Royal Academy’s Iain Ledingham awarded 2017 Bach Prize

-Posted on 01.03.2017

This year’s Bach Prize for outstanding contribution to the study and performance of Bach has been awarded to Iain Ledingham, vocal coach and conductor at the Royal Academy, and the regular director of the Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Bach Cantata Series since its inception in 2009. Previous winners of the prize, worth £10,000 and sponsored by the Kohn Foundation, include Sir András Schiff, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Murray Perahia, Masaaki Suzuki and Ton Koopman. 

Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music and co-chair of the prize panel, said of the award: ‘There can’t be a more fitting winner of this prestigious prize than Iain, who has immersed himself in these wonderful works for the last decade, and trained and inspired hundreds of students, delivering extraordinarily high-level Bach performances in an evolving and infectious ‘house style’. Musicianliness is the hardest thing to define, and arguably, no composer other than Bach asks as many questions about its meaning as Bach – but the word always springs to our lips when we speak of Iain Ledingham.’

Ledingham was Organ Scholar at Queens’ College, Cambridge, from 1973 to 1976, and subsequently studied piano, harpsichord and conducting at the Academy. He worked extensively as a pianist and repetiteur, and was a frequent visitor to BBC Radio 3 as accompanist to many singers and instrumentalists. In 1981 he joined Glyndebourne Festival Opera, playing harpsichord continuo, and in 1983 founded the Amersham Festival of Music. As harpsichordist continuo player and choir trainer he has worked with leading conductors including Sir Charles Mackerras, Trevor Pinnock, Sir Roger Norrington and Raymond Leppard.

He came to teach at the Academy in 1981 and in 1996 was elected a Fellow. From 2000 to 2003 he was Director of Opera, responsible for planning and overseeing the first two years of the Academy’s new opera course, Royal Academy Opera. During that time, he conducted performances of Falstaff and Le nozze di Figaro, as well as preparing students to work with distinguished guest conductors. In 2003 he returned to full-time work as a coach, pianist and conductor and in recent years has conducted performances for Royal Academy Opera of Haydn’s Il Mondo della Luna and Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera.

The Bach Cantatas Series is an ambitious and highly acclaimed project in which the world’s leading performers work alongside Academy students to present Bach’s complete secular and sacred cantatas. As Director since it began in 2009, Ledingham has taken the role that Bach himself fulfilled when the works were first performed. He said of the experience: ‘It’s been the most marvellous voyage of discovery. The immense privilege of being able to explore the repertoire systematically over the last eight years has been a real education: simply getting to know the music, learning how to work with the extreme demands Bach makes of his performers (my respect for Bach’s Weimar and Leipzig colleagues is fairly boundless by now!), and engaging with Bach’s imaginative response to the poetic and spiritual aspects of the texts.’

Read an interview with Iain Ledingham discussing his exploration of Bach through the Cantata Series, in conversation with Timothy Jones. 

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