Here we are in 2013 and the entries deadline for the Festival’s Young Musicians Platform Competition has passed already – and what a competition it is turning out to be.
Beginning in 2003 as an opportunity for youngsters to play in front of an audience, the competition has expanded over ten years into one of considerable note. Its original ethos remains still but the standard has risen so that it now stands alongside some of the well-known national awards for young musicians.
Many ask us what type of competition it is. We have to say that it is unique in the sense that our audition
process is unlike that of any other in this country. For a start, all competitors are offered chocolate
on their way out! This in itself is an excellent way of judging personality and confidence. There are
those who grab, those look astonished at being given something in return for their playing and there
are a number who are rather shy about accepting and who generally take the smallest available. We
also chat to each person after they have performed. Again, this tells us a great deal – whether there
is music in the home, if a child really loves what he or she plays, if practising is a bore and what they
intend to do in the future.
We do not look for an outright winner. Our aim is to find four instrumentalists to share a lunchtime
concert as part of the festival and who are each awarded £250. The concert is high-profile, sometimes
with royalty present and a VIP to present the cheques. It goes without saying that there is a minimum
of 250 people in the audience. Entry is free but there is always a collection in aid of the festival’s
The Young Musicians Platform also differs from other competitions in that voice is included in the
categories. Many argue that the undeveloped vocal cords – and therefore a week technique to
go with them – cannot be compared with a teenage cellist who might be advanced beyond all
expectation. We look at it from a performance point of view and if someone has a natural voice,
complete understanding of their chosen repertoire and a love of communicating with an audience,
then there is no reason why this instrument should be discounted. Indeed there have been several
singers among the winners over the years.
We have raised the opening standard level to Grade 6 and with more entries than ever this year,
we wonder whether this has had an influence. Distance hasn’t put off youngsters from having a go
and on looking at the list of competitors, they are prepared to come from Cirencester, Truro, Bristol,
Warminster – in fact from across the entire south-west, which is the area targeted.
The competition is divided into two rounds. The first sorts sheep from goats, bringing forward 20 to the finals. There are always four adjudicators who are high-flying professional musicians. The fact that the auditions take place at the festival’s headquarters situated in one of the remotest parts of Exmoor does not have an effect on the enthusiasm of the youngsters to have a go. We do feel for and admire the stalwart parents who willingly drive miles to get here. There is at least a nice mug of coffee and cake when they get here!