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John Stephens receives ISM's Distinguished Musician Award

2 March 2010

The musicians' professional body the Incorporated Society of Musicians has given its Distinguished Musician Award to John Stephens OBE for his pioneering work in music education.
John Stephens is only the second music educator to receive the award, whose previous recipients have included Jacqueline du Pré, Pierre Boulez, Sir Simon Rattle, Dame Janet Baker and Sir Mark Elder. The award has been presented since 1976 and rewards an 'outstanding contribution to British musical life'.
John Stephens has been at the forefront of developments in music education for more than 50 years. Beginning as a teacher in Hampshire and Essex, he became music adviser in Shropshire and joined Her Majesty's Inspectorate in 1968. There he helped to develop the Schools Council Music Project directed by John Paynter at York University.
As staff inspector for music at the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), Stephens led a large team of teachers and musicians and succeeded in opening up many of London's concert halls and opera houses to young audiences. He was instrumental in setting up the education programmes of the Royal Opera House and Wigmore Hall and in the 1990s he shaped the recommendations of the National Curriculum for Music and played a key part in establishing Youth Music. He was President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians in 2001-02 and in 1999 was honoured with the OBE for his services to music education.
ISM President Kenneth Ian Hÿtch said: 'John Stephens is not a household name and there will be thousands who are unaware of the debt of gratitude they owe to his determination to put music securely at the centre of education and make it accessible to all.
'It is timely, in this year in which the ISM is focusing strongly on education, that John should receive this important distinction from his fellow musicians and music educators whom he has served selflessly for so long.'
John Stephens said: 'I am deeply honoured by this award that I accept on behalf of all the music teachers I have worked with over a lifetime in music education. Music educators have always worked closely with their professional musician colleagues and this award marks the importance given to their work by the ISM that represents all sectors of music and music-making. It is a powerful partnership, and one that, in the present political climate of threatened cuts in public spending, politicians should not underestimate.'

Vocal Process offers Developing Voice workshop in London on 27 March

2 March 2010

Child and adolescent voice researcher Jenevora Williams will lead a one-day course for singing teachers and their pupils at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, on 27 March. 'The Developing Voice: 0-20 in 6 hours' covers  physical and vocal changes from the early years of childhood to 19 and beyond. Participants will discover which vocal techniques are appropriate at which stage of vocal change, and will be helped to understand the limitations of range, volume and timbre in developing voices and helping young singers stay vocally healthy. They will find out how to sing safely in different musical genres, enabling teachers to give their young performers more choices. The course includes sound file examples of different stages of change in boys and girls. Participants also receive a booklet of information written by Jenevora Williams.
Venue: RADA 18-22 Chenies Street London WC1E 7PA Time 10-5pm Price £107, Teacher & Student rate £157
More information from Vocal process: +44 (0)1544 267946,,

CBSO woos new audiences with new  'Tuned In' concert format

22 February 2010

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its music director Andris Nelsons are set to launch a brand new concert format next month: Tuned In, an initiative to encourage more people than ever to enjoy classical music.

The new concerts, on 25 March and 29 April in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, will come with a live 'users' guide' to the music being played.  The aim is to offer an approachable introduction to live classical concerts for new audiences, as well as enhancing the enjoyment of regular concert-goers. Radio 3 presenter Stephen Johnson will take the stage, alongside orchestra and conductor, to share the background stories to the music being performed, and explain how these pieces work.  When he wants to demonstrate how the composer creates a particular sound, the audience will hear it happen live.

 'I hope with our new Tuned In concerts we can help even more people than ever to experience the same deep level of satisfaction that I enjoy so much with this wonderful music,' said Nelsons. The works involved are Stravinsky’s fairytale ballet The Firebird (25 March) and Shostakovich’s mighty Fourth Symphony (29 April). 'One is a journey into a fairytale world, and the other is the product of Soviet politics and the composer’s personal turmoil. All music for me is about everyday life and human beings, or else about taking us to other worlds, and I hope with these pieces we’ve chosen music that demonstrates this perfectly.'

The introductions to the music are very much aimed as a guide rather than gospel.  Johnson is adamant that his role in Tuned In is to help listeners find their own way to the heart of the music. And he makes one particular promise: these concerts will be a jargon-free zone. 'A lot of people are put off classical music by the technical language that surrounds it. With a live orchestra there to demonstrate, you don’t need technical language.  It’s just about helping people connect with the music.'

