Elizabeth Maconchy

In a new series of specially commissioned short films, the Royal College of Music (RCM) presents a new way of experiencing classical performance.

The In Focus series will enable viewers to experience the warmth, intimacy and richness of chamber music from their own homes. Filmed across RCM’s new state-of-the-art venues, roving cameras bring a unique perspective on musicians’ technique and on-stage communication during the performance. Produced in-house by the RCM’s team of professional producers, videographers and technicians, the immersive films will feature the music of RCM alumni composers Elizabeth Maconchy and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, alongside classic repertoire by Bach, Stanford, and others.

Each film, detailed below, showcases performances from some of the College’s top musicians and explores the history of music through genre-defining instruments, such as the harpsichord and piccolo cello, as well as focusing on legendary composers from the RCM.

The films will premiere at 7pm on the dates below on the RCM’s  YouTube and Facebook channels. Audiences watching live will be able to join in the live chat with viewers from all over the world, and the films will also be available to watch back on demand.

21 September – The Kennedy-Mietke Harpsichord
The double-manual Kennedy-Mietke harpsichord is a stunning instrument, based on early 18th-century originals by Michael Mietke and an exciting new RCM acquisition that arrived from Italy pre-lockdown. Harpsichordists Tolga Atalay Un (Mills Williams Junior Fellow) and Dominika Maszczynska perform two preludes and fugues from the second set of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier in this film. The RCM Library holds the original manuscript featuring these pieces in its collection.

5 October – British & Irish Songs
Featuring a programme filled with RCM alumni composers including Rebecca Clarke, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Herbert Howells, this film showcases the rich talents of the conservatoire’s singers performing a suite of moving songs. Eleven works by Irish and British composers form the basis for this intimate performance, opening with a series of moving Walt Whitman settings by Stanford and Turnage, and ending on poetic song cycles by Madeleine Dring and Charlotte Bray on themes of love, heartache and renewal.

19 October – JS Bach and the Piccolo Cello
An intriguing addition to the world of stringed instruments, the piccolo cello was first used in Baroque music and then re-popularised centuries later by cellist and RCM alumna Amaryllis Fleming. In this film, award-winning Dutch cellist Jobine Siekman plays an early 17th-century instrument once owned and played by Fleming herself. Played in a similar fashion to the cello, Siekman explores Bach’s Cello Suite no 6 in D major alongside RCM compositions specially written for this rarely heard five-stringed baroque instrument.

2 November – Coleridge-Taylor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor began his studies at the RCM in 1890 at the age of 15. This film sheds light on his little-known but masterful Clarinet Quintet, performed by RCM chamber musicians the Salome Quartet. The piece’s composition was prompted by RCM professor Charles Villiers Stanford’s comment that no one would be able to compose a Clarinet Quintet that did not show Brahms’ influence. Coleridge-Taylor took this as a challenge and Stanford, on examining the result, remarked, ‘you’ve done it, me boy!’ 

16 November – Elizabeth Maconchy
The Irish composer rose to fame during the sweeping musical developments of the mid-20th- century, following her studies at the RCM. She was the first woman to chair the Composer’s Guild of Great Britain and was made CBE, and finally DBE in 1987. This film explores the composer’s String Quartet no 5, often considered her crowning achievement.

The RCM usually welcomes thousands of visitors a year and whilst concert tickets are kept deliberately low to be as accessible as possible, the performance programme generates valuable income for student activities. The RCM’s autumn season is free to watch online, but the College welcomes gifts of every size to its Scholarships Fund, through which talented young musicians can access world-class education, regardless of their financial means. More than 50% of RCM students currently receive financial support from the College, but with rising tuition fees and costs of living set against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, public support is more vital than ever.

Further details of all the Royal College of Music’s films and how to watch are available here.