Rosemary Johnson's final season at the Royal Philharmonic Society

As Rosemary Johnson steps down as the executive director of the RPS, aspiring young composer Jack Pepper pays tribute

Rosemary Johnson's final season at the Royal Philharmonic Society

The executive director of the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Rosemary Johnson is stepping down from her position this summer.

Rosemary Johnson has led the commissioning organisation and music charity for 20 years, supporting over 100 young musicians annually through commissions, conducting schemes and bursaries. She has overseen the transformation of the Society from a small London-focused organisation into a nationwide community of music-lovers.

The RPS has become one of the pre-eminent forces for change in the classical world, not least through its annual RPS Music Awards, a ceremony that Rosemary has placed at the forefront of the society’s work. The Awards recognise the greatest achievements in live performance over the previous year, and Rosemary’s determined and passionate leadership has ensured the accolades are among the most respected in the world.

Since she took charge of the organisation in 1998, RPS Award winners have included pianists Stephen Hough and Maurizio Pollini, conductors Daniel Barenboim and Antonio Pappano, and singers Sarah Connolly and Roderick Williams. The list of winners reads like a who’s-who of classical music, and Rosemary Johnson has played an enormous part in creating this.

The RPS has been one of the great starting points in my musical career, co-commissioning a composition of mine with Classic FM for the station’s 25th birthday. Without a platform, without momentum and without the motivation this all brings, it would be profoundly more difficult to launch a musical career.

I remember feeling rather daunted when, at a photo shoot at Classic FM’s studios in London, I was informed that ‘the executive director of the Royal Philharmonic Society will be arriving shortly’. There’s something about the long job title, as well as an organisation with such an illustrious history, that suggested a level of distance. The word ‘society’ so often seems to evoke a rather sober meeting of serious-minded traditionalists, talking about doing things whilst not doing them.

However, the RPS is far from this. Rosemary is someone willing to take risks, try new ideas, and who always wanted young musicians to feel supported as they made their first steps into the profession. I learnt with surprise that a member of the RPS team attends every premiere of their commissions, a huge undertaking in itself, considering the RPS has commissioned 170 new pieces since 2000.

At a time when some question the future of classical music, Rosemary Johnson is determined to make a difference. Perhaps most worthy of recognition is her deeply-held conviction that classical music deserves to be celebrated, and that it is a genre we are right to feel proud of.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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