Dive into the mind of a composer – Eugene Birman on his ‘Adagio’

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This Thursday, the Philharmonia Orchestra, in partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Society, presents the culmination of the 2017/18 Composers’ Academy. On the programme: three world premieres by outstanding winners of the RPS Composition Prizes: Eugene Birman, Freya Waley-Cohen and Austin Leung.

In the Philharmonia’s blog, composer Eugene Birman introduces his new piece, Adagio, and the inspirations behind his music.

So what is it about? That’s simple. I played the Barber Adagio as a teenager; it stuck with me, and not because it is such a ubiquitous thing. It’s because the music is genuine, it’s so expressive and urgent, and despite my aesthetic being a million miles away from Barber’s, I feel very close to it anyway. My Adagio, despite the sprinkles, has very little of Barber’s in it; it is more about the sensation of remembering something happy from my past. It sounds and feels like the firing of synapses in your brain as you reattach to something you love that you are on the verge of forgetting – and them, like a vivid memory, it comes back. Then the Barber really comes, and just as well, it’s all over. Forgotten!

Much later after I wrote it, I remembered a passage from Kundera’s oft-cited The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “The young man looks into her eyes, he listens to her, and then tells her what she calls remembering is really something entirely different: Under a spell, she watches her forgetting”. This piece is kind of like that. If it would have had a long title, those extraneous, spare words have burnt off and left me with the most clear, most descriptive name possible. Adagio – what it literally means is (from Latin), something to be said.

Read the full post here.

Watch the free performance on Thursday 7 June at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.


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.