Stephen Sondheim receives Honorary Membership

01 Apr 2019

Acclaimed composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has been made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in recognition of his outstanding services to music.

Honorary Membership was presented to Stephen Sondheim on Friday 29 March 2019 onstage at the National Theatre, on the set of his musical Follies, by Dame Felicity Lott and RPS Chief Executive James Murphy. The presentation was introduced by Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, and Dominic Cooke, director of Follies, in the presence of the cast and company. A Life Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society, Dame Felicity is internationally renowned for her achievements in opera and song, and is currently playing the role of Heidi in the revival of Follies.

Honorary Membership was first granted to Carl Maria von Weber in 1826, and subsequently to an array of celebrated composers, conductors, performers, commentators, patrons, programmers, publishers and educationalists. Among its recipients are Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms, Dvorak, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Richard Strauss, Ravel, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Copland, Menuhin, Boulez and more recently Dame Evelyn Glennie, Marin Alsop, Stephen Hough and Sir George Benjamin.

Sondheim is known and loved worldwide for his extraordinary body of work, from his landmark collaboration with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story to his own remarkable repertory including Sweeney Todd, Follies, Company, Into The Woods, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

John Gilhooly OBE, Chair of the Royal Philharmonic Society
, says:

‘Stephen Sondheim’s work is transcendent. In its musical sophistication and depth of thought, it has inspired audiences internationally, and generations of professional and amateur performers alike. The musicians who founded the RPS in 1813 set out with the conviction that music can touch and enhance everyone’s lives. This is evident in the millions today who have their own favourite Sondheim song and favourite Sondheim lyric, cherished as if the composer were speaking to them personally. His music only grows in resonance, as seen by the immensely successful London revivals of Follies and Company, and it is sure to resound for many, many years to come.’

Annually, the Society welcomes nominations for one of its highest accolades, Honorary Membership, from its members and colleagues across the music profession, and recipients are decided upon by a distinguished panel comprising members of RPS Board of Trustees and Council. A full list of those who have received Honorary Membership can be found here.


Cathy Graham, Director of Music, British Council: That classical music has a vibrant future is very important to me. Supporting the RPS allows me to play a small part in ensuring this.


In 1824 the Philharmonic Society paid Beethoven 50 pounds to commission his 9th Symphony.