Beethoven Bust Reflects on the Bicentenary

With András Schiff at Wigmore Hall
With András Schiff at Wigmore Hall

Schaller’s iconic bust of Beethoven was given to the RPS (then the Philharmonic Society) in 1870 by Fanny Linzbauer in recognition of its generosity towards Beethoven in times of need. It was displayed on the concert platform of every Society concert thereafter; a tradition which was re-established this year as part of the RPS Bicentenary celebrations.

As 2013 draws to a close, we catch up with the Beethoven Bust to see what he made of it all…

Beethoven Bust, it’s been quite a year.

It has indeed. It’s incredible to think all the way back to our launch party with Alfred Brendel at the Argyll Arms pub. We recently rounded off the Bicentenary celebrations at Wigmore Hall with another world-renowned pianist; on 21 December the RPS Gold Medal was awarded to András Schiff after his 60th Birthday Recital. I’m so glad that the presentation is available to watch online. I think the cameraman caught me from my good side!

It sounds like quite a night. I hope you’ve been enjoying a well-earned break over Christmas.

Yes, I even got a Christmas present! The RPS gave me a bag of chocolate coins. I think they were alluding to the fifty pounds they gave me back in 1822 to commission my Ninth Symphony. I’ve increased my rates since then, though.

We won’t expect a new piece from you any time soon. What have been your highlights from the Bicentenary year?

That’s a very tricky question! Hearing so many new commissions, both by established composers and from younger composers at the start of their career has been really inspiring. 22 composers were commissioned by the RPS to write new pieces in 2013; the most in any year since I’ve been around! The BBC Prom in August with the fantastic National Youth Orchestra and National Youth Choir of Great Britain was definitely a stand-out moment for me.

On stage with Vasily Petrenko and the NYO at the BBC Proms
On stage with Vasily Petrenko and the NYO at the BBC Proms

Could that have anything to do with the fact they were performing your Ninth Symphony?

Well, it does seem to have aged well (just like me). But Frieze, an RPS co-commission from Mark-Anthony Turnage which they performed first, had me spellbound.

And the same programme travelled to New York in the Autumn for sell-out performances by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra?

So I hear! Sadly I didn’t make it across the Atlantic as well – my passport’s a century or two out of date. I have been appearing at RPS concerts and events all around the UK though – Manchester, Poole, Birmingham… It’s like the old days between 1871 and the last RPS concert series in the 1980s, when I always stood on the concert platform.

Fantastic! So over time you’ve become a much-loved icon of musical excellence and support for the living composer – two causes at the heart of the work and ethos of the RPS.

Sounds about right – and I’m back by popular demand.

But the RPS Bicentenary year is coming to an end. Does this mean you’ll be retiring from public life again now?

I may take things a little slower, but I’ll be making the odd guest appearance. Besides, I still have my Twitter feed @beethoven_bust to manage!

Your Pinterest page is looking pretty healthy too. Who would have thought…

Studying Abroad: the RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship

The RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship offers young musicians the unique experience of studying abroad. Many grant winners have gone on to have fantastic careers – not least the very first recipient of the award, pianist Stephen Hough, whose grant assisted his Master’s studies at the Juilliard School.

Following in his footsteps is harpist Emily Hoile, who also chose to study at New York’s Juilliard School with the help of a £10,000 Julius Isserlis grant in 2011. A second award from this year’s Julius Isserlis Scholarship enables her to complete her studies there.

RPS Admin Assistant, Helen Pearce, caught up with Emily to find out how life across the Atlantic has been treating her…

Emily HoileHelen: What attracted you to the Juilliard School in particular?

Emily: The main reason I applied to Juilliard was because of the harp teacher there, Nancy Allen, who is the principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic. One of my favourite recordings that I owned was of her playing the Ginastera harp concerto so from there I found out that she taught at Juilliard! Besides Nancy, I think one of the things that really stood out to me about Juilliard was the range of performing arts that people study there. Along with having a fantastic music department, they have equally inspirational drama and dance divisions.

Helen: What repertoire are you working on at the moment?

