Birthday Honours Hat Trick for Scots Musicians

Three prominent classical musicians with direct Scottish associations feature in the latest Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Edinburgh-born conductor Donald Runnicles has received a knighthood, composer Sally Beamish an OBE, and Royal Scottish National Orchestra timpanist Paul Philbert an MBE, all for services to music.

Many will argue that, at 65, Runnicles’ knighthood is long overdue. But as current general music director of Deutsche Oper Berlin (since 2009) and having held previous posts as music director of the Grand Teton Music Festival, San Francisco Opera and principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (2009-16), his home and career have centred mostly in continental Europe and the USA. Runnicles’ “repatriation” as a conductor in the UK began in 2001 with Sir Brian McMaster’s invitations to appear at the Edinburgh International Festival and his subsequent leadership of the SSO, with which he maintains an association as conductor emeritus.

Sally Beamish moved to Scotland over 30 years ago to become principal viola of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but soon turned exclusively to composition. Her music, distinguished by its poetic warmth and textural definition, and ranging from large-scale opera (Monster for Scottish Opera) to instrumental miniatures, has been performed and recorded extensively around the world. Her output includes over 20 concertos written for some of the world’s leading soloists. Beamish recently moved to Brighton where she lives with playwright husband Peter Thomson.

Commenting on the news, she said: “It means a great deal to me that creativity, and the role of the creator in society, have been recognised as important to all of us, and vital to the wellbeing of a healthy society.”

Paul Philbert, charismatic timpanist of the RSNO, receives his MBE in recognition of a colourful international playing career, but especially for his involvement in championing inclusive music education. He was a founding member of the Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first majority black, Asian and ethnically diverse ensemble, whose artistic and executive director Chi-chi Nwanoku said in response to the news: “Paul’s exceptional musicianship and peerless standards are an inspiration and shining beacon to all who work with him”.