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BBC Young Musician of the Year 2008 Grand Final Concert : Soloists, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thierry Fischer (conductor), Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 11. 5.2008 (GPu)

Jadran Duncumb (guitar)
David Smith (flute)
Peter Moore (trombone)
Jim Molyneux (percussion)
Erdem Misirlioğlu (piano)

Even those less than fully enthusiastic about competitions find it hard to be wholly negative about this one – the BBC Young Musician of the Year. It never seems to have the feeling of cutthroat competition or proto-professional jealousy; the youth of the competitors means that there’s nothing ‘definitive’ about things, no sense that careers are being made (though they are certainly being given a flying start) or broken. It usually feels more like a celebration of youthful music making of the very highest standard, rather than a matter of winners and losers. Mind you, the fifteen previous winners (2008 being the thirtieth anniversary of the biennial competition) contains some very impressive names, names that suggest that previous judges have had some pretty shrewd eyes and ears – they include, after all, clarinettist Emma Johnson, horn player David Pyatt, pianist Freddy Kempf, cellist Natalie Clein and violinist Nicola Benedetti, to name but a few. Of those who got to the final and didn’t ‘win’, one might mention the admirable Alison Balsam.

After several months of auditions and qualifying rounds, five winners, each from a different instrumental category, arrived in Cardiff for ‘The Grand Final Weekend’ held in the imposing surroundings of the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Each played a concerto on Saturday (10th May); then on the following day each played a part of that same concerto, plus another solo piece.

Other commitments meant that I was unable to be at the Concerto evening (which was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio Three). However I was able to watch/hear it online at the competition’s website ( I wouldn’t presume to make serious judgements on that basis, though it was obvious that the all-male group of finalists (the first time in the competition’s history that all the finalists have been male) were, one and all, both accomplished musicians and well able to handle the occasion. Eighteen year old Erdem Misirlioğlu’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini readily drew and held the attention, the soloist absorbed but never merely private, his pleasure and involvement vibrantly communicated, even down my Virgin Media cable. Peter Moore, a mere twelve, gave a remarkably mature performance of French composer Henri Tomasi’s Trombone Concerto, his beauty of tone impressive and the whole shot through with flair and unassuming musical intelligence. In Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Jadran Duncumb, another eighteen year old, seemed a guitarist of subtlety and inviting intimacy, while seventeen year old percussionist Jim Molyneux was an energetic soloist in Michael Torke’s Rapture, his energy always put to precise musical ends, and complemented by playing of considerable impact. Eighteen year old David Smith has a charismatic stage presence and his performance of Ibert’s Flute Concerto did considerable justice to a subtle piece, especially to the legato passages of the slow movement.

At the Sunday concert – it really did feel more like a celebratory concert than the final of a competition – such impressions were very largely confirmed. Indeed, I thought even better of all of the musicians hearing them live. In any case, several people who had been at both concerts, told me that most of the soloists seemed more relaxed on the Sunday, and that the standard of performance, in most cases, went up a notch further. The first half kicked off with Jadran Duncumb playing music by Leo Brouwer, the first movement of the Sonata for guitar, music of great intimacy, often very quiet, and a brave choice to start off a performance in a venue as large as the Millennium Centre. Duncumb’s utter conviction, his beautifully shaded dynamic control and his confident use of silence, made for a compelling, attention-grabbing opening. In Ian Clarke’s Zoom Tube David Smith had chosen a piece well-designed both to show off his technical dexterity and, I suspect, to reveal one, extrovert, side of his personality. With its percussive vocalisations, breath-filled passages, use of multiphonics and the like, Zoom Tube owes as much to Stockhausen and Berio as it does to Eric Dolphy and Ian Anderson. David Smith clearly relished it and all its effects, and persuaded one that it was all rather more than just a display of technical prowess. Percussionist Jim Molyneux played his own composition Midsummer Haze, on marimba. A calm, peaceful work, Midsummer Haze showed off the precision of his stickwork but, more importantly, his innate musicality, his capacity to create and sustain mood (as both composer and performer). In Midsummer Haze we saw a side of Molyneux inevitably largely absent from the ‘concerto’ by Torke. Erdem Misirlioğlu’s performance of ‘Aufschwung’, from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Opus 12, had plenty of radiant poetry in the middle section, and plenty of panache in the handling of the rich harmonies of the opening. Misirlioğlu’s performance manner seems relaxed and generous, complex music presented with an apparent effortlessness that is altogether unflashy. The precocious trombonist, Peter Moore, closed the first half with a moving, gorgeously lyrical reading of Sång till Lotta by Jan Sandström. Moore’s tone and the beauty of his phrasing was all the more impressive heard in the flesh.

