Classical music’s biggest awards announced in Manchester

Classical music’s biggest awards announced in Manchester
  • The Royal Philharmonic Society Awards – ‘the biggest night in UK classical music’ (The Sunday Times) – have been presented this evening at the Royal Northern College of Music.
  • Staged in Manchester for the first time, the event featured live music from the city’s musicians and an award for the city’s major festival ‘Manchester Classical’.
  • Ukrainian composers Illia Razumeiko and Roman Grigoriv travelled from Ukraine to receive an award for their opera Chornobyldorf.
  • Jasdeep Singh Degun became the first sitar player ever to win an RPS Award.
  • Much in the news this year, the BBC Singers received an award.
  • Disabled musician Clare Johnston was awarded for a remarkable collaboration with Kazakhstani musicians.
  • A posthumous award was presented to the iconic composer Kaija Saariaho who died last year.
  • A special award was presented to the Irene Taylor Trust for its inspirational work using music to help people whose lives are impacted by the criminal justice system.

At a time when classical music faces great challenges and funding cuts, the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards were announced this evening – Tuesday 5 March 2024 – at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, presenting a vital and uplifting picture of classical music’s resonance, impact and reach.

Marking the first time that the Awards have been presented out of London, the event shone a light on Manchester’s musical heritage and community, opening with a performance of Keiko Abe’s Conversations in a Forest from percussionists representing all of Manchester’s professional classical ensembles. There were Manchester-based nominations for Olympias Music Foundation and LGBTQ+ choir The Sunday Boys, while Manchester Classical was presented with the Series and Events Award, having brought thousands of citizens to a weekend of events last Summer uniting the city’s classical artists.

A major highlight was the presentation of the Opera and Music Theatre Award to Ukrainian composers Illia Razumeiko and Roman Grigoriv – who travelled specially from Ukraine for the event. It was presented for their opera Chornobyldorf, a powerful portrait of humanity’s need for cultural sustenance in the wake of shattering global events. Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival was applauded, having brought the whole Ukrainian cast and company of the opera to Yorkshire for its UK premiere.

The coveted Gamechanger Award went to the Irene Taylor Trust and its inspirational Artistic Director Sara Lee for their life-changing work using music to help and empower people affected by the criminal justice system and in marginalised areas of society. Presenting the award, RPS Chairman John Gilhooly said ‘The Irene Taylor Trust is a tiny organisation with very small resource but the biggest of hearts. Politicians and policy-makers, pay heed: here is living proof of music helping society to heal. Here we see music as a gamechanger in itself.’ You can read the full citation here on the RPS website.

Born and based in Leeds, Jasdeep Singh Degun became the first sitar player to win an RPS Award, in the Instrumentalist category. At the event, he performed his own work Veer with tabla player Harkiret Bahra and student string players from the Royal Northern College Music. Jasdeep was praised both for showing audiences the boundless possibilities of the sitar and his boundary-breaking collaborations, including the joyous Orpheus staged with Opera North.

The Impact Award was presented to disabled musician Clare Johnston and Drake Music Scotlandfor Call of the Mountains, a remarkable collaboration with Kazakhstan’s Eegeru ensemble, which culminated in a collective performance in Edinburgh. The initiative was praised for crossing new frontiers and showcasing ways for marginalised artists to take the reins and lead the field.

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, an icon of contemporary music who died in 2023, was celebrated with the Large-Scale Composition Award for her acclaimed opera Innocence: a mesmerising portrait of lives forever changed by a high school shooting, staged by The Royal Opera. Her son, and the opera’s co-librettist, Aleksi Barrière collected the trophy in her name.

After a year in the headlines, the BBC Singers were recognised for the astonishing quality, style and imagination they have brought to a range of endeavours and collaborations, receiving the Ensemble Award. Star tenor Nicky Spence received the Singer Award for a phenomenal year including performances at the BBC Proms, Welsh National Opera, Classical Pride and Eurovision, and huge dedication to nurturing young talent at Blackheath Halls and Scottish Opera. Nicky and pianist Dylan Perez enchanted the audience at the event with a live performance of Noël Coward’s Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington.

Among the other winners, Derbyshire’s Derwent Brass received the Inspiration Award for non-professional groups, singularly chosen from a shortlist by the public who this year cast a total of 5,434 votes; François-Xavier Roth received the Conductor Award for his brilliant, imaginative work with the London Symphony Orchestra and his own ensemble Les Siècles; the Chamber-Scale Composition Award went to Laurence Osborn for his work TOMB! premiered by the GBSR Duo and 12 Ensemble at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival; the Storytelling Award went to Leah Broadfor her revelatory book Quartet, telling the stories of four overlooked female composers the world should know better; and the Young Artist Award was presented to mezzo soprano Lotte Betts-Dean, praised as a visionary performer, initiating one bold collaboration after another.

The RPS Awards were hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenters Elizabeth Alker and Linton Stephens, with trophies presented by RPS Chairman John Gilhooly who says ‘Too often this year, the story of classical music has been one of funding cuts and shrinking provision. Tonight we present a true picture of classical music’s quality, impact and radiance across the UK. This year’s RPS Awards winners are representative of music-makers nationwide, who – in challenging times – keep giving the very best of themselves for the benefit of others. We are proud to shine a light on their achievements, and hope it leads to greater recognition and pride for all that they collectively do.’

The RPS Awards unite many partners from the UK’s classical music community. The RPS is especially grateful to this year’s Principal Supporters – BBC Radio 3ABRSMLark MusicPRS for MusicYamaha, and BBC Music Magazine – and those who support individual awards as detailed below.

Longstanding Awards partner BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a special RPS Awards programme at 7:30pm on Wednesday 6 March, and available for a further month on BBC Sounds, giving audiences the opportunity to hear more music from this year’s winners. A film of the RPS Awards presentation will be freely available to watch for one month on the RPS website from Tuesday 12 March. 

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