Cathy Graham Awarded OBE

Cathy Graham – Director, Music at the British Council – has been awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen, it was announced today. Cathy receives this honour for her services to music and cultural relations, reflecting a life dedicated to music and her numerous achievements in the music sector and internationally at the head of the British Council’s Music team. The Queen’s Birthday Honours List, traditionally announced in June, was moved to October this year due to Covid-19.

The honour follows the conclusion of a successful UK-Russia Year of Music, which involved over 200 events, over 400 organisations and over 500 UK artists, connecting the two countries through mutual appreciation of their music, and providing opportunities for UK musicians and speakers to connect with the Russian music industry and audiences. Last year she also initiated the relaunch of the British Council’s flagship music programme, Selector Radio, which has evolved from a radio programme into a radio, digital, live and professional development initiative world-wide, which helps to connect UK music and culture with the rest of the world.

Cathy Graham: ‘It is a humbling experience to be the recipient of an OBE for services to music and cultural relations. I am honoured and grateful. At this particular moment in time it feels more important than ever to say that without the dedicated, talented, passionate musicians, composers and music professionals who are the heart of our sector, my work could never have happened – nor without the exceptional teams I have had the great fortune to belong to throughout my career. I accept this award on behalf of all of them, and as a salute to the resilience and spirit of every part of our music sector, to its survival and to its future thriving, and to music’s power to bridge the divide between all the people of the world.’

Image above, clockwise from top left: Cathy at the ABO conference, 2019; receiving her ABO Award from Gavin Reid; pictured with composer Oliver Knussen; at work for the British Council; receiving her RNCM Honorary Membership in 2018.


Cathy Graham: Hull, Birmingham, Manchester, Stockholm, the world

After growing up in Hull, Cathy studied music at Birmingham University and then went on to study piano accompaniment at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester – an institution which formally acknowledged Cathy’s contribution to UK musical life with an RNCM Honorary membership in 2018. At the start of her career, Cathy spent fourteen years as a professional musician in Stockholm, working as a teacher, vocal coach and repetiteur with opera and theatre companies. Returning to the UK in 1992, Cathy took a change of direction and quickly established herself as an able and talented arts manager. By 1994 she was Executive Director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, guiding organisational change, and her tenure culminated in SPNM receiving the Prudential Award for the Arts. From 1997 to 2006 she was Managing Director of the London Sinfonietta, during which time the ensemble toured extensively, nationally and internationally, and saw its repertoire, profile and audience broaden and increase. Cathy initiated the Sinfonietta’s own record label and spearheaded their move to a new multi-purpose venue at Kings Place. During this period she also served for six years on the ABO Board (Association of British Orchestras) before joining the British Council as Director of Music in 2006.

Since November 2006, Cathy has been Director of Music at the British Council in London, working across all genres of music on projects which create trust and understanding between the UK and the rest of the world. Among many highlights in her British Council career to date are the international celebrations for the Britten Centenary in 2013 which saw initiatives in 41 countries globally, including in Palestine, Armenia and Brazil; the success of World Voice, a programme developing musicality and cross-curricular learning through song and which has touched the lives of 1.5 million children globally; and more recently the relaunch of the British Council’s Selector Radio and the conclusion of the UK-Russia Year of Music. Looking to the future, Cathy is continuing to champion the need for greater diversity within the music sector, whatever the genre.

Last year Cathy received the ABO Award from the Association of British Orchestras – an accolade held by the likes of Sir Simon Rattle, Oliver Knussen, The Royal Philharmonic Society and Marin Alsop. Her citation described Cathy as ‘an enormously well-liked and respected figure in the UK music world and a passionate ambassador for British music across the globe. … Her career has been driven and inspired by a deep love of music. Perhaps most telling of all, Cathy supports music by just being there, showing up at so many concerts and performances, making orchestras [and artists] feel the depth and the quality of her support and enthusiasm for the work that we do.’ 

Well done Cathy – from all of us here at the British Council and on behalf of all of those musicians, organisations and teams you’ve given your support and devotion to over many years.