About ten years ago the Royal Society of Musicians (of which I am currently President) decided to diversify a small fraction of their investment portfolio into the purchase of several high quality string instruments. They now lend these out to professional players. It's a helpful gesture towards those performers, but also financially advantageous to RSM's charitable purposes. In fact it's profitable almost to a fault in that, while the income of UK musicians plunges (thanks to Brexit problems, two years of Covid cancellations, and the recent 'fiscal event') the value of quality instruments is rising faster than that of shares and other traditional investments.
An evening at the Royal Academy of Music, hosted by the London Cello Society, brought together RSM and an instrument purchase-aiding body, the Stradivari Trust. During a couple of platform discussions, we heard a lot about the investors, syndicates and so on, whose contribution is vital for string players, especially for young soloists who need to make the right impression early on. Uniformly, the musicians onstage expressed their gratitude for this support - and not out of obligation, but seemingly through long connection with their various sponsors. That wonderful British cellist Guy Johnston had for instance flown over from the US, with his cello, in order to play during this concert, and attest to the importance of these schemes. He surprisingly explained that for most of his career he has not personally owned any cello at all.
If I dare say it, there was a little too much cello for my ears in the evening (which however included several terrific arrangements, such as the Rococo Variations for just four cellos!) and my actual favourite segment was an unadvertised spot by violinist Jennifer Pike. She was appearing at short notice because she also wanted to say a public "thank you". I'm not sure what instrument she is borrowing/loaning, but it sounded so rich (in the sonic sense) and she also performed the only woman composer of the evening, Grazyna Bacewicz, a lovely five minutes of music. I left the hall feeling more than a little concerned that our best string players have yet another hoop to negotiate these days, and that even reasonable instruments are by now completely out of their own grasp financially. But of course it was also cheering to know that committed, imaginative people are trying to help them in their search.
Pictured - the RAM's Duke's Hall. In 2013, a three-manual symphonic organ built by Orgelbau Kuhn was installed in the Duke’s Hall, with generous support from Sir Elton John and Ray Cooper. What a beautiful focus it makes for this formerly rather downtrodden auditorium.