Next time I’m on my way to a gig, I’ll know not to glance at my watch and think “great, I’m arriving in very good time”. Bound for the RAM, I stepped into the lift at Regents Park Tube, whereupon the overcrowded carriage shuddered to a halt about five feet up, within sight of the ground, but out of Wifi range. In the 50 minutes that followed (a mercifully short time for a stranded lift story) I was fully able to revisit a familiar trauma from the days before mobile phones – “I’m trapped in a traffic jam/broken train on my way to a rehearsal/concert but I can’t let them know”.
I arrived just as the first of five sessions at the Junior Academy was kicking off, in each of which a new work by a first-study composition student would be played. This Saturday division of the RAM was founded 80 years ago, and 90 distinguished teachers now educate 400 students from age 8 upward. With the decline of instrumental teaching by local authorities in regular school hours, Saturday music schools are now the front line of specialist music education. In earlier years, this out-of-school teaching would still have been funded by local authorities in the form of scholarships and bursaries. The fees now have to be paid by parents, although there can be means tested MDS help; and given the generous amount of teaching offered (including the five orchestras and large ensembles I heard during my visit) it appears that the RAM, plus other musical Trusts, subsidise the costs to a significant degree.
My presence (and hoped-for timely arrival) on this day was necessary because I’d been invited to hear the five new works, meet the composers and pick a winner. Choosing a favourite piece on my own, not as part of a panel, makes me feel rather shifty. Can I really inflict my personal likes on everyone else, and shouldn’t I be proposing the ‘best’ compositional behaviour? This time anyway I went for the “Oooh!” factor which I felt most strongly on hearing ‘A Film in Seven Minutes”, an excellently crafted evocation of modern orchestral style for the big screen by Sam Young. I particularly enjoyed Sam’s writing for four horns in unison, recalling some of my favourite ever brass writing in the theme tune to Dallas (by Jerrold Immel – but I had to look that up). “Oooh! no 2” went to Joseph Dawson, who wrote a sensitively scored slow movement, ‘Pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts’ for a 13-instrument chamber ensemble. Matthew Taylor, conducting this one, rightly reminded me after that an ‘orchestra’ this size is perfectly big enough for most modern music, and usually better, because of its clarity, than a symphony orchestra.
[Pictured – teaching in the RAM Patrons’ Room, amongst many likenesses of the royal family, I noticed this untitled bronze bust of a tousled-haired man in a zip-up cardigan, who I think may be Sir Harrison Birtwistle.]