Nigel Brotherton

Nigel Brotherton

Having worked for John Lewis for more than 20 years, Nigel Brotherton now advises the John Lewis Chairman on the administration of the company’s donations to various musical causes.

Here he explains that process and why John Lewis is keen to support scholarships and RCM Sparks at the College.

How long has John Lewis supported the arts?

Well it’s actually a long-standing initiative. John Lewis began as a small haberdashers shop on Oxford Street back in 1864. John Lewis’ son, Spedan, took over the business after his father’s death and made a number of changes in the 1920s including selling the business to a trust, the beneficiaries of which are the employees.

Anyway, the reason this is important is that Spedan Lewis had two strong personal interests – the natural sciences and music. In the 1930s he was good friends with John Christie and was even involved in the setting up of Glyndebourne (at the time everyone thought they were crazy – why would you want to set up an opera house in the countryside? Nobody will go!). So really right from that time natural sciences and music has by tradition remained very important to John Lewis, and also under the responsibility of the Chairman. My job is to administer the musical donations on his behalf.

It must be hard deciding which organisations to support?

Interestingly it’s one of the best kept secrets – we don’t get approached that much. We have a clear structure of what we want to support. We try to identify areas that are really worth supporting and then go and find somebody who can fill that need or could do with more support.

So what criteria do you use?

Essentially the criteria are youth and music, but there is also a local element which is not specific to young people and that is administered through local branches. I generally deal with organisations that have a regional or national impact.

Why support the RCM?

Well we’ve been supporting the RCM for many years. I think it goes as far back as 1997.

Supporters are always interested in different initiatives. The RCM scholarship programme really appealed to us as we believe our relatively modest amount of donations have a strong impact on the music community. We like supporting minority orchestral instruments (which I have to say can also come in handy for helping out at own orchestral concerts!). I always really enjoy coming to concerts too and meeting our award holders afterwards. I also hope that the scholars get to know each other through us.

I don’t think any of our previous scholars have gone on to become ‘superstars’ but that’s not really what we’re interested in. What is important to us is to support and encourage a vibrant musical community of orchestral players, teachers and portfolio musicians.

Why were you interested in supporting RCM Sparks?

Well primary-level music is one of four key areas we’re interested in supporting. We’re very keen to support organisations that bring music to young people who would not otherwise have access to it.

For the first time this year we’re supporting the work RCM Sparks do in terms of teaching students about education and outreach work. They may be fantastic musicians, but not necessarily know what to do when faced with a class full of children – how do you control them, how do you get musical ideas across to them? We really believe it’s important to make sure there’s money available to train students to carry out outreach work effectively.

Are there any benefits to John Lewis?

It’s very much part of our philosophy that donations are not just about money. It’s about building long-term relationships – and there are lots of things that we do together. Our Musical Director, Manvinder Rattan takes on an intern each term to help with our Music Society which offers practical hands on experience. Coincidentally, the last two have been the RCM’s Student Associations’ President.

College students come and play in our shops, often at Christmas time – I remember spotting one of our award holders playing in a quartet in Peter Jones a few years ago. We also run a series of concerts after work inside our offices and often invite College students to play, as well as some of our own musicians, and these always go down very well.

Do you get the chance to come to many concerts at the RCM?

Yes! I love coming to operas and there are usually one or two award holders playing in the orchestra too. It’s interesting to talk to them and hear how different it is playing in a pit – particularly for brass instruments. They’re so deep underneath the stage that the atmosphere is quite dry and it can be difficult to hear. The one that really stood out for me was Orpheus and the Underworld – what an amazing production!

I also really enjoyed the recent concerts conducted by Haitink. He is, to my mind, one of the finest conductors today. I remember talking to one of our award holders, Anna Blackmur, after the concert. She said how much she learnt from him – and that she wasn’t going to wash her hand for a week after shaking his!

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Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BS. Tel: +44(0)20 7591 4300 Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BS.
Tel: +44(0)20 7591 4300
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