Saxophonist Jonathan Radford wins Royal Overseas League Gold Medal 2018

The Royal Overseas League Gold Medal Final was held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night.

Royal College of Music saxophonist Jonathan Radford held the trophy (and the specially commissioned decorative plate) aloft after wowing judges and audience alike with a blistering programme of Turnage, Yoshimatsu, and Karen Khachtaturian.  The Turnage Elegie in particular was special: broad expansive solo melodic lines delivered with an enviable diaphragm and a similarly resolute embouchure. Radford is a musician with considerable stamina, flare, and panache.

Special mention from me to bass-baritone Michael Mofidian whose delectable tone and piercing clarity pinned me to my seat. A man who could sing the instructions to a self-assessment tax return and make it sound like an invitation to a dinner date. 

This year has been my first experience of the Royal Overseas League’s music competition. Hitherto I’ve only really been aware of the name because of the way they fund artists and musicians in the early years of their careers. This was certainly the case at Aldeburgh where, on various masterclass courses pianists who had been through the competition appeared thanks to ROSL money. 

That the prize money totaled a staggering £76,000 (and was awarded across more competitors than just those who appeared in the final) goes some way to highlight the financial challenges musicians face still and emphasises just how important ROSL is in the classical music ecosystem. It seems a shame then there weren’t many (in fact, I’m not convinced there were any) mainstream classical music press in the room. 

Not only does ROSL play a critical part in the ongoing development of new talent, its also playing its part in championing diversity (next year we’re hoping for better representation) and music education in the UK.

ROSL is also a rare thing in the classical music world: a well-balanced combination of occasion and spirit. It avoids pomposity by being a warm and inclusive event, at the same time as celebrating excellence. It seems to bring together the component parts of the classical music (recording companies, orchestras, agents, and education) at the same time as maintaining a neutrality.

More than any of this, its one of only a handful of endeavours where a mature audience mixes effortlessly with the younger one. That’s not only a reflection of the spirit we see on stage, but an illustration of the warm appreciation given out and offered for those in the audience who stump up the money. 

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