Emily: I have just taken part in the USA International Harp Competition so for the past few months I have been pretty much exclusively working on the repertoire for that. It encompassed some of the well know standard pieces of harp repertoire such Fauré’s Impromptu for harp and Reinecke’s Concerto, but besides that there were some lesser well known harp works: transcriptions of Scarlatti sonatas for example, as well as a 40 minute recital of your own choice of music. As part of that I have transcribed a couple of works – my favourite is ‘Wiegenlied’ by Strauss, originally for soprano with piano accompaniment. I think there’s just something quite special about the way it works with the sound and resonance of the harp. At the moment I’m thinking about what new pieces to learn this year so am having fun just reading through a lot of music, from the standard harp repertoire as well as some possible piano transcriptions!

Helen: What do you most enjoy playing?

Emily: I really enjoy playing a lot of different styles of music. Since studying at Juilliard I’ve discovered that I really love playing modern music, either solo or in an ensemble. I think as a harpist it’s quite easy to be in your own bubble of solo harp music with it’s distinctive style, that to be in a group, playing extremely challenging music both harmonically and rhythmically, where everyone has to be 100% committed is really refreshing. Later this month I’m really excited to be going to Finland to perform with Juilliard’s new music ensemble ‘Axiom’ and musicians from the Sibelius Academy conducted by Susanna Malkki.

Helen: What have been the highlights of your time at Juilliard so far?

Emily: There have been so many! Getting the chance to perform ‘sur Incises’ by Boulez in my second year was incredible – a mammoth 40 minute work for three pianists, three percussionists and (most importantly, obviously) three harpists. That was probably one of my favourite, and most challenging ensemble concerts that I’ve ever played. Also, earlier this year I organised a collaborative performance of Caplet’s ‘Le Conte Fantastique’ for harp and string quartet. It’s a piece based on the Edgar Allen Poe story ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ so we had a student narrate as we went along, as well as four dancers in my year who choreographed certain sections to heighten the drama. It was really fantastic getting to work with students from the other divisions in the school and learning how they work and think. It’s fascinating.

Helen: New York is a long way to take a harp! How have you managed the distance in terms of transporting your instrument?

Emily: I have been very lucky, in that Juilliard owns ten harps that the harp students can use at any time. Whilst I would have loved to take my harp with me, it ended up being easier practising on the school harps and using them for rehearsals and performances. The main difficulty with this is that you don’t get so much chance to work with one specific instrument and really discover all of its nuances and sounds, but it does make you more flexible and adept at playing many different instruments, something that you have to do a lot as a harpist.

Helen: How have you found living in the US, especially considering you moved there just after finishing school?

Helen: It was quite a funny move. I think that due to the lack of a language barrier that I wasn’t expecting there to be too much of a culture shock. Turns out there are quite a lot of differences between the UK and New York, from the ways in which people interact to the fact that you don’t get a takeaway pizza, you get a takeaway slice. At the end of the day I didn’t find it too difficult to get into the swing of things over there, it was definitely an exciting time so all the differences made the experience more interesting! I lived in the Juilliard dorms for two years, so immediately when I arrived there was a welcome ‘Orientation’ week (the US version of freshers, minus the alcohol) where everyone from the students to the staff were extremely friendly and welcoming. Having lived in New York for three years now I’ve really settled into the way of life – albeit a crazily busy and fast paced one – and am looking forward to really making the most of my final year there!

Helen: What do you hope to do on graduating from Juilliard?

Emily: After graduating from Juilliard I’d love to get out, work with lots of different musicians and artists and just perform! Practically speaking, I need to decide whether to stay in the US and work there, or whether I should move somewhere new and discover a new artistic culture (or in fact return to the UK). So at the moment I am thinking through different ideas and looking into different options- it’s exciting and scary in pretty much equal measures.

Helen: What advice would you have for young musicians who are looking to study abroad?

