Friday, 9 November 2012

RPS 200

Ivory concert tickets belonging to
founder directors of the Philharmonic Society
1813 seems to have been quite an auspicious year. Both Wagner and Verdi were born (as were the explorer David Livingstone, the philosopher Kierkegaard and the composer Alkan). Also, the Royal Philharmonic Society was created. From the outset its aims were 'to promote the performance, in the most perfect manner possible, of the best and most approved instrumental music' and to 'encourage an appreciation by the public in the art of music'. Aims which are as relevant today as 200 years ago. From the outset the society was associated with contemporary music, giving the UK premieres of two Beethoven symphonies and three piano concertos as well as commissioning the ninth symphony, and supporting the composer when he was ill and in need of money. Wagner was the society's musical director for its 1855 season, he conducted eight concerts, was scathing about the press and hated the weather. The society's celebrations for its 200th birthday are threaded through with these aims, reflecting the continuing contemporary relevance that the society has.


Contemporary music and contemporary composers are at the heart of the society's celebrations. They are commissioners of the six new pieces by Harrison Birtwistle, Magnus Lindberg, Wolfgan Rihm, Richard Rodney Bennett, Poul Rouders and Judith Weir, which are being jointly commissioned with the Britten 100 celebrations. In addition, Huw Watkins (the RPS/PRS for Music Foundation Composer in the House at the Orchestra of the Swan) will be writing two new works, as will Jonathan Lloyd (recipient of the RPS Elgar Bursary for mature composers) to be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Also five young composers are being commissioned, with works to be performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Cheltenham and Presteigne Festivals.

Philharmonic Society concert poster - 1870
photo credit- British Library
At the Proms, the National Youth Orchestra will perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony alongside a new work which is being co-commissioned by the society, the BBC and the New York Philharmonic. The National Youth Orchestra will also be performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and young singers from across Ireland in Derry-Londonderry as part of the City of Culture 2013 celebrations.

The society possesses a bust of Beethoven by Schaller, which was created shortly after the composers death. Not seen much recently, it is featuring heavily in the 200th anniversary celebrations.

Besides Beethoven, the society has either commissioned or given the premieres of works by Mendelssohn, Vaughan Williams, and Lutoslawski. Plus giving the UK premieres by a wealth of composers. Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto, which was premiered by the society, will feature in celebratory concerts in 2013 by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia.

The Philharmonia will be giving a celebratory concert on the actual anniversary (24 January) at the Royal Festival Hall, playing Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Brahms. And on the anniversary of the society's first concert (8 March), the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will be performing Schumann's Second Symphony, a work which the society gave the first UK performance in 1864.

Treasures from the society's archive go on show at the British Library, giving a window onto 200 years of concert giving in the UK. In addition there is an exhibition at the Barbican Music Library which will include a rare copyists score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony alongside letters from Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Dvorak. The society's archive, which is stored at the British Library, is being digitised and will be available in digital form for the first time.

New York's Philharmonic Society was formed in 1842 in emulation of the Royal Philharmonic Society and an exhibition in New York Autumn 2013 will celebrate this, alongside performances by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The society's historic score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony will be displayed alongside the Juilliard School of Music's own historic score of the work.

The centenary programme also features an extensive programme of talks. On the anniversary day, 24 January 2013, the society will be heavily featured on Classic FM as part of National Listening Day. The BBC will be broadcasting many of the centenary concerts and the society will be the focus of a Composer of the Week.

The rps200.org and rpsmusicawards.com are two new websites which the society is launching.

Just as important is the society's work supporting musicians; for example they have a programme of grants to young musicians helping them buy instruments. There is a centenary appeal which aims to raise £270,000 to invest in talented young musicians and composers. You can support the appeal from the society's website.

The charming film, MyRPS, celebrates the society's 200 years with different musicians today giving their thoughts:-



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