BBC Music Magazine

BBC Young Musician

After a delay of over a year, the final rounds of BBC Young Musician are happening at last. Freya Parr meets the youngsters ready for battle


Freya Parr talks to the talented youngsters gearing up to compete in the competitio­n’s delayed final rounds

Weeks before the UK went into lockdown last March, five competitor­s stepped onto the stage to face the semi-final of BBC Young Musician – not knowing they’d have to keep the results to themselves for an entire year. With the grand final postponed and the semi-final still yet to be broadcast, these five young musicians have lived through one of the strangest iterations of the competitio­n in its 42-year history.

As well as balancing home schooling and distanced university learning, three of the five now have a grand final to prepare for. They’ll be joining the BBC Philharmon­ic at Bridgewate­r Hall for the last chapter of the competitio­n.

We caught up with all five semi-finalists to find out what they’ve been up to in the last year.

Keyboard winner: Pianist Thomas Luke

One of this year’s youngest competitor­s, Thomas Luke is now in his first year of sixth form on the Isle of Wight. On weekends, he usually attends the Royal Academy of Music, something that has been almost impossible over the last year. ‘When we first went into lockdown, I really struggled,’ he says, ‘but how I feel about music has never changed.’ This has been helped by the fact that Luke has been able to play on a much more impressive instrument over the past year: a grand piano loaned by Venables & Son.

‘My teacher has finally been able to hear the detail of my playing via Zoom.’ Luke hopes to play Liszt’s First Piano Concerto if he makes it to the next stage of the competitio­n. ‘There’s a misconcept­ion that Liszt’s music is all loud and virtuosic, but this concerto has some beautiful passages which I hope I can do justice to.’

Woodwind winner: Oboist Ewan Millar

When the category finals took place last year, Ewan Millar was balancing a rigorous practice schedule with a busy academic workload at the University of Oxford, where he is now in his second year studying music. He spent the first half of this academic year at home in Reading, which allowed him to reconnect with music. ‘There’s so much cultural, social and political theory in my degree that you can be quite disconnect­ed from the music itself. Lockdown has allowed me to listen to a lot more music.’ His programme for the woodwind final was eclectic, with four short pieces ranging from Schumann to contempora­ry British composer Peter Facer. His plan for the final is equally exuberant: Spanish composer Óscar Navarro’s ‘Legacy’ Concerto. ‘It’s really cinematic and has made quite a splash in the oboe world.’

Brass winner: Horn player Annemarie Federle

Starting university at the height of a pandemic might seem like a challenge, but for Annemarie Federle – who enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in September – it wasn’t all bad. ‘The horn teacher at Academy organised additional sessions in which we played through excerpts, talked about recordings or did mock auditions,’ she says. ‘It was different to what we’d have done in person and was really useful.’ If she makes it to the final, Federle hopes to showcase a rarely performed horn concerto by 20th-century British composer Ruth Gipps. ‘It was written in the 1950s, but feels neo-romantic in style. It’s tonal and has some lovely lines.’

Percussion winner: Percussion­ist Fang Zhang

Fang Zhang was just 16 at the category finals, having moved to the UK from China in 2018 to study at Chetham’s School of Music. ‘In China, I learnt a lot in terms of technique, but here they’ve taught me a lot more about music and how to be a musician,’ he says. Percussion­ist Owen Gunnell was the commentato­r at the category final and remarked on Zhang’s lightness of touch and broad dynamic range, particular­ly on the marimba – the instrument on which Zhang performed an arrangemen­t of Piazzolla’s much-loved Libertango. His programme also featured a marimba work by Marjan, as well as a piece for mixed percussion by Heng Liu.

Strings winner: Violinist Coco Tomita

‘It’s surprising how many opportunit­ies BBC Young Musician has already created,’ says violinist Coco Tomita. With a summer of virtual and live concerts, her year was far from quiet. Shortly after her category final, she was contacted by the commentato­r, violinist Matthew Trusler. He offered her a contract with his record label Orchid Classics, with whom Tomita is now in the process of recording her debut album. Having been forced to delay her first term at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin because of the travel restrictio­ns, she stayed on at the Yehudi Menuhin School and moved to Berlin this March. Tomita has chosen Bruch’s Violin Concerto as her piece for the final. ‘I last played it when I was 14 and it’s always nice to play it again because it always feels different.’

The semi-final of BBC Young Musician will be broadcast on BBC Four on 30 April, with the grand final on 2 May. Dates are subject to change.

‘‘ It’s surprising KRZ PDQ\ opportunit­ies BBC Young Musician has already created in the last year ’’

 ??  ?? Top of the class: (clockwise from main) Annemarie Federle, Thomas Luke, Ewan Millar, Fang Zhang and Coco Tomita
Top of the class: (clockwise from main) Annemarie Federle, Thomas Luke, Ewan Millar, Fang Zhang and Coco Tomita
 ??  ?? North star: the Bridgewate­r Hall
North star: the Bridgewate­r Hall
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