I don't very often get the chance to watch the BBC Young Musician competition when it's on but I did catch the end of it this year. The finalists were pianist Yuanfan Yang, cellist Laura van der Heijden and recorder player Charlotte Barbour-Condini.
Charlotte Barbour-Condini performed the Vivaldi Recorder Concerto. This was a fantastic -if unusual- performance. Barbour-Condini had incorporated cadenzas of her own which at times made the recorder sound not unlike a Japanese shakuhachi. The concerto movements themselves were played with a passion. I'm not up-to-date with current thinking on how music of that period should be played but I suspect it was not a performance for the purist. Not that I wanted it to be. She managed to make the piece into something people not otherwise into classical music might flock to listen to.
Yuanfan Yang gave an excellent account of the Grieg Piano Concerto. I think it is often the case that overplayed,"hackneyed" pieces start their lives as masterpieces and it is good sometimes to reclaim them, to try and listen to them as if they hadn't been played a million times before. However, I think he would have done himself a favour had he chosen a different work. If you want to let the world know that yours is a voice to be listened to then make the listener curious.
Which brings me on to Laura van der Heijden's winning performance of the Walton Cello Concerto. This was a very judicious choice of work, I thought. To use an overused word for the second time, it's a masterpiece of 20th century music and (unlike the Grieg) it doesn't get played enough. This wasn't just a winning performance - it was a masterly, illuminating one. Van der Heijden brought an insight to it I'd expect from an exceptional cellist twice her age (she's 15).
It's hard to imagine a better advert for classical music. The prize? £2,000. And in the week when Britain's got Talent is won by a dog. The prize? £500,000. OK, I'm not comparing like with like - the Walton is about enlightenment, while Pudsey's act is about entertainment. Both, in different ways, involve hard work.The point is I'd have given both prizewinners about £20,000 each and done a bit more to encourage viewers to turn on to Young Musician. BBC4 is a great thing. However, the space a preponderance of digital channels creates for coverage of the arts can also have the effect of sidelining the arts, as only those who know they want to watch a programme change channel and watch it.
6 months ago