BBC Young Musician 2018: Final

Lauren Zhang won the BBC Young Musician 2018 competition yesterday after an audacious performance of Prokofiev’s second piano concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mark Wigglesworth. Lauren studies at the Junior Conservatoire – part of the new £57 million Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham City University.

The final episode of the series confounded expectations, both in terms of content and presentation, differing in pace and quality throughout.

The presentation team of Josie D’Arby and Clemency Burton-Hill worked better than I anticipated it would, so too the usually nauseating backstage reaction pieces with the competitors. Pundits offered insightful comments and feedback that required little interpretation by the viewer.

It’s a rare thing that I find my opinion about such things having soften, but it has and I’m quite happy to say so.

Similarly, the performances made for an engaging watch too. There was sufficient musical contrast to make it easy to engage with. Social media reflected this – a majority of informed commentaries echoed, validated and in some cases reinforced the views I was forming about each performer.

Maxim Calver clearly enjoyed his moment on the platform although I wasn’t entirely sure the Rococo Variations really demonstrated sufficient power or depth of sound he needed up against the CBSO. Sometimes the exposed decorative sequences in the high registers sounded a little indistinct.

In terms of material, saxophonist Rob Butler had more to play with in Creston’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone. It is, without doubt, an unrelenting work which the soloist tackled with stamina, precision and panache. The articulation at the beginning of the third movement was especially noteworthy. Rob undoubtedly conveyed an obvious feel for what’s written in the music – his attention to detail shaping the ends of phrases reflected this. He also appeared utterly at ease on stage. A pleasure to watch.

The most beguiling performance of the evening was Lauren Zhang. A deceptively complex presence at the keyboard, Lauren tackled the epic second piano concerto with hunger, determination, and grit. Lauren possessed a remarkable stillness throughout her performance which made her achievements all the remarkable. From time to time her guard would drop and flashes of inner-Lauren shone through. This was the pay-off – our reward, if you like – for those who stared at the screen wondering how something so bombastic and animalistic could have been commanded by someone about to sit three of her GCSEs a year early.

I can’t remember a Young Musician final in recent years that has been quite so engaging. For all the hyperbole about the last one (and there’s been quite enough now), I’d say this is the event which deserves the comparative accolades. Now all eyes will be on the production of Eurovision Young Musician in Edinburgh later this year (a BBC endeavor).

If EYM is a carbon copy of BBC Young Musician then the Eurovision competition may just finally regain some of its former glory.

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