Royal Academy of Music launches new podcast series as part of its Bicentenary celebrations

‘Short Stories: 200 years of the Royal Academy of Music’, presented by alumna Anna Picard, celebrates the 200-year history of the Academy through the people who have helped shape it, uncovering some the individuals, past and present, whose stories define the institution.

The series opens the doors of the renowned conservatoire to a wider audience, focusing on an illuminating range of subjects. It reveals some of the treasures held at the Academy’s Marylebone Road home, tells the stories of extraordinary musicians who studied there and features music by students past and present, much of it specially recorded. As well as exploring the Academy’s rich history, ‘Short Stories’ also brings to life the institution as it stands today.

The Academy’s Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, said: ‘Since its founding in 1822, the Academy has played a vital role in music-making in the UK and beyond. Some of the most important musical figures of the past two centuries have learnt, taught and performed here – this is where music’s past, present and future converge. This series has been a joy to create, and there couldn’t be a better time to tell these stories than in our Bicentenary year.’

The first three episodes will be available on Friday 8 July on all major streaming platforms. Episodes four and five will be released on Friday 22 July and Friday 5 August.

When the Royal Academy of Music opened its doors to its first 20 students in 1823, there were equal numbers of boys and girls. In this first episode, Anna Picard traces the stories of some of the women of the Academy including Fanny Dickens, the elder sister of Charles Dickens. We also hear from the participants of a pioneering women-only conducting course and try to unravel what playing in a gendered way might mean. Along the way there is, as always, some glorious music from Academy students.

1968 saw a worldwide escalation of protest, invention and upheaval among a generation of students, musicians included. This episode takes the temperature of this time at the Academy, and investigates the tensions and reconciliations between tradition and the new. Anna Picard talks to some of the figures from that period, explores the longer history of ‘new music’ at the Academy (including a surprising choice of rehearsal venue by John Barbirolli), discusses Stravinsky with conductor Edward Gardner, takes a walk in the park with some musical trees, and finds out whether that revolutionary spirit of artistic experimentation and invention is still alive at the Academy today.

In a pair of old photos outside the Academy’s Library of the class of 1918, there are two black students – composer and multi-instrumentalist Edmund T Jenkins and mezzo-soprano Evelyn Dove. In this episode, Anna Picard explores who they were, how they both forged successful careers and what their stories tell us about ‘high’ and ‘low’ art at that moment in history. We bring Edmund and Evelyn’s worlds to life with rare recordings of their music, and we hear from Edmund’s great-nephew, who is keeping his music alive for a new generation.

In the early part of the 20th century, Harriet Cohen, an Academy alumna, was a household name. Superficially known for her beauty and glamour, she wielded influence with some of the most important literary, political and cultural figures of her time – and she was a remarkable pianist. In this episode, Anna Picard explores Harriet’s life and legacy, placing her alongside her pianist contemporaries Myra Hess and Irene Scharrer, and the man who taught them all, Tobias Matthay. We explore the Academy’s pedagogical tradition, discuss the ‘male gaze’ with Joanna MacGregor and hear from the late, great Quentin Crisp.

From the bees on the roof to one of the finest violins in the world, the Academy is full of surprising treasures. In this episode, Anna Picard introduces people and parts of the building that listeners might not know about, and discovers what goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the Academy’s remarkable collection of instruments will be played by generations to come. Including singing from an original Elizabethan part book, an introduction to Oliver Knussen’s beloved collection of owls, and violinist James Ehnes playing a priceless Stradivarius, the stories behind these objects unlock the history of the Academy.

About the Academy:

The Royal Academy of Music moves music forward by inspiring successive generations of musicians to connect, collaborate and create. We are the meeting point between the traditions of the past and the talent of the future, seeking out and supporting the musicians today whose music will move the world tomorrow. As we enter our third century, our aim is to shape the future of music by discovering and supporting talent wherever it exists.