 Tickets for the CBSO's Tuned In concerts are £20 in all areas and can be booked by calling Symphony Hall Box Office on 0121 780 3333 or online at

Reading University announces three-day choral conducting course 14-16 April

22 February 2010

The University of Reading’s Institute of Education is running a three-day course in choral conducting on 14-16 April. Tutored by Catherine Beddison, Rebecca Berkley, and Manvinder Rattan, it is aimed at anyone who runs choral groups, whether in schools or in community settings, and includes practical sessions and workshops to ensure a high quality of engagement, widen the repertoire of music and explore sound using a variety of approaches.
There are three levels: Getting Started, Moving On and Advanced. Getting Started is aimed at those who are beginning or who want to brush up on their skills. Moving On is aimed at participants with some experience of conducting. Advanced will involve working with challenging repertoire, selected in advance from the list provided. During the course, participants will work with the team of presenters on a wide variety of activities, including the vocal warm up, choosing repertoire and learning how to build and shape choral sound.
The course is supported by Sing Up and Sing for Pleasure. It costs £195 for all three days inclusive of lunch and refreshments and the venue is the Institute of Education, Bulmershe campus, Reading RG6 1HY.
More information: Tel: 0118 378 8843 Email

Education underpins Southbank Centre's classical music season 2010-11

20 February 2010

Education projects underpin the 2010/11 classical music season launched yesterday by London’s Southbank Centre and its four resident orchestras, the London Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) and the London Sinfonietta. Season highlights include ‘The World’s most significant Mahler celebration’, a Bartók season, a focus on Helmut Lachenmann, major piano projects with Maurizio Pollini and Lang Lang, and performances directed by Barenboim, Boulez and Rattle as part of the Shell Classic International Series.

The legacy of last year’s sell-out visits by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra is seen in the return of the Simón Bolívar String Quartet in September 2010 and the Venezuelan Brass Ensemble in February 2011, while the upcoming generation of Venezuelan musicians, products of El Sistema, is represented in the first UK visit by the younger Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, conducted by another rising star of Sistema, 25-year-old Christian Vásquez. The UK’s own National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO) receives the accolade of an invitation to join the programme of concerts put together to mark this year’s 50th anniversary of the birth of Mahler and next year’s centenary of his death; performing the composer’s tenth symphony on Easter Sunday, 24 April 2011.

‘We’re looking for ways in which the inspiration of the Venezuelans can be paired with the natural talent of this country to take music education forward,’ said Marshall Marcus, Southbank Centre’s head of classical music, adding that many more of the artists involved in the season would be ‘taking the 77 bus route’ down the road to Lansdowne Estate to work with and perform to the children of In Harmony Lambeth, the Sistema-inspired initiative in which Southbank Centre is a lead partner.

Inspiring and educating the next generation of enthusiasts for classical music was a thread that ran through a presentation that stressed Southbank Centre’s commitment to programming heavyweight repertoire and working collaboratively with some of the world’s most respected artists. Artistic director Jude Kelly harked back to the 2007 re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall after its restoration:. ‘We said then that this is a place that offers the opportunity for young people to think about serious music and what it means to them. Unless schools and young people are converted to classical music, we could be creating a separation from what we love.

‘However, loving serious music isn’t an easy activity. Great art is hard to make and sometimes hard to understand – like the music of Schoenberg which Daniel Barenboim will take us through next season, music you have to return to again and again. Through the consistent presence of young people in our concert hall we want to help them see that there is no division between the music of the present and the music of the past.’ A move in this direction is the innovative concert presentation of Spira Mirabilis, an international ensemble based in Formigine, northern Italy which make its UK debut concert on 5 November with Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony. Described by Marshall Marcus as ‘the greatest young orchestra I can ever remember hearing’, Spira Mirabilis devotes every concert to just one work, which is deconstructed and then put together again.

In five RFH recitals between January and May 1011, Maurizio Pollini will take audiences on a personal journey through the entire piano repertoire starting with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 and concluding with Beethoven, Schumann and Stockhausen. Lang Lang will be in residence for ten days in May which will include a massed young pianists event and the launch of a new award for young pianists in addition to a recital, a chamber music concert with Mischa Maisky and Vadim Repin, and a concerto.

The Philharmonia will perform 44 concerts at Southbank Centre. Principal conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s major project for the year will be ‘Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Béla Bartók’, a follow-up to ‘Vienna City of Dreams’ that will feature semi-staged performances of some of Bartók’s most important stage works. The season will also include Tristan and Isolde as devised by Salonen and opera producer Peter Sellars against a backdrop of films by video artist Bill Viola. Salonen describes the collaboration, premiered in Los Angeles in 2004, as ‘one of the great experiences of my artistic life’. The Philharmonia’s contribution to the Mahler season is all ten symphonies and four orchestral song cycles over ten concerts, conducted by Lorin Maazel.

LPO principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski spoke eloquently about his discovery of Mahler in his father’s record collection at the age of 15, and how he had waited until the age of 37 before feeling he was ready to conduct music that meant so much to him; he is still only part way through his plan to conduct the symphonies in the order of composition. This season he will conduct Nos 1, 3 and 4 while the LPO plays 5, 6 and 9 with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Japp van Zweden and Christoph Eschenbach respectively. In his role as principal artist with the OAE Jurowski will conduct a concert that frames Mahler with the music of his direct predecessors, Liszt and Wagner.

Mahler’s third symphony will be performed by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmoniker, as part of their unprecedented week-long residency at Southbank Centre and the Barbican in February 2011. Augmenting the Mahler performances will be a series of events exploring the composer’s continuing impact on the word today, curated by Norman Lebrecht.

Full listings and dates for the season will be published in April.

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