Rhinegold Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega
'Grateful': Nicola Benedetti

Andrew Green

New Year’s Honours: Benedetti and Blackshaw among classical musicians recognised

9:34, 30th December 2018

Not a bumper New Year’s Honours List for classical music, but a strong line-up of distinguished names nonetheless. Among performers, dual pride of place goes to the MBE for pianist’s pianist Christian Blackshaw (who turns 70 in January) and violinist Nicola Benedetti, who adds a CBE to her 2013 MBE. Blackshaw, the first British pianist to study at the then Leningrad Conservatoire, was deeply influenced in early years by working with Sir Clifford Curzon. His playing of Mozart, heard around the world, has been especially praised. Blackshaw is currently an artist in residence at Wigmore Hall.

A string of tweets from Nicola Benedetti conveyed her delight at the news of the CBE: ‘I am very grateful to receive this honour. This meaningful public recognition encourages me to deepen my commitment to music, to playing and to providing enrichment, inspiration and variation to the education system that serves communities throughout the UK. I am more resolved than ever to reinforce my advocacy for arts and culture, and to challenge what it means to teach music well.’

Other performance-related honours go to choral directors David Hill and Stephen Darlington, both receiving MBEs. Carlisle-born Hill’s multi-faceted career has embraced everything from the music directorships of St John’s College, Cambridge and (currently) of the Bach Choir, plus the roles of principal conductor of the Yale Schola Cantorum and associate guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Stephen Darlington retired in 2018 after 32 years in post as organist at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was organ scholar in his student days. Darlington’s other conducting activities have ranged far and wide.

A good honours list as far as musical polymaths are concerned — among them Shirley Thompson, Jamaica-born composer, artistic director and educator (currently Head of Composition and Performance at the University of Westminster) who wins an MBE. The same award goes to live-wire Tommy Smith, jazz saxophonist, composer and head of jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (also founder-director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra). Smith said: ‘I’ve been passionate about the value of jazz education since my own experiences as a young musician and would like to dedicate this honour to all the teachers and musicians who have played a part in my development.’

Others winning awards in the field of music education include MBEs for Timothy Yealland, English Touring Opera’s head of education, and Birmingham-based Jacqueline Tyler.

Meanwhile 76-year-old Robin Andrews receives an MBE for services to the Ryedale Festival in Yorkshire as both director and chairman. Glowing recognition for an event which began in humble fashion in 1981 and now embraces performances across a wide geographical area. ‘It was a great surprise,’ said Andrews of his award. ‘I felt very humbled by it. The festival is, of course, a huge collaborative effort by hundreds of people who should all have knighthoods.’

The world of dance fares well in the honours list. A knighthood goes to the vastly experienced and much-honoured dancer/choreographer Richard Alston, who stepped down in 2018 as artistic director of the vibrant London dance space, The Place. Dancer/choreographer Pratap Pawar, whose long career has seen him advance the cause of Indian traditional dance worldwide, receives an OBE, as does Mamma Mia! choreographer Anthony van Laast.

Anita Young, on the staff of the Royal Ballet School since 2004, earns an MBE, while Yorkshire-born Xander Parish, the first British principal dancer ever to join the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg, receives a CBE. In an interview he described the initial difficulties settling in at the company, but insisted he now felt ‘adopted by the Russians. I like the culture and I feel comfortable here.’

The honours list throws up the usual wide-ranging array of music-related British Empire Medals, taking in a wide geographical spread — from Aberdeenshire-based Eileen Pike and Jeffrey Howard (from Pontprennau, Cardiff) to Oxfordshire’s Cynthia Gomme (in recognition of her work linking music and charity) and Irene Harman, from Gosport, Portsmouth. Harman, currently based at HMS Sultan, is still going strong as organist to the Royal Navy after more than 40 years, currently playing for shore-based HMS Sultan. ‘I was a bit shocked,’ said Irene of hearing the news of her award. ‘I wasn’t expecting it at all. I’ll keep playing for as long as I can. I’m so grateful that I played for the Navy. If I hadn’t I might never have met so many fantastic people.’


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