Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Royal Philharmonic Society bicentenary

RPS Ticket from 1869
To the Argyll Arms pub off Regent Street to launch the celebrations for the Royal Philharmonic Society's 200th Birthday. There has been a pub on the site of the Argyll Arms since 1740, though the present interior is an amazing high Victorian one. In the early 19th century, the members of the Royal Philharmonic Society would repair to the pub after their concerts at the Argyll Rooms concert hall in Regent Street. Back in the present day we were welcomed by John Gilhooly, Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Then cultural historian Leanne Langley put the society in historical context, informing us that the society was formed to put serious classical music on the map and promote it to new audiences (sounds familiar). They joined forces with architect John Nash to create the Argyll Rooms concert hall on Regent Street, quite distinct from the church (All Soul's Langham Place) and the opera house (now Her Majesty's Theatre). In fact the concert hall had a short life, burning down in 1830, to be replaced by the St James Hall and then the Queens Hall, both in the Regent Street complex. It was a promotion of music and business and the music industry was at the heart of Nash's original Regent Street.

Gilhooly then outlined the RPS's history and the plans for the celebrations, which include 16 new commissions. I will be covering these plans more extensively in further blogs. Gilhooly also emphasised the RPS's support for the ongoing campaign to persuade the government to place the arts at the centre of the proposed Ebacc. Soprano Susan Bullock (fresh from her triumphs in the recent Covent Garden Ring cycles), who is the recipient of a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award, spoke warmly of the society's work. And then the distinguished pianist Alfred Brendel spoke about he society's importance and about its continuing commitment to new music and to stirring things up. Brendel commented that he was pleased to hear that the RPS was growing old disgracefully.

There is a dedicated website for the bicentenary celebrations, www.rps200.org.

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