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…

Ode to Joy

Beethoven Super Sunday gets off to a flying start!
Beethoven Super Sunday gets off to a flying start!

A green plaque commemorating the first UK performance of the RPS’s most famous commission, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, was unveiled yesterday on Regent Street. The plaque marks the former site of the New Argyll Rooms, which is now a NatWest bank. It was unveiled by RPS Chairman, John Gilhooly and Councillor Michael Brahams, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London. The occasion was accompanied by a new fanfare by Bertie Baigent, a young composer from the National Youth Orchestra, performed by players from the NYO.

PlaqueThen it was straight off to the Royal Albert Hall for more Beethoven 9 celebrations with the NYO at the BBC Proms. (Take a look at last week’s blog, where NYO musicians talked about the unforgettable experience of playing at the Proms). Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was preceded by the world premiere of Frieze, a Beethoven-inspired RPS co-commission by English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage.

A bow for Beethoven Bust
A bow for Beethoven Bust

The NYO shared the Royal Albert Hall stage with singers from across the British Isles – and of course the Society’s bust of Beethoven, who kept an eye on proceedings from his perch in front of Vasily Petrenko’s podium. Not so dissimilar, then, to the 1824 premiere of the 9th Symphony in Vienna, when the by-then profoundly deaf composer stood behind the conductor to guide the tempo. Beethoven was oblivious to the applause which erupted at the end of the work, until one of the soloists turned him around to face the audience.

Rapturous applause from a packed Albert Hall also greeted last night’s performance – a fantastic end to our Beethoven Super Sunday. Huge congratulations to all the performers!

Missed the Prom? You can listen on iPlayer until 17th August. The concert will also be broadcast on BBC4 in 2 parts on 18th August and 6th September.

Celebrating RPS200 at the BBC Proms

NYO130413_HIRES_JALDEN-28On 11 August, the National Youth Orchestra will return to the Proms, along with the National Youth Choir, Irish Youth Chamber Choir, and Codetta to help celebrate 200 years of the RPS. Nearly 400 teenagers will perform on one of the world’s most famous stages, forming a fitting spectacle for a glorious celebration of the commission of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.

NYO are extremely excited to be invited to the Proms again this year, and it is frequently the highlight of any member’s musical year. Some of our players have had the fortune to already have played with the orchestra at the Proms over the last couple of years, so who better to tell the story than themselves? During our rehearsals this summer, we asked what makes this event so special, and what they’re looking forward to this year:

“Playing at the Albert Hall is an incredible experience in itself, but joining with the magnitude of massed choirs really takes it to the next level. Add Beethoven 9 into the equation and you get a really explosive combination!” Anna Lapwood, harp

“It’s an incredible experience playing at the BBC Proms. The atmosphere backstage before a concert is electrifying and like no other concert venue, not only because the concert is recorded for both live radio and television, but also because NYO always attracts the most passionate, excited and youthful of audiences to the concert series! The orchestra really up their game for the appearance at the RAH and you can feel the energy and passion coming from 170 young musicians putting their heart and soul into the music…it’s really something special to be part of!” Michael Devlin, clarinet

“Performing in the Royal Albert Hall really is an amazing experience. To think of all the amazing artists who’ve graced the stage before makes me cherish every minute I am there.” YeYe Xu, violin

“It’s exhilarating to be part of this meeting of the old and the new: a dynamic youth orchestra in a historic concert hall, with a programme ranging from the classic to the cutting-edge. Nothing is more thrilling than being part of the Proms, during the height of summer, seeing so many people enjoying the music that I hold so close to my heart.” Fien Barnett-Niefs, harp