BBC Young Musician 2018: Semi final

Five instrumentalists (one from each of the previous category finals) participated in the Young Musician Semi Final broadcast on Friday night. Three were selected to compete for the top prize on Sunday 13 May. 

This was a much harder heat in the competition to gauge. Comparing like for like instruments makes judgement (even in its most appreciative guise) a lot easier. When differing instruments are to compared the assessment becomes far more difficult. This combined with the TV medium’s tendency to dis-associate viewer from performer, makes even more of a challenge.

That’s why I’m an armchair pundit, and there are professional judges employed to do the decision-making. 

Percussionist Matthew Brett’s maturity, technical agility, and innate musicality really shone in the semi-final. The opening Famin 2 is an engaging showpiece, but it was in the reprise of the specially commissioned Crossover that he really came alive. I loved it – a piece I’m keen to watch performed again.

Trombonist Isobel Daws appeared more confident on stage – marked by the way she concluded each piece with more self-assurance. A pleasure to see and, unexpectedly, revealed how the competition does develop individuals as it progresses.

In a similar way, pianist Lauren Zhang seemed to open up a little more at the keyboard, reprising her stunning category final performance of the Scarlatti. The Kapustin lost my attention slightly, although concluding with the Rachmaninov was a good move, finishing on something she appeared to feel at more at ease with in terms of outward expressive emotion.

Both cellist Maxim Calver and saxophonist Robert Burton sparkled in this semi-final. Maxim, in particular, has an accomplished style that defies his age – evident in a gripping performance of Lutoslawski’s Sacher Variations. Both instrumentalists possess a self-assurance that makes their playing utterly captivating and, inevitably, very difficult to decide between them.

As a woodwind native, I’m veering on Robert’s performance of Fitkin’s Braemar on soprano saxophone during which I felt an unexpected connection that reached beyond the TV. There’s an energy to Fitkin’s writing when combined with the energy Robert Burton brings to his performance that makes it a compelling watch.

My predicted qualifiers from this heat of the competition were Robert Burton (saxophone), Matthew Brett (percussion), and Maxim Calver (cello).

I was only one person out when the final announcement was made. Pianist Lauren Zhang’s inclusion provides a valuable differing perspective on musicianship, highlighting the complexities of music-making especially amongst those who are less visibly demonstrative in their playing.

I have this idea that Lauren might end up winner of the competition final. A hunch at this stage, no more than that.

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