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Thea Musgrave

One of my Master of the Queen’s Music activities is to convene and chair a committee which discusses the award of the yearly Queen’s Medal for Music. After intense debate a decision is made, and then a memo naming the chosen musician is sent to the Queen for her approval. I’ve always imagined that the royal consent is a formality, but this year, the piece of paper came back with an actual annotation by the Queen. Next to our proposal to make the award to the 90-year old Scottish composer Thea Musgrave, HM had written “About time”.

I couldn’t agree more with the world’s longest reigning monarch about this. Musgrave is an absolutely major figure amongst our national composers, and the fact that she now lives in New York is no excuse for postponing rightful recognition of her amazing body of work. In general it’s frustrating that we nowadays only seem to learn about senior composers in 10-year tranches marking big birthdays (and at 100-year intervals for historical figures).

It’s great to see that there is a lot of activity currently happening around Thea’s big year. A visit to her huge orchestral work Phoenix Rising at the Proms (on 7 August) is a must; and I was recently blown away by the characteristic energy of The Seasons in an excellent performance given by Southbank Sinfonia under Jessica Cottis. My main impression of the Musgrave oeuvre used to be that she’s principally an opera composer. But with more recordings now available it could be argued that the works for symphony orchestra are even more musically impressive. Let’s hope we now keep playing these pieces, and don’t have to wait for the composer’s 100th birthday to make the next set of discoveries.




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