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Royal College of Music Museum opens as a new interactive experience

The Royal College of Music Museum offers a mix of exhibition and learning spaces

The Royal College of Music Museum opened this week and is part of the college’s £40m four-year campus transformation project.

Since 2017, the College’s iconic Grade II listed South Kensington home – with neighbours on the nearby Exhibition Road including the V&A, Science Museum and Natural History Museum –  has nearly doubled in capacity, with the museum including new exhibition and performance spaces, a triple height atrium and a new café.

The Royal College of Music Museum received a £3.6million investment from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2015 and the redevelopment has included its old building being demolished and a new museum built in its place.

Interactive experience

Founded in 1882, the Royal College of Music (RCM) is a world leading music conservatoire and the new museum offers visitors an interactive experience with regular performances by RCM musicians and the opportunity to create music in its new Weston Discovery Centre.

“The Royal College of Music Museum is a wonderful addition to London’s cultural scene and it will not be a quiet, stuffy place but a space filled with music,” said Professor Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Curator of the Royal College of Music Museum and Professor of Material Culture and Music. “As well as visitors, I am excited to offer our students the unique experience of having such a rich collection on-site, as well as conservation work and historical performances, to complement their education.”

500 years of musical history

Made from incredibly rare and expensive materials, only the wealthiest clients could afford an opulent guitar like the one on the right attributed to the maker René Voboam. Photograph by Phil Rowley

Visitors have the unique opportunity to interact with more than 500 years of musical history. Items on permanent display include the world’s oldest guitar and earliest keyboard instrument with strings, along with 56 other fascinating instruments specially chosen from the Royal College of Music’s designated collection of over 15,000 items to bring musical history to life.

The new Royal College of Music Museum brings public access to the heart of the historic institution through three key areas – Music is Creation, Music is Craft and Music is Performance – each exploring phases of the creative process from the birth of a new idea, its realisation through craftsmanship, to performance.

Digitisation centre and digital offer

Prof Rossi Rognoni said the original instruments are played occasionally but cannot be played too often so the museum has created a dedicated digitisation centre to enable digital technology to enhance the learning and visitor experience.

The Museum collection is publicly available in several free specially curated digital exhibitions that explore the core collection and spotlight particular items, composers and themes represented strongly in the Museum.

Also available online is the RCM Library’s extensive collection; together, the Royal College of Music’s Museum and Library collections were awarded prestigious designated status by Arts Council England in recognition of their outstanding cultural significance.

Story through art

The Museum is also able to tell its story through art, including an iconic portrait of Farinelli and a Tischbein featuring an instrument from the collection displayed alongside.

A series of portraits by celebrated German artist Milein Cosman will be on display to the public for the first time in the Lavery Gallery, featuring intimate sketches of RCM alumni Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst and Amaryllis Fleming, alongside many other composers and musicians.

The Royal College of Music Museum will also host a programme of temporary exhibition where visitors can learn how art and music came together with the first Musical Portraits in Bohemian London (1870-1930).

In Bohemeian London, Kensington was home to a lively social circle of famous artists and musicians and through their friendships they inspired each other in new, creative ways. Artists such as Birmingham’s Edward Burne-Jones and Florence-born American John Singer Sargent painted portraits and designed posters of musicians including Jan Paderewski and George Henschel.

Equally, composers who were exposed to the Pre-Raphaelite movement were inspired to write new music and many performed in artists’ studios.

Education and learning spaces

Royal College of Music students rehearse for a concert in the new museum

The Royal College of Music Museum provides unparalleled insights into music history for the public and is also an important additional learning space for RCM students. Musicians studying at the renowned institution will have access to the instruments and resident experts, complimenting their research and study with first-hand experience. The new Wolfson Centre in Music & Material Culture will house more of the Museum’s collection and facilitate on-site conservation work.

Students will be able to volunteer for museum-led educational activities aimed at primary, secondary and home-educated children.

The temporary exhibition will run until 8 January 2022. Admission to the museum is free but a ticketing system is in operation and tickets can be booked on the website.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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