Behind the Scenes at the RPS Music Awards

“The music world is not short of awards ceremonies, but the RPS Music Awards continue to stand alone, the grand-daddy of them all, side-stepping the hysteria as a calm voice of sanity, seriously assessing the true value of music making.” Musical America

The RPS Music Awards – the UK’s most prestigious awards for live classical music – are being lined up once again for a glittering ceremony in May and, some 26 years and 306 individual awards since they started, here’s a glimpse from behind the scenes at the RPS office… 

Presented in association with BBC Radio 3, the RPS Music Awards are the highest recognition for live classical music-making in the UK and undoubtedly a highlight of our annual calendar. The planning begins with an open call for nominations across all 13 categories with a submission deadline at the end of January. Every nomination is read and categorised, then makes its way onto a mammoth spreadsheet which becomes the ‘brain’ of the entire process. Between Robin and Megan – our fantastic Administration Assistant and RPS Music Awards Intern respectively – information is requested for every eligible nomination submitted and packs are prepared for each category.

This is always a hugely intense process as, despite a two month window for nominations, I’d estimate that nearly half of them arrive within the final week before the deadline! Meanwhile, Rosie – our Executive Director – will have been lining up industry experts that form the independent juries whose task it is to judge each of the 13 categories.

Group shot of Winners of the RPS Music Awards Photographed at the RPS Music Awards, London, Tuesday 10 May
Group shot of Winners of the RPS Music Awards Photographed at the RPS Music Awards, London, Tuesday 10 May (Image credit: Simon Jay Price)

Jury meetings often begin within two weeks of the nomination deadline, so preparing supporting materials in time for the first meetings is always a challenge, and take place over six weeks in February and March. Some categories carry a heavier workload for the jurors (reviewing books, TV and radio broadcasts or compositions in advance) while others can be sorted through on the day. Armed with the criteria for their category, and remembering the RPS core values of “creativity, excellence and understanding”, the five jury members whittle the nominations down to a shortlist of three (occasionally four), one of which will be chosen as the winner. And it is rarely an easy decision! How long do the jury meetings last? Depends on how much they all agree with each other! The decisions are always taken extremely seriously – I think our record meeting length is six hours – and one year a jury took a week to come back with their final answer!

Next step: announcing the Shortlist. Every year the buzz around this time feels like it gets bigger and bigger. This year’s announcement was on 31st March and it’s fantastic to be able to share the good news with all of the wonderful people and organisations who have been shortlisted. The social media boom certainly has a huge part to play and we were manically tweeting as ever while the shortlist was revealed live on air.

Finally, it comes to the awards themselves. It’s always a wild scramble between the announcement of the Shortlist and the Awards night to ensure that everybody gets there, but somehow it always works out and we have a great time! This year’s winners were announced at the ceremony and dinner on 10th May at The Brewery in the City of London and you can follow the evening’s events by searching #RPSMusicAwards. You can also browse the winners list at rpsmusicawards.com, and find videos, photos and the keynote speech from RPS Honorary Member Graham Vick on our website, social media and YouTube pages.

Laura Bloomfield

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Freya Ireland: Composing, NYO’s Creative Hub and…bananagrams

The winner of our inaugural RPS Duet Prize for Young Composers, Freya Ireland, talks about her career as a young composer, her learning experiences with the National Youth Orchestra’s Creative Hub and ‘bananagrams’…

Freya Ireland Composer - sqaureI joined South West Music School when I was about 12 as a clarinettist, and I remember in my interview for it – I think it was the first interview I’d ever done. I said that my main musical ambition was to learn how to play all the instruments in the orchestra. Gradually I came to realise the true meaning behind the idiom “Jack of all trades”, and my mentor, Jon James, suggested that I have a go at composing (at SWMS, each person has a mentor who they meet about every month). In fact I have him to thank for most of my composition success, since, without him, I doubt I’d have got so into it. (I say most, because I did, when I was 7 or 8, write a piece called ‘boa constrictor’, which if I remember correctly was pretty much just a chromatic scale, but I’m sure if I had continued with clarinet, it would have been unearthed and considered a great masterpiece.)

I was lucky enough a couple of years ago to win the National Centre for Early Music’s award for young composers. This really helped me to get a number of commissions with local choirs, since a few people heard the piece broadcast on Radio 3 by the Tallis Scholars, and I find that’s a good thing to say to get people listening! I do generally prefer writing for instruments, but vocal pieces have other interesting challenges, and setting specific text is a really rewarding thing to do, as well as helping to give a really strong framework for the piece.

In 2014 I joined the National Youth Orchestra as one of 6 composers. One of the main questions the composers get asked by instrumentalists in orchestra is “What do the composers actually do?” So I thought I’d start by explaining that! The composers join the full orchestra for all of their residencies – winter, spring and summer – and during a residential will usually write one main piece of music each which is then performed, and will prepare all the parts and all the material for that on the course. There are also usually a number of other projects. Generally, as well as writing a main piece for members of the orchestra, we will each create some electronic music which we generally do to a tight brief and a short time-scale…Read the rest of Freya’s blog here

Freya Ireland

Freya Ireland – RPS Duet Young Composer Prize winner
Written as part of Ensemble Philharmonic

Developing the ‘here and now’ of young musical talent

How do school-age musicians benefit from Junior Academies and Conservatoires? Howard Ionascu, Director of Junior Academy at the RAM, looks at how both complement students’ musical, academic and social lives…

Howard IonascuThe Junior Conservatoire

After nearly two decades of teaching music in schools (lastly as Director of Music at King’s, Canterbury), the position of Director of Junior Academy at the Royal Academy of Music seemed to me an exciting one with plenty of fresh challenges; three years into the post, it hasn’t disappointed.

Like all the UK’s music conservatoires, the Junior Department of RAM offers specialist Saturday provision to talented and committed musicians up to the age of 18. The programme is designed to complement the students’ other musical activities in schools, HUBs, Music Services, national ensembles and holiday music courses. (It is a myth that Junior Conservatoires (JC) exist as an elite Saturday morning bubble without reference to a students’ wider musical existence).

This idea of musical progression and extension for our students is an important one. I am in daily contact with Heads of Music in schools and HUB leaders to ensure that there is a healthy dialogue about current students, as well creating new pathways for students who would benefit from the JC experience, regardless of financial or social background.

So what is on offer on a Saturday at Junior Academy (JA)?

Central to the programme is the first study instrumental lesson (an hour long, sometimes longer). Our 80-strong team of tutors, leading professional musicians with stellar teaching credentials, bring a wealth of experience. Just under a quarter of JA staff also teach in senior conservatoires.

Chamber music is also a vital part of JA. Every student is allocated an ensemble, appropriate to their standard and age. For example, I have the pleasure this year of coaching a piano quintet consisting of lower and upper sixth players. The pace of the sessions is fast, the students are intellectually active and I am deliberately demanding…Read the rest of Howard’s blog here

Howard Ionascu

Written as part of Ensemble Philharmonic