American soprano Jessye Norman receives the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in the year she celebrates 50 years in the music profession.
Jessye Norman becomes the 105th recipient since the medal was founded in 1870, in celebration of the centenary of the birth of Beethoven. The medal has a special resonance, given by musicians as a mark of admiration and esteem to a fellow musician of exceptional artistry and profound musical understanding.
Jessye Norman was presented with the RPS Gold Medal in New York by Sir Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall. In awarding the Gold Medal the Royal Philharmonic Society said:
"Jessye Norman is a towering artist: an icon in the operatic world who has raised the bar of the possibilities of the human voice. Her rich lyric voice - distinctive, sumptuous, spine-tingling, joyful and passionate - and her sheer versatility set her in a category of her own. Born into a close-knit family, she emerged from the challenges of her African-American roots in Georgia in the deep south making her mark across Europe, resulting in triumphs at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Covent Garden and La Scala in the 1970s, before earning worldwide acclaim.
She is also an artist with a social conscience, believing that “if you’re participating in life and politics, it makes you a fuller person and a fuller artist”. She speaks out publicly to deplore casual racism and to defend civil rights. In 2003 she helped create and fund a free performing arts after-school programme for economically disadvantaged students in Augusta, Georgia; while in 2009 she directed a major festival for New York's Carnegie Hall saluting African-American culture. The RPS is proud to honour her and to celebrate her extraordinary 50 years in the music profession."
Accepting the Award she commented:
"Music education is an essential part of the nourishment that we should offer our children. Educators tell us that regardless of their socio-economic [background], a student whose education includes a study in the arts performs better in all other studies having learnt through the experience of making something, whether a painting, a song, conquering the C-sharp scale on the piano; that practice and repetition makes for a better outcome ... They find within themselves that voice that might otherwise remain unheard. They listen to their own inner voices and we hope that this makes it easier for them to hear the voices around them with more ease, tolerance, understanding, acceptance, making for fuller, more responsible citizens."
Jessye Norman joins an outstanding international list of RPS Gold Medallists – an extraordinary roll call of some of the world’s most influential musicians, from across three centuries. Current Gold Medallists include singers Dame Janet Baker, Placido Domingo, Thomas Quasthoff and Sir John Tomlinson.
Paul Hughes, General Manager, BBC Symphony Orchestra: Since 1979 when I won the RPS composition prize this amazing organisation has been part of my life, placing music at the heart of modern life.
DID YOU KNOW?
In early Philharmonic Society concerts, players often rotated within their orchestral section, reflecting the orchestra's wealth of performing talent as well as its democratic ethos: no ‘distinction of rank’.