Showing posts with label Royal Philharmonic Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Royal Philharmonic Society. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

In case you missed BEETHOVEN MATTERS, catch up here

Toby Spence sings Florestan's aria, together with pianist David Owen Norris
but somewhere else

Yesterday it was a pleasure and privilege to "Dimbleby" for Beethoven Matters, a discussion for Garsington Opera and the Royal Philharmonic Society - one that we had assumed weeks ago would not be able to go ahead. Here's what actually happened.

We were going to be live in a small London music venue, expecting an audience of maybe 150-200, with a performance from two of our panellists, Toby Spence and David Owen Norris, and questions from the floor at the end. We expected to have to defend Beethoven amid the slough of overkill resulting from his 250th anniversary and to raise appetite for the new production of Fidelio at Garsington this summer, with Toby as Florestan. All this was going to happen on 29 April, and it was with regret that we saw it floating away into the ether, complete with the new production and most of the anniversary events across the world.

Hang on - there is a thing called Zoom. And some clever people who work for Garsington and the RPS who know how to work it, and how to fade videos and photos in and out of it, and how David could record the piano part of Florestan's aria in his house and send it to Toby, who could then record the singing and these two videos could be put together into something that while not as ideal as a joint performance, was very much better than we could ever have dreamed just three months ago. Indeed, three months ago most of us had never even heard of Zoom, let alone imagined that such a talk could be captured on it and broadcast live simultaneously on Facebook and Youtube. We could even have questions - not from the floor, but from the screen, and arriving from all over the world, including California and Bucharest.

We reached an audience on Youtube that was much what we would have expected from the live event, but on Facebook our technical wizard noted hits that topped the equivalent of a full Wigmore Hall.

This is amazing. It seems we're so globalised that we don't have to go anywhere at all.

Our discussion, with conductor Dougie Boyd, composer Freya Waley-Cohen and, of course, Toby and David, ranged across Beethoven the musician, Beethoven the human being and Beethoven the leaver of a legacy that still inspires and sometimes intimidates even today. If you missed it, you can catch up here:

We couldn't reconstitute the Fidelio production, though, and we couldn't go to the pub together afterwards. Tom nevertheless treated me to prosecco in the back garden and I hope my fabulous colleagues were similarly fortunate.

Beethoven, as the poet Ruth Padel says, is the music of hope. We couldn't agree more.

Saturday, May 23, 2020


On Tuesday 26 May 6pm, I'm "Dimblebying" for an online discussion about Beethoven, jointly hosted by the Royal Philharmonic Society and Garsington Opera. Originally this was going to happen live and in person, to trail Garsington's Fidelio, which of course is now a distant dream. But the clever people behind both organisations realised that actually we don't have to go anywhere at all: we can broadcast direct from our own homes, together, and reach viewers all over the globe. The mind is boggling and the Beethoven is flowing: this is the music of hope.

My panel will consist of:

Toby Spence - tenor (he was going to sing Florestan at Garsington)
David Owen Norris - pianist and academic extraordinaire
Freya Waley-Cohen - composer, much inspired by Beethoven's Grosse Fuge
Dougie Boyd - conductor and artistic director of Garsington Opera

You can watch the event live, here on Youtube, or here on Facebook, and RPS members will be able to see it thereafter on the RPS website's designated Members' Area (more details on how to find this and sign up for membership here.) We'll be taking questions from whatever the cyber-equivalent of "the floor" is, at the end, so you can post yours in the comments boxes on either viewing site on the night.

Please join us - from the comfort of wherever you happen to be, anywhere in the world!

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 06, 2015

Brum here we come

I've been drafted in as a late-notice pre-concert speaker for my much-loved CBSO today and tomorrow. Concert is a truly yummy programme involving a lot of Mozart and Haydn, conducted by Andris Nelsons - who last night scooped the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for conductor of the year. Today the talk is at 1pm and tomorrow again at 6.15pm, with same concert programme to follow.

Do come along and say hi if you're there.

Meanwhile, I've done a little report on last night's RPS fun over at The Amati Magazine, here.

And rather than staying over in Birmingham, I'm heading home tonight & going back tomorrow evening - so that tomorrow morning I can get down the polling station and place my vote. Never forget: people died so that you could have the right to vote. SO DO IT.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

RPS Awards: That was the year that was...

Jude Kelly & Gillian Moore of Southbank Centre
photo: Simon Jay Price
...yes, 2013 was one of the best years for music in the UK - well, certainly in London - and last night the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards recognised some of its high points. Prizes went to the Southbank Centre for The Rest is Noise (right), and the London Philharmonic which devoted itself all year long to 20th-century music for that occasion; George Benjamin's Written on Skin; the glorious Joyce DiDonato; and Daniel Barenboim for his phenomenal Ring Cycle at the Proms. Lovely win for Champs Hill in the Chamber Music and Song category, for its "holistic support" to nurture young artists working in this repertoire with a beautiful, calm concert venue and an enlightened recording label.

One very important prize: Touchpress Classical Music iPad Apps scooped Creative Communication, recognising apps as the way forward for explaining and exploring music - and quite right, too, because these interactive multimedia productions are the only thing I've ever seen that really make me believe the book as a format might just be outdated.

