This year’s Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, which focus on excellence in live classical music in the UK, took place on the final evening of negotiations between the country’s three main political parties as to the make-up of a coalition government. Hardly surprising, then, that appeals for continued arts funding were a recurrent theme of the event. Graham Sheffield, outgoing chairman of the RPS, sent a bold “message from us” to each party in turn, calling on them to keep past promises to support the arts.
Some big names turned out for the event, not least star bass Sir John Tomlinson, who presented the awards. The conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen won twice, for the same initiative – the Philharmonia Orchestra’s multi-media “re-rite” Stravinsky installation. Noting that the Philhamonia was “founded to connect with the technological developments of the time”, namely recordings, he said how proud he was that “now we are trying a similar kind of thing, to reach out to new music-lovers using the cutting edge technology of our time. There is a beauty in all of this”. Composer and conductor Oliver Knussen won the Conductor award, which he said wryly “seems like winning an award for my day job!” Another composer, Kaija Saariaho, also collected a prize, for Large-Scale Composition, for her Notes On Light.
The key-note speaker was the artist Grayson Perry. As flamboyantly dressed as ever, in what looked like a black PVC dress that turned out to an enormous ruff-like white circular collar, he made a heart-felt, if very funny, plea for people to recognise the importance of difficulty in the arts. “People talk about the happiness economy,” he said, “which, let’s face it, is the only left that’s intact…but it’s not all about money”. He jokingly proposed an unabashedly elitist artistic class system which would recognise “people of restricted taste”. And he begged that nobody use “the C word – cool. Cool implies there is a right thing to do. Creativity makes mistakes. Few groups are more restrictive than a cool group of teenagers. Beware cool…choose the path of most resistance. There’s an allergy to the word ‘difficulty’. But difficulty in the arts represents something important. Keep on composing difficult works that I shall aspire to understand.” He noted that the sales of oranges had declined because apparently consumers think them “quite difficult to peel”.
The Singer award went to the late tenor Philip Langridge. Tomlinson delivered a moving tribute to Langridge’s “natural, convincing humanity that was always so moving”. Sir Simon Rattle also spoke, via a video, as did Langridge’s widow, the mezzo Dame Ann Murray. The prize had been presented to an appreciative Langridge in hospital days before he died.
The full list of awards is:
Audience Development – Philharmonia – “re-rite”
Chamber Music and Song – Wigmore Hall – Haydn Celebrations
Chamber-Scale Composition – Kevin Volans – viola: piano
Concert Series and Festivals – Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
Conductor – Oliver Knussen
Creative Communication - Philharmonia Orchestra – “re-rite”
Education – English Touring Opera with Hall for Cornwall – One Day, Two Dawns
Ensemble – London Sinfonietta
Instrumentalist – Stephen Hough
Large-Scale Composition – Kaija Saariaho – Notes On Light
Opera and Music Theatre – BBC Symphony Orchestra – Juliette
Singer – Philip Langridge
Young Artists – Iestyn Davies
BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a programme devoted to the RPS Awards this evening (Wednesday May 12) at 7pm