This year's winning and commended entries draw inspiration from the likes of Holst, Mozart, Radiohead, Florence Foster Jenkins, English National Opera and Errollyn Wallen.

Meet the RPS Young Classical Writers 2023

30 Aug 2023

We are pleased to announce this year’s winners of our prize that encourages young people to write about classical music.

Music doesn’t always need words to cast its magic. But often someone sharing their perspective and insights of a piece can lower the drawbridge, welcoming us in and lighting the way.

We recently introduced the RPS Young Classical Writers Prize to inspire more young people to pick up a pen and think about how words of their own might entice more people to embrace classical music. The Prize is made possible thanks to a kind gift left to the RPS in the Will of classical music writer Gerald Larner. He wrote extensively for The Times and The Guardian and produced one of the definitive biographies of the composer Ravel.

Gerald would surely have been impressed by the quality and range of applications received this year, from entrants across the UK aged 16 to 25. This year’s guest panellists are writer and historian Leah Broad whose book Quartet vividly accounting four female composers has been published to great acclaim by Faber, and Donald McLeod, the much-loved BBC Radio 3 presenter who this year celebrates 80 years of Composer of the Week which he has hosted since 1999. Faced with a remarkable array of entries, Leah and Donald have chosen not just three winners, but three further specially-commended entries that they urge you to read. You can click the links below to read all six.

We applaud everyone who entered and encourage them all to keep writing: their spirited insights are proof positive that young people today have lots of fresh passionate views on classical music and all the good it does for society.

The winning entries this year are:

First prize: Oliver Picken
20-year-old Oliver, an undergraduate studying Music at Southampton, receives £500 and the opportunity to write for a major classical music organization later this year, for his ardent account of where classical music meets brass bands, and the historic part that composer Gustav Holst played in this, with his A Moorside Suite.

Second prize: Holly Bacon
16-year-old Holly is a sixth-former from Berkshire who plays the harp. She receives a prize of £250 for her story of how the composer Olivier Messiaen (and the band Radiohead) totally turned around her teenage ambivalence towards classical music. We encourage everyone Holly’s age to read her inspiring words.

Third prize: Jonty Watt
22-year-old composer Jonty, currently studying for his Masters in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, receives £100 for enchanting us all with his refreshing, fun and persuasive tribute to an unlikely icon: the notorious amateur soprano Florence Foster Jenkins.

In addition, the specially-commended entrants are:

Abhisri Chaudhuri
23-year pianist Abhisri, currently studying for a Masters at the Royal College of Music, writes about music’s power to stop our daily rituals in their tracks, in particular her recent discovery of composer Errollyn Wallen’s jazz-fuelled Piano Concerto.

Emily Dore
24-year-old graduate bassoonist Emily movingly reflects on the challenge she’s experienced pursuing a career in performance, and how a chance re-connection with a Mozart favourite led her to reflect on music’s greater resonance.

Francesca Hamilton
22-year-old Oxford choral scholar Francesca writes from the heart about the funding challenges that have struck classical music so hard this year, in particular the English National Opera and what makes the company so vital in her eyes.

If you’re a young person with a passion for classical music, you may like to enter when we re-open applications in 2024. This year’s terms remain on our website here to give you a flavour of what’s required. Follow our social media @RoyalPhilSoc for further details and keep writing about the music you love.

Without Gerald Larner’s gesture, we would not be able to present the RPS Young Classical Writers Prize. If, like Gerald, you may like to do something that fosters future engagement with classical music, and – if you wish – allies your name to it, we would be so pleased to talk further. You can read more about this prospect here on our website. Thank you.