Participatory music making changes lives, which is why it should stand proudly beside the concert hall greats


Rosemary Johnson, RPS Executive Director, points up the inventive and ambitious projects nominated for the prestigious RPS Music Awards

If a great composer wrote a great symphony but there was no one there ever to play it, to conduct it, hear it, or even read the score – would it still be great music? This may sound like a metaphysical question, but for me there is only answer. The symphony would be an irrelevance:  music is all about people.

Next week the Royal Philharmonic Society announces the winners of its annual RPS Music Awards, celebrating outstanding live music in the UK. What I love about the awards, quite separately from the handing out of the beautiful silver lyre-shaped trophies, is the bigger picture which the nominations paint about the current state of classical music in the UK, and how musicians, audiences and participants are all contributing to the finest live music.

So, alongside classical music’s ‘big names’ – such as Igor Levit, Isabelle Faust, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Oliver Knussen, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Antonio Pappano and Vladimir Jurowski (all of whom acknowledge, incidentally, that they would not have careers without the talented musicians and audiences who participate in their performances) – sit a plethora of imaginative events which have engaged thousands of ordinary people in live music-making, often in parts of the UK where it is normally hard to come by. I say ‘ordinary’, but in reality, these events have proved their participants to be anything but; they are at the centre of exceptional music inspired by the lives they lead and the legends of their communities. This is music making for and with people of all ages – and I mean ALL – some experiencing the revelatory joys of live classical music for the very first time.

And while this kind of live music rarely makes the headlines, it truly has the capacity to change lives. It’s wonderfully inventive, and rich with ambition: Scottish Opera’s BambinO, gives babies a first taste of opera, while Memory Spinners creates opera with people living with dementia. The first ever BBC Relaxed Prom, 10 years in the making, was an orchestral concert for people with sensory, learning and physical disabilities. 509 Arts’ ‘people’s opera’ Calderland, with a cast of hundreds, played an important part in the regeneration of Yorkshire’s Calder Valley following the devastating floods of 2015….

Read more via The Gramophone

Tribute to Rosemary Johnson – outgoing Executive Director of the Royal Philharmonic Society

Following 20 years of ‘determined and passionate leadership’, Rosemary Johnson will step down as Executive Director of RPS after the summer. BBC Music Magazine and aspiring young composer, Jack Pepper, pay tribute:

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. She has overseen the transformation of the Society from a small London-focused organisation into a nationwide community of music-lovers.

The RPS has become one of the pre-eminent forces for change in the classical world, not least through its annual RPS Music Awards, a ceremony that Rosemary has placed at the forefront of the society’s work. The Awards recognise the greatest achievements in live performance over the previous year, and Rosemary’s determined and passionate leadership has ensured the accolades are among the most respected in the world. . . 

Read the full article on the BBC Music Magazine website here.

Live Music is…

RPS Executive Director, Rosie Johnson ponders what makes live music, and the RPS Music Awards, so special.

…contemplative, challenging, restorative, shared.

I nearly missed out on classical music. From a very early age my parents regularly took me to services at Canterbury Cathedral where my elder brothers were choristers. I was intoxicated by the music that I heard them sing, hugely impressed by the ritual and, let’s be honest, the idea of boarding school.

I just assumed that I would follow in their footsteps. When it was explained that I didn’t fit the brief, I came to a simple and, from my perspective, rather devastating conclusion: classical music was for boys.

It is easy to feel excluded from classical music….


….sometimes it’s the language used to describe it, or musical one-upmanship, where those without an encyclopaedic knowledge of repertoire or performance history are deemed unable to fully appreciate what they hear. And sometimes, there are more fundamental barriers: economic, social, cultural, disability… or (and it seems surprising to be writing this in the 21st century) being born a girl. And yet, music is the most embracing of art forms, and live music, by offering bespoke, yet collegiate experiences to both audiences and performers, is the most inclusive of the lot.

The winners of this year’s Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards will be announced on Tuesday 9 May. This awards ceremony is the only time each year that we celebrate the transformative, joyous experience of live music in the UK, in all its variety; those wondrous fleeting moments that are gone in a minute, but linger in the mind forever. And it’s this transient quality, a uniqueness that comes from unrepeatable listening, that sets live performance apart from recorded music. Recordings can capture that moment in time, but by allowing us to repeat it, over and over, a little of the magic of ‘liveness’ is lost….”

Read the full blog on BBC Music Magazine

More about the RPS Music Awards

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