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.

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Women Conductors programme – Finding your voice

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Karin Hendrickson reflects on the way the RPS Women Conductors programme is providing women a unique way to develop and share their voice.

There are some avenues of life that cause us to become soldiers for the generations that follow us. I think of the women who first marched and demonstrated so valiantly in order to gain the right to vote – I believe that they understood it wasn’t just so that their voice could be heard during their lifetime, but so that every following woman in their own lifetime could be heard, as well.

In my work as a conductor, I have a unique way of sharing my voice. In the performance, I’m the single person on stage NOT making any sound – yet through physical gesture my voice is perhaps symbolically the loudest, and the most uniquely displayed.

It’s this unique way of ‘having a voice’ that has caused the RPS Women Conductors programme to take notice of a certain disparity among the younger ranks of women. We live in a society that is incredibly vocal – your voice can be online, it can be heard, it can be read, yes – it can even be ‘seen’, and yes, it can insidiously still be silenced. And for younger women, living in a tumultuous time of peer-to-peer judgement, ever changing socio-economic systems, and growing up during a time where a phone or computer with predictive text can type your sentences for you – how do you learn to express your own creativity, your own voice, confidently, with all of these elements in play?

The workshops we run for younger women are therefore not just about conducting. We begin our workshop from the standpoint of what it is to ‘be a conductor’, but the total workshop experience is really about helping these young women explore and develop their own ‘voice’ of confidence – to develop an awareness not just of what they are ‘saying’ with their vocal chords, but also how they are ‘saying’ it with their bodies, their posture, their gestures, and their face and eyes.

The workshops include many elements of physical posture and movement. We explore confidence, and how that translates to expressing who you are as an individual and a creative human being. By the end, we also will have explored physical conducting and musicianship. But the final goal is not to end up with a room of confident young female conductors – the end goal is to end up with a room full of young women more confident and prepared to be their unique selves.

The RPS Women Conductors programme curates a range of conducting experiences, from introducing novice female musicians to conducting, to helping full-time, professional female musicians who want to transition into conducting as a profession gain valuable experience. But our work in schools takes on another element, that of helping to develop confidence in young women. We may end up with some great conductors along the way, but we’re first interested in making sure young women everywhere have the confidence to be themselves, with their own voice.

This year we’re sponsoring the RPS Women Conductors programme in order to enable more women across the UK to have access to these training and development opportunities.

Written by Karin Hendrickson (Artistic Associate for the RPS Women Conductors programme) as part of RPS’s artistic partnership with ABRSM

Find out more about RPS Women Conductors

Imogen Hancock: Reflections on Oslo

Trumpeter Imogen Hancock recounts her two months spent studying in Oslo on her RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship.

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One month after returning from Oslo, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my trip. The first night that I arrived in early January, I sat in my apartment looking at the calendar on my phone and saw that it was day 1/49. I was excited to finally be in Oslo, but 7 weeks was already starting to feel like a very long time… In reality, the weeks absolutely flew by!

I was out there to study privately with a number of different teachers – primarily soloist Tine Thing Helseth, Brynjar Kolsbergsrud (Oslo Philharmonic) and Roeland Henkens (Den Norske Opera/Ballet). During my 7 week stay, I had a total of 17 trumpet lessons and found each one inspiring.

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I was given much food for thought about my future. One lesson I had was with American trumpeter and composer Tony Plog. Tony’s advice is to “follow your bliss” – to do what really inspires you and what makes you happy… “a career will usually follow!” As a new freelancer, I am enjoying taking on all sorts of opportunities, as I never know what they’ll lead to or who I’ll meet. However Tony’s motto has also made me more conscious of where I want to invest my energy.

There was a lot to process from the many lessons and discussions I had and I found that I loved the independence and freedom of living in my own apartment. It was about 10 minutes by bus from the centre of  Oslo and I enjoyed hosting friends for dinner and exploring many parts of the city. I was fortunate enough to be given access to Oslo’s English Church (St Edmund’s) where I practised every day and also played in a couple of their services.

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A recent United Nations report shows Norway as officially being the happiest place on Earth… and I can totally believe it. Oslo is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to and I didn’t come across one unfriendly Norwegian person during my entire trip. The sunrises and sunsets were picture perfect and the snowy scenes and cityscapes could have been from postcards. I didn’t learn much of the language in the end (since almost everyone there speaks impeccable English) but, being blonde, I was very often spoken to in Norwegian!

I’m so grateful to the Royal Philharmonic Society for supporting me and my trip – both financially and personally. I originally received the Julius Isserlis Award towards studies in Germany but I ended up taking a different route and was supported by the RPS throughout. It’s been a perfect example of one door closing and a better one opening, and I couldn’t imagine a more wonderful experience than my trip to Oslo.

by Imogen Hancock – 2015 RPS Julius Isserlis Scholar

www.imogenhancock.com