience of my life. Not only did I travel by airplane for the first time, but it was also my first time outside my country and the continent. Being around and playing music with musicians my age who share my passion and enthusiasm at the Chetham's School of Music further deepened my motivation. I will forever be sincerely grateful for all my experiences. With music in my life there is never a dull moment.’
Mbali Phato, 18, former ARCO student