In late September this year I was delighted to perform a ‘Concert of Memories’ in honour of the late Roderick Lakin MBE, former director of Royal Over-Seas League Arts. I am honoured and privileged to have known Roderick since my years as student participating in the annual music competition, and I was always inspired and humbled by his devotion to the Arts, especially music. He was incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and, most importantly, curious. His passion for music allowed him to be sensitive, emotional and excited about music and musicians.

My wonderful friend and colleague, pianist Simon Lepper, and I offered a programme that made little stopping points at various musical memories and important periods in our own partnership, which has been developing for 19 years, since we met as students at the Royal Academy of Music. And although we have both encountered special relationships with many supportive colleagues and organisations over that time, our relationship with ROSL remains one of the most significant and constant. We both credit the influence of Roderick Lakin for that.

On this special evening, we performed some early Debussy songs that were also on our programme in the final round of the vocal competition way back in 1998; I can’t sing these songs without thinking of ROSL and of Roderick. I remember that the concert hall was rather shabby back then, and that our performance platform was a scruffy black staging box which felt rather makeshift. Since then, the hall has become a beautiful, world class venue – perhaps it’s a symbol of the influence and relevance ROSL ARTS has achieved in the cultural community not just of the UK, but around the Commonwealth.

We also offered a set of Strauss Lieder which has a link to Roderick; when we were preparing to record our Strauss recital disc, we found it natural to turn to him for support and advice.  He didn’t hesitate to fit us into his busy schedule, and he spent an entire afternoon hearing our programme, making comments not just on the music, but on the overall presentation of our CD – track order, themes, and other useful bits of advice that we might not have thought of ourselves. When the disc was released, he offered us the hall to perform a launch recital, and a couple of years later, when I developed both our Debussy and Strauss programmes into larger, more ambitious theatre pieces, he incorporated them into the Edinburgh Fringe series.  Roderick was a dependable ear, a realistic giver of advice, and a true ally to so many musicians just like us, seeking audiences and opportunities to continue doing what we love to do.

The other items on our recital were representative of Roderick’s penchant for imaginative programming, and the pleasure he derived from seeking out unusual repertoire combinations. Alongside more traditional songs of Schubert and Mozart, there was Barber, Liszt and Rachmaninov, which also represents the development and growth in my own repertoire over the years.

But the most special element of the evening was the presence and support of so many friends (old and new), teachers, mentors, and esteemed ROSL members and directors.  Most humbling was to have Roderick’s wife Margaret to share the experience with us. Earlier that day she had been working through the final details for a new scholarship she is establishing in Roderick’s memory.

Whilst striving ever-forward towards new and worthy goals, broadening ROSL’s spectrum and widening the ROSL family circle, there is great respect for those who have made ROSL a unique institution over its history. This dignified and touching memorial, full of music, poetry and fellowship, was a humbling and uplifting evening which reminded us all of the continuous need to offer opportunities to young artists and students, and the importance arts and culture plays in linking societies and communities.

Simon Lepper and I are grateful to the new Director of ROSL ARTS, Geoff Parkin, and his team for organising the event. Geoff is doing a brilliant job in carrying the Arts programme forward, whilst putting his own stamp on the projects he is developing. I am enormously excited to see how ROSL will flourish over the coming years, and I hope there will be many more opportunities to celebrate the past alongside the bright future!


Read more from Gillian here.

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