Prizes too for Britten 100, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne (for Imago), Harrison Birtwistle (for Moth Requiem), Igor Levit, Patricia Kopatchinskaja. (A certain sense, on occasion, of "round up the usual suspects" - but on the other hand that doesn't mean they are not deserving.)

It was also the year I flippin'well missed the fun. I've been off sick and didn't make it to the dinner, much to my annoyance. So no goss and glitter this time, but naturally one was there in spirit.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Andras Schiff goes gold

This was the moment on 21 December when Andras Schiff was presented with the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society at the Wigmore Hall. Receiving it makes him the successor to such figures as Rubinstein, Horowitz, Curzon and only a scant handful of other tip-tip-tip-top pianists. He had just given a remarkable recital consisting of Bach's Goldberg Variations in the first half and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations in the second. It was his 60th birthday that very day.

The citation is inspiring and his response touching, humble and rather heart-rending. He went on to play a short piece written in memory of his mother, Klara Schiff, by his teacher from Budapest, Gyorgy Kurtag, who has also been presented with the RPS's Gold Medal this month. The RPS has been celebrating its own bicentenary this year, as it happens, and the bust of Beethoven is on the stage in memory of the Society's commissioning of his Ninth Symphony.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy 200th to the RPS

It's not often that you find yourself choking up with emotion in the middle of the Dorchester Ballroom. But yesterday, the annual Royal Philharmonic Society Awards evening saw many of us doing just that as the organisation - currently celebrating its 200th birthday - awarded five honorary memberships to movers and shakers who have been bringing the power of music to bear in the direction of societal transformation in some of the most deprived and dangerous places in the world.

From Kinshasa to Kabul, Soweto to the Sphinx organisation in the US, and a former Leeds Piano Competition winner who's now devoting himself to a youth music programme in his native Brazil, these inspirational figures set an example to us all.

They are:
►  Armand Diangienda, a former airline pilot who founded a symphony orchestra in one of the poorest cities on earth, Kinshasa, DR of the Congo (pictured above. The gentleman on his left is Sir Vernon Ellis, chair of the British Council.)
►  Dr Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of Afghanistan’s first national music school in Kabul
►  Rosemary Nalden, British viola player and founder of Buskaid, who persuaded distinguished musicians to busk at British railway stations to raise funds for a string project in South Africa, and now directs the thriving stringed instrument school in Diepkloof, Soweto.
►  Ricardo Castro, International pianist (and former winner of the Leeds Piano Competition) who established a flourishing youth music programme in Bahià, Brazil.
Aaron P. Dworkin, the founder of the Sphinx Organization, which gives opportunities and assistance to aspiring Black and Latino musicians in the USA. Sphinx’s mission is for classical music to embrace the diversity inherent in the society that it strives to serve.

The roster of annual awards turned up some truly wonderful winners as well, not least the utterly fabulous Sarah Connolly, piano star Steven Osborne (I had a lovely chat with his mum), the Britten Sinfonia which scooped the ensemble prize against competitions from such august institutions as the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the composers Rebecca Saunders and Gerald Barry, Birmingham Opera Company's Stockhausen Mittwoch aus Licht world premiere last summer, New Music 20X12, and much more. The full list is here and you can catch up with it all on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday afternoon.

Suffice it to say that the evening grew merrier and merrier as it went along. Whoops of joy emanated from the Scunthorpe table when the beautiful Cycle Song community opera proved triumphant; the Heath Quartet's thank-you video made in Mexico City inspired some ongoing quips about tequila from our comperes, the indefatigable Sean Rafferty and Sara Mohr-Pietsch - hope you found some, Sean! And it was glorious to see Dame Janet Baker in full radiance presenting the awards (pictured, left).

Special thanks to the Dorchester for catering so attentively for those of us who can't eat gluten.

Thank you, Royal Philharmonic Society, for your tireless support for the transformative and spiritually nourishing powers of classical music both here and around the world. And thanks, not least, for commissioning Beethoven's Ninth. Here's to the next 200 years!

Friday, April 12, 2013

RPS Awards promise a fine vintage for 2012

I was on BBC Radio 3's In Tune yesterday, talking to Sean Rafferty about the just-announced shortlist for the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards. It's chock-full of great people and projects, with what seems an unusually high quotient of British nominees - the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, I suspect. And proof, as if it were needed, that if you invest £s in culture, as in sport, you can get some extremely good results. British artists really had a chance to shine last year. Vital not to forget this now that that particular heady bonanza is gone. A fitting treat, too, for the RPS, which celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2013. UK listeners can hear the programme here for 6 more days.

Full RPS Awards shortlist is here. Highlights include a Singers shortlist of Sarah Connolly, Alice Coote, Bryan Hymel and Bryn Terfel, Conductors Kirill Karabits, Andris Nelsons and Richard Farnes, Composers established and new, Operas highly contemporary, and many more projects with a plethora of Olympic and educational associations. Daniil Trifonov puts in a particularly welcome appearance on the Young Artists shortlist.