Royal Philharmonic Society Awards announced

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Thomas Quasthoff, Janine Jansen and Richard Hickox among those honoured

The Royal Philharmonic Society awards were announced last night at a star-studded evening at London's Grosvenor Hotel. Billed as the UK's live classical music awards, the RPS honoured composers, artists, opera companies and authors for their work in promoting classical music in Britain. Among those who received awards, presented to them by Sir Charles Mackerras, were conductor Valery Gergiev for his work with the LSO; Harrison Birtwistle for his chamber work The Tree of Strings, and Janine Jansen, whose 'extraordinary ability to breathe fresh life into core repertory' won her the Instrumental award.

Not all the winners were starry names, however. The Hackney Music Development Trust came away with the Education award for its ambitious new community opera Confucius Says while the Audience Development award celebrated the work of Streetwise Opera, a company set up to bring music to the homeless. It was their opera, My Secret Heart, involving over 100 homeless people, that swayed the judges. And this year's Creative Communication award went to Alex Ross for his popular and engaging book on 20th-century music, The Rest is Noise.

Towards the end of the evening, a new award was announced: the Special Award for Services to British Music, presented posthumously to Richard Hickox. The award, accepted in a moving speech by his wife Pamela Helen Stephen, will from next year be called the RPS Richard Hickox Award and will go, as Sir Charles Mackerras said in his speech, 'to those who share Richard's vision and conviction.'

Other highlights of the evening included the presentation of the Society's Gold Medal to baritone Thomas Quasthoff and the evening's keynote speech, delivered by the Arts Council's chairman Dame Liz Forgan. In her address, she made a compelling case for placing music right at the heart of children's development: 'Give them Birtwistle, Buxtehude, Finzi, Ockeghem and Beethoven as soon as possible I say. Give them the best of contemporary music of all sorts. Live if you can. Give them the classics of world music. And if possible teach them to sing and play them too.'

The ceremony, hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenters Sean Rafferty and Catherine Bott, will be broadcast tonight on Radio 3 at 7pm (6pm GMT).

For a list of all the RPS award winners, go to www.rpsmusicawards.com/2009/winners/categories/index.html