Los Angeles teenager Emma Wernig wins Birmingham International Viola Competition

Eighteen-year-old US teenager Emma Wernig from Los Angeles has secured a recording contract after winning the second Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition and Festival at Birmingham City University’s new £57 million Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Currently studying at the Colburn Conservatory with Scottish violist Paul Colletti, Emma landed the Conservatoire Prize of £5,00, a recording contract with Champs Hill, and a series of high profile recitals as part of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Concert Series.

Twenty-one-year Italian Lara Albesano landed the Lionel Tertis Prize of £3,000 for her second place. Third place was awarded to 18-year-old Parisian Sáo Soulez Larivière, who pocketed a tidy £1000 from the Gwyn Williams Charitable Trust.

There were 26 young violists aged 21 and under from across the world representing countries including Austria, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.

Speaking after the competition, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Head of Strings Dr Louise Lansdown commented, “Emma Wernig’s lustrous, rich viola sound resonated throughout the competition complimenting her mature and breathtaking interpretation of everything she chose to play.

The young global talent on display as part of this Competition was phenomenal and we were blown away at every round. Alongside creative flair we were impressed with the performers professionalism and stamina; the five finalists themselves performed 10 concertos on the last day alone.”

The Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition and Festival ran from Saturday 18 until Friday 24 November at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham City University. The Festival was opened by three Sowetan musicians who have received training and mentoring from Conservatoire students. 

Birmingham Conservatoire student runs marathon dressed as a giant viola

A straightforward idea brilliantly executed. I’m not entirely sure whether viola player and marathon runner Alistair Rutherford appreciates quite how funny he looks in his ‘lightweight Plastazote foam’ outfit. As unexpected news events go, this one was a surprise with a rich collection of supporting material. Included here for your delectation.

Alistair – also known as ‘The Running Viola’ – ran in yesterday’s Birmingham International Marathon completing the race in 3 hours, 20 minutes, and 33 seconds. He beat his personal best. He also broke the Guinness World Record for the fast marathon run in a musical instrument costume. No, I didn’t know there was such a record either.

There was a charitable angle to all of this, inevitably. Alistair is set to raise at least £4,000 for a UK-South African project, Cape Gate MIAGI Centre for Music & Birmingham Conservatoire. The collaboration provides weekly instrumental Skype lessons given by academics, students and Birmingham Royal Conservatoire alumni to music students in deprived circumstances in South Africa.

Money raised from Alistair’s world record attempt will enable his pupil, Njabulo Nxumalo, aged 17, to fly over to the UK next month, along with Kwanda Buthelezi, aged 13, and Mbali Phato, aged 12, and perform in a concert on Saturday 18 November as part of the second Cecil Aronowitz Viola Competition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Birmingham Conservatoire’s new premises set to open summer 2017

Birmingham Conservatoire have released a virtual ‘fly-through’ of its new premises currently under construction.

The building, now estimated to cost £57 million will be a major improvement on the out-dated and dilapidated Paradise Circus site which finally closed in May 2016.

Not everyone is keen on the new building. The original design caused some consternation amongst councillors, some of whom described it as an ‘overturned cheese grater’ (not sure I see that myself) and looking like an Oxo cube. The lack of windows bothers me, so too the ‘open-ness’ of the building.

I would have like to have seen grander entrances, for example. The performance spaces feel closed off – hermetically sealed boxes similar to the Kings Place development in North London.

The fly-through doesn’t give away much detail about individual practice or study spaces, that and the still austere exterior makes it appear less of a creative destination and more of a correctional facility.

But perhaps the really important point is that its a performance hub with five performance venues all with excellent acoustic qualities, including a public concert hall with the capacity for 400 seats and more than 70 music practice rooms.