Our latest Spotlight blog reads like a music awards special this month! As 2021 approaches, these awards recognise the wonderful creative contributions that artists, organisations and music industry people have made in one of the toughest of years for the music sector. Next month, 'lockdown two' in England comes to an end, while a new lockdown has just begun in Northern Ireland. But despite the fact that venues have been forced to shut their doors recently, we still have a packed round-up of events, projects and recommendations to keep you up to date and there's a particular emphasis on jazz and classical music this month following the EFG London Jazz festival and RPS Awards.
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Spotlight on Music Awards
NI Music Prize and Sound of Belfast
Leah: Hosted by Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre and marking the end of the vibrant annual Sound of Belfast week, the NI Music Prize was presented online for the first time this year. The 2020 prize winner was Kitt Philippa for their debut album Human, described by critics as ‘transfixingly beautiful’ and which utilised a few unconventional instruments including a prayer dish and a bike wheel. Best Single went to Arborist for the song ‘Here Comes the Devil’, New Pagans were voted Best Live Act, and newcomer Sasha Samara received the ‘Oh Yeah Contender Award’.
Cathy: The Royal Philharmonic Society Awards ceremony was live-streamed from London’s Wigmore Hall on 18 November. Awards night is one of the highlights in the Classical music year and the awards themselves – all highly coveted – celebrate the outstanding talent of musicians and artists globally and their achievements within the last year. It was a bitter-sweet occasion; the celebrations were put into context of the sector’s current challenges by RPS Chairman John Gilhooley as he introduced the evening: ‘Tonight we come together, in a year when our musical world has been largely immobilised, and, for a while, totally silenced. This could easily be an eighteen-month or longer crisis for live performance. …. As we continue on the uncertain road ahead, we draw on our inner strength, our resilience, and our solidarity as a community of musicians and music lovers; as a Philharmonic Community.’
Among the winners, I was happy to see the Scottish Ensemble win the Ensemble Award for their innovation and international reach in their 50th birthday year. We worked with them as part of the orchestral Transform programme in Brazil in 2015. Elsewhere, viola player Timothy Ridout – who I last heard in Krasnoyarsk during the UK-Russia Year of Music – was shortlisted for the Instrumentalist award. There were six awardees in a completely new category, the Inspiration Award. This new award was introduced to celebrate the extraordinary music-making that has uplifted the nation in lockdown and 2,500 nominations were received from the public in response. Among the six winners was violinist Nicola Beneditti’s Virtual Benedetti Sessions which we highlighted early on in our very first Spotlight feature, just a few weeks into the first UK lockdown. These virtual sessions provided musicians of all ages and stages with three weeks of tuition and inspiration leading to a final weekend of activity where they all came together for a virtual global celebration. Inspiring stuff!
John Williams was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal – an award which has been recognising outstanding musicianship since 1870 – for his work as composer behind some of the world’s most loved film scores. Steven Spielberg gave his congratulations in a specially recorded video saying: ‘John, you have brought the classical idiom to young people all over the world through your scores, and through your classical training and your classical sensibilities.’ John Williams himself, in response to the award, recognised our brilliant orchestral musicians: ‘I’d like to thank our musicians of our great orchestras in London and in the United States with whom I’ve worked so happily for so many years.’ As a Gold Medal winner he joins Brahms, Elgar, Sibelius, Simon Rattle and many more. The award was initiated by the Society to mark the centenary of Beethoven’s birth. The RPS bust of Beethoven, as usual, kept a close eye on the proceedings.
Other music awards this month
Leah: Founded by The New BBC Radiophonic Workshop and PRS Foundation, the Oram Awards celebrate innovation in music, sound and related technologies by the next generation of forward-thinking women and gender minority artists. The six winning artists for 2020 were announced: Loula Yorke – a composer and performer involved combining sound, video and participation; NikNak (Nicole Raymond) – a Leeds-based artist, creative, performer, presenter, producer and turntablist; Poulomi Desai – a multidisciplinary artist and curator; Una Lee – an artist of South Korean heritage who works with sounds, stories and sensations; Vicky Clarke – Manchester sound and electronic media artist (who we have worked with on a few projects ourselves in recent years); and Yifeat Ziv – a vocalist, composer, sound artist and free improviser. They will receive talent development bursaries from PRS Foundation as well as mentoring.
The SAY Award is an annual award for an outstanding album produced by a Scottish artist. This year’s winner is Re-Up, a self-released album by Novadescribed by ticketing company Skiddle as ‘part of a new generation of artists ... who are redefining Scottish underground culture.’ Other nominated albums came from artists including former British Council collaborators Anna Meredith and Karine Polwart.
Welsh Music Prize
The Welsh Music Prize celebrates the finest music made in Wales or by Welsh people around the world. Congratulations to 2020 winner Deyah – the Cardiff MC scooped the award for her album Care City. ‘Addiction, heartbreak and a fractured relationship with God are all recalled with gut-wrenching clarity over sluggish, lo-fi beats’ said The Line of Best Fit magazine. ‘With this album I want to educate people to live life without pressure of expectation,’ said Deyah.
Ivors Composer Awards
The Ivors Composer Awards celebrate the best new works by UK composers writing for classical, jazz and sound art. A huge array of outstanding nominees, including many British Council collaborators, can be found online and winners will be announced on BBC Radio 3 on the evening of 1 December.
The biggest celebration of Black music – the MOBO Awards – returns with a virtual ceremony on 9 December. Nines, Lianne La Havas and Mahalia lead with the most nominations across several categories. Find the full list of MOBO nominees here.
Spotlight on Covid-19 and Jazz
Stephen: Jazz Fuel have revealed the results of their research across the UK, Europe and the USA which examines the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on jazz musicians. I’m sure musicians working in other genres, particularly those who rely on work within the live sector, will see striking similarities for them too.