The second half of the programme began with some rhapsodic playing from Erdem Misirlioğlu in an extract from Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody, full both of sparkling runs and some seductive slow passage-work, full of emotion but quite devoid of excessive sentimentality. Jadran Duncumb’s playing of an extract from the Rodrigo concerto didn’t perhaps have – by the very highest standards – the brightest Spanish sunshine that the music can exude – but it was a very assured and perceptive performance, none the less. Duncumb’s development should be well worth watching. The third movement of the concerto by Tomasi, as played by Peter Moore, mixed lyricism and vitality of rhythm in equal proportions; I once heard this concerto played several times in a brass competition. It was only now, in this performance, that I realised how good a piece of music it is, that it has the charm and power to appeal to audiences not primarily interested in matters of instrumental technique. David Smith’s performance of the andante from the concerto by Ibert confirmed my earlier online impression that this was the movement to which he could bring the greatest assurance and musical certainty. This was a sensitive reading, the music fully interiorised but played with a generous communicativeness. The second half closed with a movement from Torke’s Rapture, performed with incisiveness by Jim Molyneux, his interplay with the orchestra exemplary.

Indeed, all these young musicians seemed to have taken on board with remarkable speed and effectiveness the task of playing with a full, professional orchestra, doubtless a new experience for all of them. That there was so much successful musical interplay between soloists and orchestra (certainly in the Sunday performances) says much for their musicality and rapidly developing maturity – and, of course, for the supportive hard work of Thierry Fischer and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Some minor grumbles – well, fairly minor. Admirable as the BBC’s support of this competition is, it is sad that so little of the actual music gets on to TV nowadays. The week before the Grand Final brought a series of five programmes, one for each instrumental category, on the digital channel BBC 4. But these were essentially documentaries on the family background and education, and the personalities, of those competing in each category final. Only the briefest snatches of music were actually heard. The Concerto final was broadcast online (only). But not many of us have the facilities to really do justice to such an online presentation. I haven’t yet seen the version of the Sunday concert shown on BBC 2 (since it was being broadcast as I was travelling home). I presume that most (all?) of the music performed in Cardiff was heard in that broadcast – though that still means that TV viewers (whose license fee, after all, helps to make the event possible) were able to see and hear only one solo piece and one movement from a concerto by each musician.

The event in the Millennium Centre was thoroughly enjoyable, and those of us there were fortunate to hear a lot of fine music. Inevitably there were disruptions and more than one hiatus caused by the demands of those recording the show for broadcast soon after its completion. That is understandable and no cause for complaint. But what does deserve complaint (and what was complained about by more than a few audience members to whom I spoke) was the stage lighting. Its garish, intermittently sparkling colours, constantly changing in ways wholly independent of what was going on in front of them, resembled nothing so much as a job lot bought at the closing-down sale of a recently defunct night club. It contributed nothing and distracted attention from performers and music. If the powers that be felt that five young musicians, and a fine orchestra, playing classical music needed to be sexed up they were wrong; they were even more wrong in the way they chose to do it, a way that was dated and naff.

But let such grumbles not stand in the way of warm appreciation of an event that was rewarding and even inspiring – in the particular way that perhaps only top class youthful musicians can be. It would have been entirely possible that any one of these five young men might have been chosen as the overall winner. Several of them we shall surely see and hear of again in years to come. A number of those who got no further than the category finals were also rewarded for their excellence and promise. The harpist Cecilia Sultana De Maria, pianist  Sam Law and percussionist David Elliot shared The Walter Todds Bursary, awarded to a musician or musicians “who do not reach the Grand Final but show great promise”. The Tabor Award for Promising Talent went to the Scottish pianist David Foyle.

And the winner overall? The choice of the judges (Paul Daniel, Catrin Finch, Richard Morrison, Nicola Benedetti, chaired by Ben Foster) fell on twelve year old Peter Moore. The extraordinary maturity of his playing, a maturity which  paradoxically  retains a freshness and innocence, a directness, an uncluttered vision of what is at the heart of each piece of music that he plays, is certainly remarkable. He becomes, I believe, the youngest ever winner of the competition. But all five finalists will surely have gained much – in experience, in self-confidence, in musical wisdom – from their appearance here and their preparation for it. It is in that larger gain, rather than in the selection of one ‘winner’ (however worthy) that the value of this competition resides.

Glyn Pursglove

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