A week with Royal Philharmonic Society chief executive James Murphy

We spent a week with new Royal Philharmonic Society chief executive James Murphy, as he prepared for the RPS Awards.


I wake with a cold – almost the last thing you need the week you’re running the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards. But as I’m always inclined to say working in classical music, ‘that’s showbiz!’. Armed with fistfuls of cough lozenges, I set off to the office, where the principal task of the day is getting the awards script ship-shape. In this I’m blessed to get some time with Edward Blakeman, one of our dedicated trustees, and head of music programming and policy for BBC Radio 3, which is broadcasting the awards. After a couple of hours, the script is lighter and limber on its feet. Reading through it, I’m excited again at the prospect of sharing who’s won with the world: secrets we’ve been keeping quiet since the panel meetings in the summer.

Back at my desk, I’m pleased to find that a filmed acceptance speech from a megastar who can’t make it has finally arrived in my inbox, and there’s a sense we might just complete this epic jigsaw puzzle of an event by the time it’s set to unfold on Thursday.


This morning, our general manager Robin and I clear our vast meeting table and set about writing the names of all the VIPs who need a reserved seat on post-it notes. Then comes the fun of deciding who sits where. Well, its fun for the first hour. But with just two days to go, we keep hearing that such-and-such can’t come any more or so-and-so needs another ticket. Then, like a domino rally, you find you have to move half the guests as a result. Still, all the scribbled names are a reminder of the many fantastic people attending, all of whom believe in the worth of the RPS Awards – celebrating all that is outstanding and inspirational in classical music.

Chineke! Orchestra © Mark Allan
Chineke! Orchestra © Mark Allan


With Robin and YeYe, our assistant administrator, it’s time for another blitz through the schedule which has become a military operation in its infinitesimal detail. However, the more we plan ahead, the less we have to fret when we get on site. Mid-afternoon, the trophies arrive, which is such a kick, but not without the mildest sweat too as we treble-check that all the winners’ names have been engraved accurately. I’ve still not kicked the cold into touch so need to get home to bed, but not before a regulation pre-awards haircut.


Here we go! An amazing day that is hard to put into words – in retrospect, I wish we’d done some time-lapse photography…it would be great to see the elegant shell of Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall slowly come alive with all the components of the RPS Awards.

There’s a fun moment when we realise our seating plan accounted for 20 seats per row, not 25, so it’s back to the drawing board with that. But thanks to the military schedule, everything else is proceeding like a dream. We’re blessed by BBC Radio 3 presenters Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Andrew McGregor, who rock up for their rehearsal and bring such verve to the script we’ve penned. Equally enlivening are the fresh projections that creative wizard Matt Belcher has made for the presentation.

Suddenly we’re ahead of schedule but, keeping us on our toes, we hear that the Castalian String Quartet – nominated for the Young Artists Award and set to perform some Haydn – are running late for their soundcheck as their flight from Seville was delayed. That’s showbiz! Finally, it’s showtime and we can’t get 400 guests into the building fast enough. Still, there’s a lot of goodwill among attendees. I’m reminded of the many great people who give their lives to classical music, and how hard work is always balanced by the joy of working alongside them.

As the presentation ensues, there are gasps and whoops, and real surprise from recipients who simply didn’t think they’d win. There are too many moments to savour but when composer Sofia Gubaidulina receives the RPS Gold Medal from former winner Dame Janet Baker, we all recognise we’re in the company of true icons.

BSO Resound © Mark Allan
BSO Resound © Mark Allan


It’s a slow start. I head to the venue to pick up our gear then collide with colleagues at the office. Sleepy and delirious, we sit on the floor and marvel over what just happened. The inbox is full of lovely sentiments, reminding us that all the hard work was worth it. Already ideas are popping and fizzing for next year, but we’ll permit ourselves a brief break first.

The RPS Awards took place on 28 November. You can read our article on the winners here.