Celebrations, but warnings about funding, set the tone at the RPS Awards
Martin Cullingford, Gramophone Editor
Thursday, March 2, 2023
Chairman John Gilhooly uses occasion to send a message to government
Last night's Royal Philharmonic Society Awards - the organisation's annual recognition of performers, composers, and inspirational initiatives and people - began not with a celebratory fanfare, but a forceful speech by its chairman John Gilhooly.
Perhaps after a year - and in particular the last few months - where the impact of Arts Council cuts to a number of institutions, English National Opera the most high-profile among then, has dominated discussion about our country's musical life, to do otherwise would have left a strong sense of something unsaid. So, and rightly, the vital importance played in our national life by education, funding, and musical excellence were all powerfully expressed.
This speech - one, as Gilhooly made a point to mention, firmly rooted in conversations with key colleagues in the classical world - established the evening's tone. Not, however, in the sense of shadowing it all with downbeat despair, but in placing firmly at the forefront of everyone's mind just how precious and valuable classical music is. Perhaps it made the recognition of each and every winner all the more heartfelt. Applause and whoops were in no shortage as the event progressed.
'Classical music policy and strategy is confused and all over the place', Gilhooly said. 'But our amazing resources and talents could work wonders if properly harnessed. An occasion like this allows us to send a message to government that we must cherish our composers, our musicians, and our proud musical heritage.'
The evening's musical beginning, meanwhile, was suitably illustrative: Sheku Kanneh-Mason performing a world premiere of a movement from a new cello sonata by Leo Brouwer: a young and hugely popular artist, brand new music by a revered composer, and funded by the RPS itself.
Awards included organist and conductor Anna Lapwood receiving the Gamechanger Award in recognition of both her musical excellence but also the way her embrace of social media has drawn the attention of - literally - millions towards an instrument and art form they might not otherwise have encountered.
South African cellist Abel Selaocoe received the Instrumentalist Award; ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins the Conductor Award; Gavin Higgins the Large Scale Composition Award for his Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra; Ben Nobuto the Chamber Scale Composition Award for SERENITY 2.0; Anna Dennis the Singer Award, Timothy Ridout the Young Artist Award.
But as always with the RPS, it's the spotlight shone on the locally-focussed or outreach projects and performances that makes this occasion so unique: Leeds Piano Trail for filling its city's streets with pianos and piano-themed installation; Torbay Symphony Orchestra for inspiring players and audiences old and young; The Endz from The Multi-Story Orchestra for allowing Peckham's young people to express their feelings following the death by stabbing of one of their peers; Manchester Camerata for giving musical form to the experiences of someone living with dementia.
So many of the chosen Award recipients encourage us to look outwards when thinking about what classical music is, and what it can achieve. That the stylish closing performance from The Manchester Collective - Ensemble Award winners - would have felt equally at home in any of the pages of Gramophone's sister titles Jazzwise or Songlines, fitted the theme.
It was The Manchester Collective who had commissioned Ben Nobuto's SERENITY 2.0, and in collecting his Award the composer offered another line to take away and take to heart, one particularly apposite in what can feel to many a world of wall-to-wall worries and uncertainties. He recalled his parents' wise advice to 'ignore the noise and stay anchored to something real'. It worked for him.
For full details of the RPS winners visit the RPS website; BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a special RPS Awards programme at 7pm on Monday March 6; a film of the RPS Awards presentation will be freely available to watch for one month on the RPS website from Thursday March 9.