Success for Making Music members at RPS Awards

Hilary Campbell and Bristol Choral Society pick up Inspiration Award at 2021 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards

Choir and its musical director one of five Making Music member groups shortlisted in new category celebrating outstanding non-professional music-making nationwide

Making Music, the UK’s membership organisation for leisure-time music groups, is delighted to announce that member group Bristol Choral Society and its Musical Director Hilary Campbell have been named winners of the Inspiration Award at the 2021 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards.

Also shortlisted in the same category were Making Music members Aberdeenshire and Phoenix Saxophone Orchestras, Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus, and Themba Mvula and Lichfield Gospel Choir. 

The annual Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) awards celebrate the role that classical music plays in our lives, recognising the quality, impact and ingenuity of the finest artists and creative forces at work today. The 2021 awards were presented as part of a star-studded event at London’s Wigmore Hall on Monday 1 November, hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter Katie Derham and RPS chief executive James Murphy, with trophies presented by RPS chairman John Gilhooly.

Newly introduced this year, the Inspiration Award is, ‘for a non-professional ensemble or an individual who works with such groups, in recognition of the remarkable constellation of such music-makers nationwide, often overlooked.’ While most RPS Awards were chosen by expert panels, the Inspiration Award was decided by the public, attracting over 4,500 online votes. Those shortlisted were chosen by a specialist panel in recognition of the fantastically original and creative ways that they kept their musical communities connected throughout the pandemic.

This year’s Inspiration Award winners, Hilary Campbell and Bristol Choral Society, are a shining example. Established in 1889, Bristol Choral Society has an auditioned membership of approximately 140 singers from Bristol and the surrounding counties, welcoming singers of all ages and abilities. The choir’s energetic musical director, Hilary Campbell, not only kept members’ spirits up with regular online rehearsals, but also spearheaded various initiatives to inspire the group. These included the The Mary Otty Christmas Carol Composition Competition, which received 70 submissions from around the world; five pieces were then shortlisted and recorded by the choir between lockdowns, with the online finale selling 400 tickets for charity. Campbell also hosted a digital launch event for the choir’s first professionally recorded CD, The Big Picture, completed before the pandemic in January 2020, with insights from composers including Judith Weir, Cecilia McDowall and Bob Chilcott. 

Hilary Campbell, musical director of Bristol Choral Society, said: 

“Firstly, I’d like to thank the Royal Philharmonic Society for shining a spotlight on the indefatigable, dedicated leisure-time music-making sphere with this new Inspiration Award. It’s been a challenging time for all musicians over the past two years, but amateur musicians, and in particular amateur singers, have borne the brunt of so many imposed restrictions, which changed frequently and silenced so many groups. And yet millions of singers have continued to make music, in whatever manner they could, with unwavering optimism and passion – none more so than the members of Bristol Choral Society and their incredibly hard-working committee and chair, Joi Demery, who, when I suggested potential new projects and ways of connecting and making music that would undoubtedly create extra work for them all, always readily agreed. I hope this award goes some way to thanking them, and recognising their remarkable efforts.”

Julian Rivers, tenor singer in Bristol Choral Society, said:  

“In a time of unprecedented difficulty for musicians, Hilary responded with unbounded creativity and optimism. Week by week her cheerful energy and encouragement kept us singing, exploring new repertoire, improving technique, and constantly reminding us of our shared hope that we would in time experience real choral singing once again. She has been a model of courage in adversity and a bright point during the dark weeks of lockdown, worthy of wide public recognition.” 

Judith Weir CBE, celebrated composer and current Master of the Queen’s Music, said:  

“Under Hilary Campbell’s inspiring direction, Bristol Choral Society has re-invented itself for the 21st century with notable energy and creativity. The classics are still firmly there in the repertoire, but the choir’s expertise now stretches right up to the present day. Their enthusiasm and interest in mastering very new scores, and their methods of doing so, could be a model for all singing ensembles, professional and amateur.” 

This latest recognition for Campbell and Bristol Choral Society caps off an award-winning few months for the choir and its talented musical director, who also picked up two prizes at September’s Making Music Awards – Bristol Choral Society receiving the award for ‘best new project with a focus on new music’ for its Christmas Carol Composition Competition; and Campbell taking home the prize for ‘best vocal group music director’. 

In addition to Campbell and Bristol Choral Society, the 2021 RPS Inspiration Award also acknowledged the achievements of four other Making Music member groups from across the UK (click the names of groups for more information about nominations)

Aberdeenshire and Phoenix Saxophone Orchestras, the latter based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, connected with one another through shared Zoom rehearsals, leading to a recording of Entry of the Gladiators for Make Music Day that forged a relationship set to continue both online and in person.

Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra continued its impressive track record commissioning new music during the lockdown with works from Derri Joseph Lewis and Samara Ginsberg. Also in lockdown, the group collaborated with the young instrumentalists of Berkshire Maestros, performed in a memorial for the 2020 Reading knife attack, generated a  series of podcasts  on current musical issues, supported local freelance professional players, and set its own players a series of workshops and challenges to keep up their stamina, technique and morale.

South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus commissioned chorus member and disabled composer Gareth Churchill to write the 40-strong choir a new piece that captured the novelty and resonance of meeting online.  Grinding is a disarming, affectionate and hugely entertaining musical tribute to digital dating apps with footage to resemble the app experience. 

Themba Mvula and Lichfield Gospel Choir immediately started weekly online rehearsals at the start of the pandemic. Driving activity with assistant musical director Gabriella Liandu, Themba Mvula produced multi-layered accompaniments, detailed directions and backing materials to help choir members record parts for their vivid series of virtual performances, regardless of their experience or ability to read music. 

Since March 2020, Making Music has created 65 new resources, 11 case studies, and held 155 Zoom events for 2,746 attendees to helps its members navigate the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic and stay connected. With groups unable to meet in person, Making Music’s Virtual Concert Series has provided a regular platform for leisure-time music groups to showcase their incredible talents, featuring over 100 vocal and instrumental performances across 12 concerts to date on Making Music’s  YouTube channel.


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Notes to editors

About Making Music:

Making Music has championed leisure-time music groups since 1935 across the UK with practical services, artistic development opportunities and by providing a collective voice for its members. We represent over 3,800 plus groups made up of around 220,000 musicians of all types, genres and abilities. We help them run their groups so they can get on with making music!

About the Royal Philharmonic Society: 

For over 200 years, the Royal Philharmonic Society has been at the heart of music, creating opportunities for musicians to excel, championing the vital role that music plays in all our lives. It all began in 1813 when a group of musicians set out to establish a series of orchestral concerts in London. The Society’s regular performances attracted world-class artists including Mendelssohn and Wagner, and it commissioned new music for an eager public to hear.

200 years later, the RPS continues to celebrate and empower musicians who – like its founders – strive to enrich society with all that they do. Through grants, commissions, coaching and performance opportunities, the RPS helps exciting young performers and composers find their voice. Through the annual RPS Awards, the Society celebrates the quality, impact and ingenuity of the finest artists and creative forces at work today. Through its Membership, the RPS aims to cultivate national pride and curiosity in classical music, and rouse audiences to recognise the vital and valued role they play in the country's thriving musical heritage.

About Hilary Campbell: 

Hilary Campbell is a British choral conductor based in London. She is associate conductor of Ex Cathedra, and her guest work includes directing and preparing ensembles such as the BBC Symphony Chorus, whom she prepared for a performance of Mozart's Mass in C Minor at the Proms, The BBC Singers, Trinity Laban Chamber Choir, the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Chorus, BBC Radio 4’s Daily Service Singers, the University of Greenwich Choir and the New London Singers. She is musical director and founder of professional chamber choir Blossom Street, and musical director of Bristol Choral Society, Chiswick Choir and West London Chamber Choir. In addition, she is conductor of P&O Ferries Choir, the group which won the BBC2 show The Choir, whom she met whilst filming for the series. In 2021, Hilary was honoured to be awarded the ‘best vocal group music director’ at the Making Music Awards.

About Bristol Choral Society:

Bristol Choral Society has an auditioned membership of approximately 140 singers drawn from Bristol and the surrounding counties of Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and South Wales, encompassing all ages from students and young professionals to the recently retired, from all walks of life. The choir stages at least four major concerts per year at Colston Hall (and Bristol Cathedral), with professional orchestras and soloists such as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, CBSO, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Julia Hwang, and Mark Padmore.

Established in 1889, the choir has a tradition of high musical standards. The choir has an established reputation as the leading symphony chorus in the South West and is often invited to sing for organisations such as the Philharmonia Orchestra and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, including concerts under late Presidents Richard Hickox and Sir Charles Mackerras, BBC Radio 3 concert broadcasts and BBC Proms concerts. Bristol Choral Society is proud of its long history and contribution to the musical and cultural life of Bristol and the wider region over the last 125 years, and actively encourages the next generation in the pursuit of singing and music through a range of youth development and outreach activities with school and young people. The choir’s current musical director is Hilary Campbell.


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