Prince Charles in a hard hat at the Royal College of Music

I recently participated in a PhD survey investigating how descriptive text used for the blind or partially sighted, deepened the understanding sense of recall when a sighted individual listened to it and looked at the corresponding picture at the same time.

Now whenever I see a picture I can’t help thinking what the audio description would be for it. The habit of describing literally what you see does risk draining some of the joy from a visual experience. At the same time it also injects a mild bit of humour into proceedings. As with the picture above: Prince Charles in a hard hat in a partially completed room.

For those in need of a slightly more useful description …
pictured above is the 150-seat Performance Hall, The Prince of Wales, Royal College of Music’s Chairman, Lord Black of Brentwood, and a collection of RCM musicians who performed Haydn’s March for the Prince of Wales (March in E flat major HobVIII:3bis).

It’s all terribly good news for the Royal College of Music as it illustrates another milestone in their ongoing building development works.

Now it’s the fit-out and the race to pick-out highly sought-out desk positions with the nicest chairs (and other such delights I vaguely recall when I was advised I had a desk in Broadcasting House a few years back).

And when it’s complete, it’s going to be quite the cracking transformation for both building, students and public alike. Much. Excitement.

Ten thoughts on live-tweeting and live-streaming concerts

I watched the RCM Symphony Orchestra concert last night on Medici. There’s a Twitter thread. A bit of a retro experience for me.

I remember in 2008/9 when people were experimenting with different ways to integrate social media with a live experience. At that point social media pioneers tried transposing the Question Time (#BBCQT) experience onto concerts.

It didn’t go down well, partly because it was implemented by people who didn’t especially care about the content. They were also people who started from the position that detail, knowledge and expertise risked alienating potential new audiences. It’s only now I realise the likely reason for that depressing stance was a defensive one on their part.

Live-tweeting (that’s what it is) is a difficult thing to pull-off. I’m not entirely sure whether I manage it especially well. My live-tweeting often descends into a near-stream of consciousness. Who the hell wants to read that? Who indeed. But in some ways it’s real-time note-taking – the documenting of attentive listening. That’s quite useful for me. I’m a hoarder, and a diarist, and a serial note-taker. Go figure.

Last night revealed some surprising insights for me about watching a live-streamed concert.

1. Watching live is a powerful communal experience – the connection between audience and performers in that communal experience creates something deliciously real.

2. Staying with a live broadcast is addictive – I originally planned on watching the Mozart Piano Concerto; I stayed for the entire concert.

3. No presenters makes it easier for audiences to engage with the broadcast. An unmediated event limits the perspective and helps the audience member focus on the primary purpose of the event – the performance.

4. Performers on stage tell stories – last night’s RCM concert was about seeing smiles, experiencing jeopardy and, eventually, fatigue and relief. That made it an authentic story. I felt more connected with the performers experience of the Alpine Symphony at the end because I could see the experience they were having, than I have watching a professional orchestral rattling off familiar repertory.

5. In contrast, television broadcasts a construct of a classical music performance. The grammar and lexicon of that construct is outdated. Unmediated, live streams aren’t creating television out of a classical music event; they’re just pointing a camera (or series of cameras) at it.

6. It was refreshing not seeing the conductor as the focus of the story. That was a consequence of the live-stream itself which I suspect is geared towards the musician – an opportunity for them to reflect on their own playing.

7. Seeing concerts in smaller settings normalises the concert experience. Grand interiors give an intimidating air.

8. The simple interval feature providing musicological insights about Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 (the autograph manuscript is owned by the Royal College) delighted me no end.

9. Tweeting during the live stream didn’t distract me from the performance. Some will disagree. I’d argue that the reason it didn’t feel like a distraction was because I was listening attentively, capturing thoughts as I went along. That says to me that I was engaged.

10. I want to watch a live concert every Friday night. Or every Saturday night. As much as I love the intensity of the Proms every summer with a concert every single day, the opportunity to have a live communal experience every week feels more valuable to me. We could do a lot to increase the visibility of this artform if it appeared regularly and on high-profile platforms. If for example Netflix have as much money to splash around on homegrown drama, one wonders whether they might spare a little for a live concert series.

