Freddy Kempf credit Denis Bald

Royal College of Music reignites live music-making in London’s newest concert venue

RCM autumn season, September – December 2020

  • The RCM’s brand-new Performance Hall in South Kensington to be filled with music for the first time, having lain in wait during lockdown
  • Autumn season highlights include visits from acclaimed conductors, performances of new music by female composers and five specially commissioned short films
  • RCM students to perform together for the first time since lockdown
  • Innovation and ingenuity on show in the RCM’s programming and research, including study into the potential of Virtual Reality for Covid-19-hit music industry

The Royal College of Music (RCM) today [Wednesday 9 September 2020] launches its autumn events season for 2020, including the first performances in London’s newest concert hall. The state-of-the-art Performance Hall is part of a recent £40million investment in the RCM’s iconic South Kensington campus. Students at the UK’s top institution for performing arts (QS World University Rankings 2016-2020) are set to experience an autumn filled with music-making on a campus which has almost doubled in size since 2017. A new home for the Royal College of Music Museum’s internationally significant collection will complete the transformation when it opens in January 2021.

The RCM’s two new performance spaces, designed by architect John Simpson and completed in March 2020, have not yet been used for performance as they were completed just before the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown. Following a period of socially distanced acoustic testing, music is finally coming to the new spaces, with the RCM harnessing the latest digital technology to bring the performances to audiences at home. The autumn season features a mixture of YouTube and Facebook Premieres, on-demand content and specially commissioned films, all recorded at the College with social distancing in place for the performers. Some of the world’s most celebrated classical musicians will join talented RCM musicians to perform an exciting and wide-ranging programme.

Highlights of the autumn season include the return of violin legend Maxim Vengerov, the RCM’s Polonsky Visiting Professor of Violin, giving a glimpse into his artistic process in an inspiring masterclass. There is also an insightful masterclass from world-renowned pianist Freddy Kempf. Acclaimed conductors Jac van Steen and Martyn Brabbins visit to work with socially distanced ensembles, while celebrated opera director Olivia Fuchs will direct scenes from a variety of operatic masterpieces based around the themes of isolation, separation and resolution. The season also includes performances of contemporary works by female composers, including RCM composition professor Errollyn Wallen, as well as Eleanor Alberga, Kristina Arakelyan and Caroline Shaw.

In a new series of specially commissioned films, the RCM presents a new way of experiencing classical performance. The In Focus series will allow viewers to experience the warmth, intimacy and richness of chamber music, wherever they are. Filmed across our state-of-the-art venues, roving cameras offer audiences a unique perspective on our musicians’ technique and on-stage communication during the performance. The immersive films will feature the music of RCM alumni composers Elizabeth Maconchy and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Audiences will also be able to discover the intriguing stories behind the programmes through the range of artefacts, instruments and paintings held in the RCM’s treasured collections, such as a double-manual Kennedy-Mietke harpsichord, a new RCM acquisition that recently came out of quarantine having arrived from Italy pre-lockdown.

The College’s ingenuity in adapting to the ‘new normal’ of live performance is further demonstrated by a new research project into the potential of Virtual Reality (VR) to bring performers and audiences into concert halls virtually. Beginning with the RCM’s Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, venues will be acoustically and visually mapped, then digitally recreated in a new VR environment. The project is led by the Centre for Performance Science (CPS) – a long-running collaboration between the RCM and Imperial College, London – and aims to allow performers and audiences alike to experience real-life venues from home. Intended both as a performance and rehearsal tool, the VR environment will give musicians real-time visual and auditory responses to their movements as they explore each virtual space.

Professor Colin Lawson, Director of the Royal College of Music, comments:

I am delighted that we are making music once more in the Royal College of Music, not least in the wonderful new facilities which we have waited six months to unveil! Unfortunately, we won’t be able to welcome audiences in person just yet, but our innovative series of films will give a real flavour of the new Performance Hall. Some of the world’s best performers will work with our gifted students, and they will not only gain invaluable experience in working with them but also with our talented in-house producers, videographers and technicians in the RCM Studios and researchers in the Centre for Performance Science.

The RCM usually welcomes over 120,000 visitors a year and whilst concert tickets are kept deliberately low to be as accessible as possible, the performance programme generates valuable income for student activities. The RCM’s autumn season is free to watch online, but the College welcomes gifts of every size to its Scholarships Fund, through which talented young musicians can access world-class education, regardless of their financial means. More than 50% of RCM students currently receive financial support from the College, but with rising tuition fees and costs of living set against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, your support is more vital than ever.

Details of all the Royal College of Music’s autumn events and how to watch are available at www.rcm.ac.uk/events.

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