The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) is signing off a celebratory year of performance marking its 50th anniversary with a collaboration with long-term partner the BBC Philharmonic at the 2023 BBC Proms. Over 50 RNCM alumni and a number of current RNCM string students will be part of the orchestra’s performance on Tuesday 18 July at the Royal Albert Hall. Conducted by Mark Wigglesworth the performance will also feature RNCM alumnus and one of the most distinctive artists of his generation, Sir Stephen Hough, in addition to a new work by recent RNCM alumna composer Grace-Evangeline Mason.
As the RNCM reaches its 50th anniversary, the BBC Proms is marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergey Rachmaninov throughout the eight week extravaganza. Entitled Sir Stephen Hough Plays Rachmaninov, the programme on 18 July is very much a reflection of youth with a very aptly selected Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, a piece Rachmaninov composed whilst he was studying as a teenager. Reflecting a ‘youthful freshness’ it is a reminder of the future of music, whilst the occasion simultaneously pays homage to its history, something also embedded in the selection of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony which conveys the spirit of the piece’s early life as a tone-poem.
Talking about being an RNCM alumnus, Stephen Hough says, “When I entered the RNCM I had only visited London on three occasions, and the idea of playing a concert there, never mind the famous BBC Proms, was a distant dream. So to be able to perform there this year with the BBC Philharmonic in a celebration of Manchester, my alma mater, and their rich cultural life, is a special privilege and joy.”
Continuing the focus on youth, the evening will open with a world-premiere by recent RNCM alumna Grace-Evangeline Mason, commissioned by the BBC. Mason studied Composition at the RNCM and her award-winning career began in 2013 when she was named BBC Composer of the Year. As an RNCM graduate she now takes her place alongside a long list of eminent and high-profile RNCM composition graduates, whose music is being performed around the world today.
Grace-Evangeline Mason says, “I am absolutely delighted to have been commissioned to write my new work ABLAZE THE MOON for this year’s BBC Proms with Mark Wigglesworth and the BBC Philharmonic, a Prom of Manchester connections. To write for, and be a part of, the BBC Proms is an honour, and this Prom has been made even more significant to me as a celebration of the RNCM’s 50th anniversary. The RNCM has been a special place to me since I attended the Junior department before going on to study for my undergraduate there, and now continuing my relationship as an associate. I am looking forward to all that the next 50 years brings for the RNCM, and this Prom celebrates and anticipates that journey.”
Alumni from the Royal Northern College of Music are represented throughout the 2023 Prom season, with the UK’s professional orchestras showcasing a large part of the RNCM’s alumni success story. RNCM alumni form a substantial part of the salaried positions and freelance players within the BBC Philharmonic, Hallé, Manchester Camerata, Opera North, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Northern Sinfonia amongst other national orchestras. A large part of this is down to the magnificent legacy of the RNCM’s Professional Experience Scheme, which gives senior RNCM students the opportunity of real-world experience within professional ensembles. With over 60 students taking part in the many varied schemes each year the results can now be seen across orchestras, operas and brass brands.
Manus Carey, Deputy Principal (Performance and Programmes), says, “Over the last two decades the RNCM has built up an unrivalled list of close professional partners, providing a myriad of opportunities for students to perform and learn in a professional environment. A centre piece of these partnerships are the professional experience schemes for orchestral players which have provided clear routes into the orchestra profession for so many musicians working in the industry today.”
And on Friday 11 August there is a further RNCM appearance at the BBC Proms, that grows out of a long-term relationship between the RNCM and the Norwegian vocal group Edvard Grieg Kor, which has involved numerous exchanges and joint creative projects. This time the RNCM Chamber Choir will perform with Edvard Grieg Kor and the London Philharmonic Choir alongside the London Philharmonic Orchestra for Prom 36, entitled A Space Odyssey. The inspiration is Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey and will feature the work of György Ligeti and Richard Strauss, with the pieces Requiem, Lux aeterna and Also sprach Zarathustra. Jennifer France, who graduated from the RNCM in 2010, is soprano, Clare Presland mezzo-soprano and conducting is Edward Gardner.
Tickets for BBC Prom 6, Sir Stephen Hough Plays Rachmaninov,on Tuesday 18 July at the Royal Albert Hall are available here. Tickets for BBC Prom 36, A Space Odyssey,on Friday 11 August at the Royal Albert Hall are available here. As with all Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, they will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be available on BBC Sounds.