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Medici TV to stream Royal College of Music concerts and masterclasses

C’mon Bernard, give us a smile. After all, the Royal College of Music is teaming up with to live stream at the conservatoire’s campus in London’s South Kensington.

This represents another major step towards a new era for UK conservatoires – something I’ve noticed over the past twelve months – who are feeling the pressure to project their brands further than UK borders.

With more than 300,000 subscribers across 182 countries, is the largest online platform broadcasting classical music to audiences around the world. The RCM is the first UK conservatoire to partner with

To launch the partnership on 2 February 2018, a concert conducted by Bernard Haitink (pictured above) will be streamed live (and free) to audiences around the world at 7.30pm GMT. The concert features the RCM Symphony Orchestra and BBC Young Musician Martin James Barlett and includes Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor.

There will also be an archive of masterclasses made available on a dedicated RCM page on, viewers can also watch an impressive array of past masterclasses. Peachy.

It’s mildly disappointing that still don’t have a connected TV app. At the moment I need to either purchase Apple TV or risk sync issues as cast the video via Chromecast. I’ve tried accessing Medici via the TV/Blu-Ray browser and its OK. But as soon as there’s a connected TV I can install like the Berlin Phil’s Digital Concert Hall, I’ll be signing up.

Even so, this is a great development. One step closer. It’s also good to see that the live streams (including some videos in 4K I see) will also be available via the RCM’s YouTube Channel and via

The Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra will be streamed live for free on Medici.TV and YouTube from 7.30pm GMT on Friday 2 February. The programme includes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.24 in C Minor played by Martin James Bartlett.

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Royal College of Music events September – December 2017

UK conservatoires have always offered public access to student concerts and recitals.

They just haven’t been advertised anywhere near enough.

What used to be the domain of proud parents and talent scouts, is now a destination for those with an appetite for seeing what’s coming next in the classical music world.

And it’s something the conservatoires need to do as well. Public access raises the profile of the education establishment.

At the same time this event transforming the education experience, providing training musicians with performance experiences that form a crucial part of their studies.

It’s also a great opportunity for those of us with fond memories from further education to indulge ourselves without the burden of fees, deadlines, or rigorous practice regimes.

This is what’s on offer:

  • Vladimir Ashkenazy & RCM Orchestra
  • RCMO also playing as part of Philharmonia’s Voices of Revolution season at the Festival Hall.
  • Masterclasses from Vengerov, Barry Douglas, Sir Thomas Allend, Gerald Finley, Alina Ibragimova
  • Chamber Orchestra of Europe principles join RCM Orchestra to play Schumann’s Second Symphony
  • International Opera School production of Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen
  • International Double Bass Festival

It’s the public masterclasses that grab my attention. Watching professionals listen, coach, and develop eager performers is an unusual but rewarding experience. It gets you closer to the mechanics, throwing light on the mastery of an artist – student or teacher.

Very much looking forward the RCM’s season getting underway in September.

The RCM Events brochure is available online. Booking opens on 16th August via the RCM London website.

Royal College of Music makes three bursaries available for applicants from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds

Earlier this week the Royal College of Music announced a new fund for three UK students from ethnic minority backgrounds applying for the BMus course at the RCM beginning in 2018/19.  UK black and minority ethnic (BAME) musicians are sorely under-represented across the performing arts – that’s one of the reasons Chi-Chi Nwaoku’s marvellous Chineke Orchestra is such a powerful and necessary force at the moment. 

The RCM’s scholarships are welcome, and perhaps even long overdue. The size of the bursaries also indicates what the blocks are to BAME applicants – cost. Deputy Director of the Royal College of Music Kevin Porter’s quote bears that out: 

‘The RCM is a diverse and welcoming community representing some 60 different nationalitites. We are proud of the RCM’s diversity and these scholarships for BAME students continue our commitment and are central to the RCM’s ongoing strategy.’

But the commitment goes further than representation. Isn’t it also about supporting the under-privileged? And if it is, doesn’t that point to a bigger problem further down the ‘supply chain’ for higher education establishments? 


Applications (via UCAS Conservatoires) open on 19 July. The deadline for the BMus course starting in 2018/19 is 2 October.

The UK’s first BME orchestra Chineke! appears in a Late Night BBC Prom on Wednesday 30 August 2017