Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Right Royal Philharmonic Awards Celebration

The stupendous Finnish soprano Karita Mattila with her prize
Tuesday night: the lights are low and the music's high on the agenda. The Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards are the annual UK jamboree that celebrates the best and brightest of music-making here on Brexit Island. Last night's was filled with warm welcomes, joyous encounters and plenty of good food and wine at The Brewery, round the corner from the Barbican. Andrew MacGregor and Sarah Walker of BBC Radio 3 served as hosts, there were enthusiastic words from RPS chairman John Gilhooly ("Live music is...priceless; live music is...sparkling...") and winners received their silver lyres from no less distinguished hands than Stephen Hough's.

In the bad old days when there was plenty of (or at least a bit more) money in the industry, we used to sit at this celebration through long speeches that would say how dreadful everything was and what a scandal it was that there wasn't more music on TV, and so forth. Now that the whole business is in mortal peril with the prospect of the economic and practical disruption likely to result from Brexit, paradoxically an atmosphere of celebration prevailed, with Stephen Hough declaring in his speech that we should embrace challenging music, stop apologising, not expect classical music to be for absolutely everybody, stop patronising the young ("we offer them Primrose Hill when they're ready to climb Ben Nevis") and appreciate the upside of the museums model which is, as I've often remarked too, not something to be disparaged on autopilot, but actually encourages great care, good display and creative communication with the audience. I hope he'll publish this speech somewhere.

A video message was also beamed in from the great Thomas Quasthoff, remarking that we have enjoyed 70 years of peace in Europe thanks in large part to the existence of the EU and that he would like there to be a similarly bright future for his 18-year-old stepdaughter's generation. Many of us cheered - not that there's much we can do about it, faced with a government apparently determined to drive our economy and our society alike over the Brexit cliff no matter how much damage it will do, and an opposition that seemingly won't oppose.

And the awards? It was quite a crop. Honorary membership of the RPS was presented to filmmaker Barrie Gavin, who has documented splendid quantities of 20th-century composers from Korngold to Boulez. The ceremony cited "the care and attention to detail which he invests in each and every subject, and his ability to demonstrate insightful authority and profound understanding".

The shortlisted conductors: Richard Farnes, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and Donald Runnicles.
Photo montage from
Along the way there were treats aplenty: the news that Classic FM is commissioning new pieces from seven young composers; an award for the Lammermuir Music Festival - which is a relatively new organisation, having only launched in 2010; and the rare treat of seeing the only-two-ever Takács Quartet leaders together, the violinist-turned-conductor Gabor Takács-Nagy collecting the well-deserved prize for the Manchester Camerata, which he's leading to brilliant things, and Edward Dusinberre modestly accepting the Creative Communication prize for his wonderful book about playing the Beethoven Quartets, Beethoven for a Later Age (published by Faber & Faber). The Manchester Camerata's award was essentially for its Hacienda Classical strand, with which apparently it's going to open Glastonbury this year. But I don't think it hurt that they also played Beethoven with Martha Argerich.

The Learning and Participation award was won by the UK's first disabled-led youth orchestra, the South-West Open Youth Orchestra, their achievements attested to by a moving video. The Young Artist award went to pianist and Lieder specialist Joseph Middleton, the two composition awards went respectively to Rebecca Saunders for Skin and Philip Venables for 4.48 Psychosis, and the Audience Engagement prize to the East Neuk Festival - it was indeed a good night for Scottish festivals. Fretwork won Chamber Music and Song, violinist James Ehnes was awarded the Instrumentalist prize and Karita Mattila swept to victory in the Singer award.

It was probably Richard Farnes's night first and foremost, though. The British maestro scooped the Conductor award for his Ring cycle with Opera North, and the company and that production also won the Opera award outright. You can see the whole thing on the BBC iPlayer, and please do take a look/listen, because it is simply a knockout. Priceless. Sparkling. And more.

I managed to squeeze into a dress I haven't worn for two years, hug four former interviewees, catch up with the whole Garsington team (they were shortlisted for Idomeneo), apologise for a non-attendance at something to entirely the wrong PR person, and win the best dessert of the evening as my annoying dietary condition meant that instead of whatever everyone else ate, I was given some utterly glorious chocolate goo. A fine time was had by one and all.