Respected composer becomes first female Master of the Queen’s Music.
Buckingham Palace has announced that the composer Judith Weir CBE will become the new Master of the Queen’s Music when the 80-year-old Sir Peter Maxwell Davies steps down next week after 10 years in the job. The appointment confirms speculation in the press over the last month that the monarch would choose a woman to fill the role for the first time in the over 388-year history of the post.
Weir, now aged 60, takes the job for a fixed term of 10 years. She says that she will use the roughly $25,000 stipend to tour the country taking the temperature of the nation’s music-making and encouraging education projects.
“It is a great honour to take up the position of Master of the Queen’s Music, in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who has given his musical and personal gifts so freely to this unusual national role,” Weir said in a statement. “I hope to encourage everyone in the UK who sings, plays or writes music, and to hear as many of them as possible in action over the next 10 years.”
Born in Cambridge to Scottish parents, Weir studied initially with Sir John Tavener. Her musical style is spare yet approachable and although she composes in all idioms she is probably best known for her operas A Night at the Chinese Opera (1987), The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990) and Blond Eckbert (1994).
Speaking to Tom Service for The Guardian, Weir was typically modest: “The palace asked a lot of people who it should be, and I said Jonathan Dove would be the best person, but they took no notice of me and a few weeks ago they told me they had had the most suggestions that it ought to be me – so well done.”
She also had a few radical ideas to offer like encouraging fellow composers to write in a more accessible style and allowing for opting out when necessary. “Listening is also a skill, and I intend to uphold our rights to quietness and even silence, where appropriate,” she told the BBC. “Above all, our children deserve the best we can give them, and that includes access to live music, whether as learners, performers or listeners.”
Asked for her views on joining the ‘Establishment’ and the future of the monarchy Weir was slightly evasive. “Britain isn’t in any state at the moment to become a republic,” she said. “And for me, the Queen is a fantastic 88-year-old woman of incredible energy. I just have great admiration for her and it is an honour to do something in her name. And as for ‘the establishment’ – well, who is the establishment now? Sir Mick Jagger?”