Polish saxophonist Łukasz Dyczko wins Eurovision Young Musicians 2016

The EBU’s bi-annual Europe-wide competition for young classical musicians was staged last night in Cologne. Eighteen-year-old Polish saxophonist Łukasz Dyczko won the 10,000 Euro first prize with his performance of André Waignein’s Rhapsody for Alto Sax. He also wins a concert appearance with the WDR Symphony Orchestra.

Waignein’s work is unashamedly light in character with hefty influences from Rachmaninov, Gershwin and even some Richard Rodney-Bennett. Whilst it doesn’t doesn’t go anywhere special musical, the elaborate solo line help Dyzcko demonstrate his mastery of long fluid lines in what was clearly a satisfying short work for the audience.

Dyzcko’s achievement was more than just musical or technical; his choice of music was best suited to the Eurovision Grand Final, the requirements for which always feel geared in favour of the audience rather than the actual soloist. Soloists can play for around 6 minutes which is apparently enough time for the jurors (sat 100 or so metres away from the open-air stage) to decide on the prize-winners.

Outdoor concerts might make for a nice atmosphere for the audience, but they’re not necessarily conducive for classical music. Performers often need amplification. During the final, the delicacies of a Mozart Horn Concerto or Koussevetitzky’s Double Bass Concerto were lost in the setting and, as a result of a poor sound-mix, on those of us watching on TV.

Runner-up Robert Bily’s performance of the third movement of Barber’s Piano Concerto No.2 seemed best suited to the location, lifting proceedings considerably, but there still moments during the quieter sections when the piano line was lost in amongst the orchestral accompaniment.

There were moments where it felt like the programme was struggling to understand what it was trying to be. This may have been down to a change in proceedings for the 18th Eurovision competition: the elimination of semi-finals.

Croatia’s Marko Martinović’s (pictured above) rendition of Massenet’s Meditation felt like light entertainment. Massenet’s piece, overplayed as it is, had been arranged for an instrument the sound of which turned the piece into an even bigger cliche. It also wasn’t helped by performer Marko’s ‘Richard Clayderman’ glances to audience and cameras alike which had, presumably, been considered a good idea by someone during rehearsals.

Similarly, Norway’s Ludvig Gudim playing Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy felt like a compromise for the running order. Ludvig is clearly an able musician with great poise, technique and expression, but playing such a shameless crowd-pleaser left me feeling rather cold.

I think that there is an important responsibility to be taken when featuring children in performance, the priority which is not to cheapen them or their talent. Marvelling at speed or appreciating the accessibility of a piece of music isn’t necessarily doing the performer much good. The competition is for the performer; the audience should be merely witness proceedings.

Roland Attila Jakab from Hungary created an impressive sound, while Malta’s Dmitry Ishkhanov’s playing shone in parts – the physical affectations felt contrived. Eliot Nordqvist playing the first movement of Saint-Saens second piano concerto worked well in the stage setting. His was a competent, measured performance, but there were moments when he looked uncomfortable.

Young musician competitions aren’t staged for us to find perfection. They’re there for us to witness the results of hard work and dedication. There were moments during the Eurovision Grand Final when I felt like we were just gawping at young people who were good at their instrument and being told to think, “They’re amazing!” Of course they’re amazing and we should be encouraging and supportive and empowering. But, the competition isn’t the end goal, it’s part of musical development.

I last watched Eurovision Young Musician back in 1994 when British cellist Natalie Clein won the competition. Then I recall proceedings being a little more stately, with some much-needed reverence. Although open-air, 2006’s competition still displayed a dizzying demonstration of talent (Tine Thing Helseth was a runner-up that year and acted as a juror for this year’s competition). Similarly, 2008’s winner Dionysios Grammenos (above) had a little class about him.

Eurovision Young Musicians has become a little too much about television and not about the performers (there were a handful of occasions when I could have done with seeing less of the judges – especially the ones who knew the camera was on them). Competitions need to demonstrate a wider commitment to musical development, whether that be through funding, ongoing support, or contextualising the performers and the music. Maybe some of the challenge is to do with it only being screened in 10 countries – maybe the real challenge is money.

Shouldn’t it head back into the concert hall? That’s where young inexperienced performers will feel most at ease, where the acoustic can be controlled and the lighting can be refined. There are numerous concert halls across Europe that would fit the bill. What’s the real benefit to the performer of seeing hundreds of people in audience if there far away from where they are on stage?

There is also a need to see a performer complete an entire work. Restricting their performance to 6 minutes or so limits their choice of repertoire, hampers their chances at impact and will, undoubtedly, see them resorting to flashy pieces which don’t show them at their best as performers in development.

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