Emily: If you want to do it, go for it! Studying in a different country is fantastic as it really gives you time to settle into a new place and experience it for a good length of time. Musically it also really interesting studying somewhere completely different, as you can get so used to the way you usually work, and being in a new environment with its own way of thinking and working sort of shakes that up forcing you to think in new ways. I’ve had an awesome time being a student in such a vibrant city, meeting some fantastic people from all over the world, both students and teachers, who I have learnt so much from.

The RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship is a biennial award which offers up to £30,000 for a young instrumentalist to study abroad for a period of two years. It is open to all classical instrumentalists of any nationality between the ages of 15 and 25 who are permanently resident in the UK. The next closing date is 13 March 2015. Please visit our website for further information.

An Interview with Beethoven Bust

The RPS commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the sum of £50 and gave the first performance in the UK on 25 March 1825 at its concert hall in Regent Street, London. Two years later, when Beethoven was on his deathbed, the Society sent him £100. Beethoven received this gratefully, expressing his thanks to ‘the Society and to the whole English nation’.

Schaller’s iconic bust of Beethoven was given to the RPS (then the Philharmonic Society) in 1870 by Fanny Linzbauer in recognition of its generosity towards the composer in times of need. It was displayed on the concert platform of every Society concert thereafter; a tradition which has been re-established this year as part of the RPS Bicentenary celebrations. Earlier today, our Beethoven Bust took time out of his hectic travelling schedule to update RPS Admin Assistant, Helen Pearce, on his news.

Helen: Beethoven Bust, thank you for finding the time to chat. I hear it’s been a busy year for you.

Beethoven Bust: It has indeed! I’ve been appearing at concerts all over the country! I’m just back from the Aldeburgh Festival and am looking forward to a few days tanning in the sun; I’ve been looking a bit pale recently.

Helen: I’m glad you’re finding a moment to put your (figurative) feet up amidst the RPS200 celebrations.

Beethoven Bust: You can talk – you’re interviewing a statue…

Helen: Well I spend so much time lugging you around, it seemed only right to get to know a bit more about the man behind the stony exterior.

Give us a smile! Bryn Terfel drops in to say hello.
Give us a smile! Bryn Terfel drops in to say hello.

Beethoven Bust: I’m actually made of plaster. I’m a replica of the bust that was given to the Society and I was placed on the platform of every Philharmonic Society concert from 1871 onwards. I did have a brief spell of retirement though, after the last concert series was given in the 1980s.

Helen: You’re looking very good considering you’re over 100.

Beethoven Bust: Well I need to stay in shape; people keep wanting to have their photo taken with me. Just the other day that lovely Bryn Terfel dropped by to say hello, and I was spoilt rotten by the Classic FM when I visited their studios. Don’t believe me? You’d better take a look at my Pinterest page.

Helen: You have a Pinterest page? Next you’ll be telling me you’re on Facebook too.

Beethoven Bust: Facebook?! That’s so last century. It’s all about Twitter these days. My @beethoven_bust account already has quite a following.

Helen: So when you’ve had your fill of tanning and tweeting, what’s next on the agenda?

Beethoven and Myleene: a Klass act
Beethoven and Myleene: a Klass act

Beethoven Bust: Speak up! I’m a little deaf. What’s that you’re suggesting? A bender? What would be the point of that? I’m already plastered.

Helen: Haha very funny. I said tell us about your AGENDA…

Beethoven Bust: Oh, that’s more like it. Well I’m very excited about appearing at the BBC Proms. My aged friends at the RPS are celebrating their 200th birthday with a special free Prom on 11 August, and what better piece to include than my very own Ninth Symphony! I’m not sure where I’ll be sat though; apparently I’ve got competition from Sir Henry Wood. It’s going to be the battle of the busts…

The RPS’s free Birthday Prom will feature the Society’s most famous commission, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and a new work, Frieze, from British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage co-commissioned the RPS, BBC and New York Philharmonic. The concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. For more information, please visit the BBC Proms website.

Is Beethoven Bust coming to a venue near you? Take a look at all the concerts and events we have planned for the second half of 2013 in our online brochure.

You can read more about the Beethoven Bust -and avoid the awful puns – on our website.