November also saw the EFG London Jazz Festival launch with an array of online shows to enjoy. Personally, I really enjoyed Nathaniel Facey’s performance which was streamed live from Green Note, a wonderful (and usually intimate) venue in Camden. The Jazz Festival, and Nathaniel himself, seemed to truly embrace the opportunity of a filmed show with this one: it looked fantastic and Nathaniel directed his between-song patter down the lens of the camera and we were afforded wonderful close ups of the musicians. While there is no substitute for a live performance when you’re in the room with the musicians, a filmed show when it is done this well has a charm all of its own – it is a different thing and I don’t believe we should even compare.
Spotlight on Covid-19 and Classical
Cathy: There have been many brave attempts in the orchestral world over the last couple of months to re-introduce live concerts, though only in England. As of the second lockdown on 5 November, this has been halted, at least until 2 December (when the lockdown in England is due to end). The sector has shown great resilience and ingenuity, turning on a sixpence to transform live events to live-streamed, and developing their online presence. Many orchestras and individuals have received some welcome support from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund or Job Retention Scheme. However, many orchestras have not received help, or were ineligible, and there is a continued lack of support for freelance musicians. 30% of orchestral musicians are not eligible for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. It is still unknown how the sector will emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ABO (Association of British Orchestras) has revealed the results of an impressive survey of live events and online presence of their members in their November Newsletter. It shows the huge amount of activity that has been made possible by their members’ ingenuity. I’ve chosen just a few of the online offerings in our What To Watch section this month which you’ll find further down the page. Speaking of ingenuity, not to mention quick thinking, my favourite story of a live performance this year is that of Scotland’s Dunedin Consort. They were performing in France when the news broke that France had been added to the UK’s travel ‘quarantine list’. Deciding to honour their commitment to festival organisers rather than cancel and return immediately to the UK, the ensemble’s management succeeded in chartering a fishing boat to carry the players back overnight, arriving just before the 4am deadline. Respect!
Spotlight on Entertainment this month
What to watch
Cathy: Watch out for the December launch of a new live-streaming and digital content platform from HarrisonParrott. And the Children’s Classic Concerts and Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s digital performance The Haunted Concert Hall is a bit of post-Halloween fun – available from to stream until the end of November – showing another side to percussionist Owen Gunnell’s talents!
Stephen: Learning to listen again? This was an interesting chat from the British Library called The Power of Music, chaired by Kieran Yates, featuring author David Mitchell and musician Brian Eno. I’ve just selected this bit of their chat around six minutes in where Eno talks intriguingly about how periods of lockdown in the UK have affected his experience of listening – ‘for the first time for a long time I started really really listening to music as a listener rather than a maker … I realised I hadn’t been doing that very much for quite a long time’. He mentions a particular app, Radio Garden, that allows you to drop in on radio broadcasts all over the world. The results can be captivating!
Cathy: Here’s an intriguing initiative from Oliver Zeffman that I can recommend watching – ‘composed, written, designed, recorded and shot on iPhone by a group of musicians and filmmakers from across the world,’ it’s 45 minutes of newly-composed music by some of the world’s finest composers – including the UK’s Tom Adès, Huw Watkins, Freja Waley-Cohen and Helen Grime. The music is performed by musicians from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and a terrific roster of singers, including the wonderful Andrei Kymach – Ukrainian winner of last year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World – and Sophie Bevan – who wrote earlier this month about the difficulties faced by so many musicians at the moment. It was filmed around the world on iPhone and directed by Billy Boyd Cape. Recommended.
Stephen: Our own Jamz Supernova (Selector Radio) presented a special edition of Jazz 625 with Moses Boyd for BBC Four – and if you missed it then it’s ;still available via BBC iPlayer. UK stars Sons of Kemet, Sarathy Korwar, Nubya Garcia, Kokoroko, Poppy Ajudha, Matthew Halsall and Ezra Collective all contribute, plus Moses Boyd’s own outfit – Moses Boyd and Exodus. The show argues that the UK hasn’t had such a wealth of jazz performers since the 1960s – see for yourself! Having worked with many of these artists over recent years we’re delighted to see them all in one place doing what they do best.
Cathy: Take a look at the virtual production of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges from VOPERA: The Virtual Opera Project, made in collaboration with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and free to view until 16 December. Guardian reviewer Andrew Clements’ opinion is that ‘it’s one of the most successful online operas [in] the last nine months’. Admittedly, it is one of my favourite operas of all time, but it was brilliant. A special mention is due the irascible child, played by Amelie Turnage, who is punished for her misdeeds by household objects which come to life – I particularly love the Wedgwood teapot and China cup – while animals in the garden pile on their criticism too. The end is moving in more ways than one. Watch it!
Stephen: The always-eloquent Kevin Le Gendre spoke about Black Lives Matter, and how this movement intersects jazz music and jazz musicians, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. The festival moved entirely online in November and Kevin’s conversations are still available to watch in full on the Jazz Festival site.
Cathy: Finally from me, take a peek at Garsington Opera’s Monday Motivation, a series of 30 minute sessions full of music, movement and learning, activity which would normally have happened in schools and in the community – a nice half hour of activity for children.
What to listen to
Michael: I recommend taking a listen to Soundworlds, a short series of podcasts from music-theatre maker Patrick Eakin Young.
Stephen: The Ivors Composer Awards will be announced on 1 December. I’d suggest taking a look at Alex Hitchcock – up for ‘Jazz Composition for Small Ensemble’ with his track ‘Calvados’. This is a track and performer well worth making some time for.
Leah: Dead Club is a podcast series and the name of a new album, both brought to us by ‘alt-folk’ band Tunng. I love their creative approach to combining conversation and music to explore something that affects us all so profoundly.