And the award goes to...

Rosemary JohnsonThu 5th May 2016

'In an era of click-bait media and the perception of a shrinking relevance for classical music, the RPS Awards have never been more important'

Is there any point to awards ceremonies? Do they provide anything more than an ego boost and a good night out for a lucky few? Why do we need to slap ourselves on the back to prove our worth?

These are perennial, and valid questions regularly aired on social media during awards season. Where the frocks and the froth come first, the points are perhaps well made. But, what of awards ceremonies based on serious intent?

For the past 18 years, I’ve been in charge of producing the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards, the UK’s most prestigious awards for live classical music. This year’s winners will be announced next Tuesday (May 10), and in an era of click-bait media and the perception of a shrinking relevance for classical music, the awards have never been more important.

The RPS Music Awards have two functions – firstly, they are there to celebrate classical music. This may sound simple – perhaps unnecessary at first glance – but as a rule, serious musicians are simply more interested in the ‘doing’ than stopping to give themselves a standing ovation: it’s the music that matters most - and great musicianship takes time and focus. Yet there’s so much to applaud, and we are pleased to be classical music’s cheerleader in chief if it helps the music we love so much find an ever-wider audience. The awards give a clear message about the abundance of both distinguished and young talent, the sheer excellence, dedication and commitment of musicians and composers, and incredible performances of live music that take place up and down the UK everyday.

Beyond the overall celebration, year-on-year the awards provide an insightful snapshot and powerful, detailed testimony to what’s really going on out there. And it is not always what you expect, which makes it all the more exciting and all the more crucial. Although there can only be a few winners, it’s the starting point of the process, when we receive hundreds of nominations from concertgoers and music professionals nationwide, that perhaps throws up the most intriguing moment. From this we get a sense of the current state of live classical music, the most recent developments and hints to the future. Yes, there are the big name artists and ensembles, conductors and singers, but there are also brilliantly articulated submissions that put the spotlight on work that often takes place below the radar. This work doesn’t usually make the grade in celebrity-focused awards ceremonies, and it rarely features in the national media, or provides the box office hits that get the glitterati talking. At the RPS Music Awards, recognition for audiences and engagement, learning and participation and creative ways to communicate about music sit alongside those for star soloists and outstanding opera. And it is right that they should, because every year many thousands of people of all ages are listening to and participating in music of astounding breadth and imagination: large scale community events involving thousands of singers and musicians, classical music in a multi-story car park, or perhaps an opera performed by homeless musicians, or participants drawn fromevery borough of metropolitan Birmingham, or an app that uses gaming technology to encourage all of us to clap along to Steve Reich. In the recent government White Paper on culture, there is an emphasis on improved access to the arts. The RPS Music Awards demonstrates the brilliantly imaginative and hugely effective ways in which this is already happening in music. It’s an important statement to be able to make.

Live classical music is as much about the listener and participant, as the professional performer and composer, and if the awards serve to highlight this brilliant dynamic, and help us to achieve a more rounded picture of the true breadth of classical music in the UK, then every silver lyre RPS trophy is, in fact, worth its weight in gold. This year, our message – our serious intent – is clear: classical music offers joyous, sometimes profound, often uplifting experiences – and it’s for everyone, regardless of who they are are, or where they come from. Let’s all have a drink to that!

The Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards, presented in association with BBC Radio 3, take place on Tuesday May 10, with a special programme dedicated to the awards on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday May 11 at 7.30pm. Visit: rpsmusicawards.com

Rosemary Johnson

Rosemary Johnson is Executive Director of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

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