Showing posts with label RPS Music Awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RPS Music Awards. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Truly Philharmonic

If you've been wondering where I am... My beloved cat Ricki has been desperately ill. He is just home after 10 days in vet hospital and we're feeding him a lot of fish to build up his strength. I've been preoccupied, sleepless and unmotivated for blogging. Meanwhile, though, the Royal Philharmonic Music Awards are coming up next week, and the wonderful Rosemary Johnson is stepping down as executive director. I was keen to offer a tribute to her, so can only send my profuse thanks to Jack Pepper, our youth correspondent, who has written what follows. (This is a longer version of a piece which has appeared in the BBC Music Magazine website.) JD

A tribute to Rosemary Johnson, by Jack Pepper

Starting out in the classical music world is never easy. Commissions lead to commissions, performances to further performances, but this relies on an initial opportunity to get you started. There is no flame without a spark. In December 2017, one very notable inspiration in classical music, someone who has sparked many a career – the Executive Director of the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS), Rosemary Johnson – announced that she will be standing down from her position.

Rosemary Johnson has led the commissioning organisation and music charity for 20 years, supporting over 100 young musicians annually through commissions, conducting schemes and bursaries. Rosie has overseen the incredible transformation of the Society from a small London-focused organisation into a nationwide community of music-lovers. 

It has become one of the pre-eminent forces for change in the classical world, not least through the annual RPS Music Awards, a ceremony that Rosie has placed at the forefront of the Society’s work. The Awards recognise the greatest achievements in live performance over the previous year, and Rosie’s determined and passionate leadership has ensured the accolades are among the most respected in the world. Since she took charge of the organisation in 1998, RPS Award winners have included pianists Stephen Hough and Maurizio Pollini, conductors Daniel Barenboim and Antonio Pappano, and singers Sarah Connolly and Roderick Williams. The list of winners reads like a who’s-who of classical music, and Rosie has played an enormous part in creating this. Clearly much-loved by the industry, every professional musician I have come across has smiled at the mention of her name. Her legacy is the enhanced reputation and voice given to classical musicians, and what a legacy that is to leave. 

The RPS has been one of the great starting points in my musical career, co-commissioning a composition of mine with Classic FM for the station’s 25thbirthday. Without a platform, without momentum and without the motivation this all brings, it would be profoundly more difficult to launch a musical career. 

I remember feeling rather daunted when, at a photo shoot at Classic FM’s studios in London, I was informed that ‘the Executive Director of the Royal Philharmonic Society will be arriving shortly’. There’s something about the long job title, as well as an organisation with such an illustrious history, that suggested a level of distance. The word ‘Society’ so often seems to evoke a rather sober meeting of serious-minded traditionalists, talking about doing things whilst not doing them. 

But the RPS is far from this. Rosie was the greatest advert for classical music from the moment we met. Here was someone who was willing to take risks, try new ideas, and who always wanted young musicians to feel supported as they made their first steps into the profession. This genuine support of their musicians is made clear by one fact; I learnt with surprise that a member of the RPS team attends every premiere of their commissions. What better way to make a young composer feel appreciated?

In promoting the work of new voices, Rosie has kept to the greatest traditions of the RPS. Founded in 1813, it was originally intended to encourage instrumental concerts in London at a time when no permanent orchestras or chamber concerts existed in the capital. With five permanent home-based orchestras, 21st-century London is a global music hub. At the centre of the city’s classical music scene is the RPS. 

Commissioning new works has long been at the heart of the organisation. The Society famously commissioned Beethoven to compose his Symphony No. 9, as well as Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. Today, the RPS remains dedicated to the development of new composers, having commissioned 170 new pieces since 2000. Throughout the entire 20thcentury, the RPS commissioned just 16 new works.

Despite having a permanent staff that you could count on one hand alone, Rosie has given young musicians like me the opportunity to get our voices heard for the very first time. What some musical heavyweights would see as a risk, Rosie sees as an exciting opportunity. The classical world needs more people like her.

At a time when some question the future of classical music, Rosie is determined to make a difference. Where others comment on a situation, Rosie is busy getting stuck in. Perhaps most worthy of recognition is her deeply-held conviction that classical music deserves to be celebrated, that this is a genre we are right to feel proud of. This love of music is its greatest possible advert. It seems ironic that one of the key figures driving the RPS Awards has herself yet to be fully recognised. 

The RPS points out that the word ‘philharmonic’ describes a person or institution that is ‘music-loving’. With her extensive support of young musicians, her open-mindedness in considering new ideas, and her dedication to raising the profile of classical music, Rosie Johnson is undoubtedly ‘music-loving’. She is philharmonic in the greatest sense.

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.