Sir Ralph Kohn, 1927–2016

-Posted on 14.11.2016

Generations of Academy alumni, students and staff were saddened to hear that Sir Ralph Kohn died on Friday 11th November 2016, at the age of 88.

For over a decade Sir Ralph was central to many aspects of Academy life, with a very particular and committed emphasis on the music of JS Bach – the composer who worked for so many years in Leipzig, where Sir Ralph was born in December 1927.

Sir Ralph was a successful scientist and businessman who had worked as a post-doctoral researcher in New York and with Nobel Prize winners in Rome. He was at least as passionate about music. As a baritone he performed at Wigmore Hall and recorded sixteen discs. He was a knowledgable and dedicated listener. As a committed benefactor to the Academy, he and his Kohn Foundation supported the long-running Bach Cantata series and the annual Bach Prize. Sir Ralph always remembered that he and his family had fled to Britain in 1940 with only the clothes they were wearing, and he generously funded scholarships for many of the most talented singers who have studied here over the past decade – and who would have been able to study without his help.

Sir Ralph’s scientific business and philanthropy were celebrated widely. He was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1990, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society. Ralph was also knighted for ‘services to science, music and charity’ in 2010 and in recent years awarded a University of London Honorary Doctorate by the Royal Academy of Music, the Medal of Honour of the City of Leipzig and the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Masaaki Suzuki, a former winner of the Bach Prize, tweeted: ‘Deeply grateful for everything you've done to Bach's Music! We miss you in this world, but please rest in peace’. Academy students past and present also took to Twitter to express their feelings: ‘Deep gratitude to Sir Ralph Kohn for enabling/supporting all he did, condolences to his nearest and dearest’ (@eve_daniell); ‘So sad to hear of Sir Ralph Kohn's passing. His support of @RoyalAcadMusic through the Bach Cantatas will be part of a wonderful legacy’ (@nickmogg); ‘Kind man + driving force of the RAM Bach Cantata project. Would always chat to you at concerts. Wish he could have seen its completion.’ (@_Cloudius_); ‘Very sad to hear Sir Ralph Kohn has passed away, immensely grateful for the support he gave us @RoyalAcadMusic He'll be sorely missed RIP’ (@LauraRickard7); ‘Very sad to hear about passing of Sir Ralph Kohn – a dedicated patron of music, @RoyalAcadMusic past & present will proudly remember him’ (@BozSmiljanic).

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal, said: ‘I cannot really imagine the world without Ralph. He was such a good friend to us all, and a wonderful, big-hearted, fresh-thinking and life-loving man. His Bach legacy here is very significant and it resonates in every part of the building and beyond. I know that he would want us to take forward his inspiration, and we will do that. I want to offer our collective love to Ralph’s remarkable family at a time of great sadness and to thank them, as well as Sir Ralph, for their part in the great link between the Kohn Foundation and the Royal Academy of Music. The Christmas Cantata concert on December 4th will be dedicated to Ralph’s memory.’

Photograph, left to right: Sir Ralph Kohn, Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, John Suchet.

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