We catch up with one of last year’s Young Musicians Competition winners, clarinettist Laura Deignan, to find out what she’s been up to.
2MF: When did you start playing the clarinet? What was it that attracted you to the instrument?
Laura Deignan (LD): I first started playing the clarinet when I was eight years old, though it came to me quite by accident. A family friend happened to have a dusty clarinet sat in her loft, her daughter having abandoned it years ago, and she thought I might like to play it. I had wanted to learn something since I could remember though, as both my elder sisters were musical and I used to watch them practising, enviously! Although the clarinet wasn’t a conscious choice so much, I came to absolutely love it – with my sister giving me my first few lessons, which I still remember vividly.
2MF: Have you always been interested in classical music?
LD: For as long as I can remember, yes! On Sunday afternoons my dad used to play classical music when he was reading the newspapers and I really loved those quiet afternoons, I think I was particularly fond of Delius’ Flower Duet (which one of the other Young Musician competition winners, Lucy Bray, sung with Victoria Barton at the Garden Party which was beautiful).
2MF: What was the first piece you ever heard?
LD: Honestly, I can’t remember, I’m sorry to say. However, I do remember hearing on the radio Elgar’s Cello Concerto, when I was very young – I was utterly swept away by it. So playing it in the 2011 Festival with Julian Lloyd Webber was fantastic.
2MF: Do you go to concerts?
LD: As often as I can. The Plymouth Music Accord, a society in Plymouth that promotes classical music, runs a lunchtime concert series with a variety of chamber groups and I always try to be in attendance, either as a nervous page turner or an eager audience member. As well as this, I usually play in at least one concert a week, with a variety of different ensembles.
2MF: When did you start playing in groups?
LD: I started in my first ensemble when I was nine years old, a wind band that ran throughout the summer holidays to encourage young musicians to keep playing their instruments over the summer. I was absolutely terrified, and no doubt dreadful, but it was such a huge learning curve. There is nothing like playing as part of an ensemble to improve your general musicianship, and I have been in ensembles ever since. Currently I play the clarinet in Plymouth Symphony Orchestra, in a symphonic wind band, Devon Youth Wind Orchestra, as well as playing the alto saxophone in a semi-professional big band.
2MF: Were there lots of opportunities to play at school?
LD: Our school orchestra is a great opportunity to play with my friends, as well as trying my hand at conducting sometimes! (The less said about that the better…) In the orchestra I enjoy mentoring some younger players, as I remember being inspired by some players in the school orchestra when I was younger and really benefiting from their experience.
2MF: Did you do grade exams?
LD: I have done grade exams in both piano and clarinet up to grade eight and am currently looking at diploma standard repertoire with my teachers. My clarinet teacher, Pete Twyman, has been absolutely wonderful – I started with him four years ago and have since developed and grown under his always dedicated tuition and encouragement. Having a good relationship with your teacher, I think, is essential to your growth as a musician and I have really enjoyed working with Pete.
2MF: How did you get to know about the Festival’s Young Musicians competitio? How did you find the audition process?
LD: My clarinet teacher informed me about the competition, having received one of the posters. The audition process is something that I became quite familiar with as it was my third year when I was chosen to be one of the winners. Although I was terrified the first (and subsequent!) times I walked through the door, the audition experience was incredibly friendly. The gallery is a lovely intimate place to play in, and having a small audience present as well as the adjudication panel really made the audition feel like a performance rather than a nerve-wracking audition. The adjudication panel was always friendly and welcoming, I found that talking with the adjudicators was really worthwhile, as they were always keen to hear about my choice of music, as well as giving lots of helpful advice. Suzy the accompanist is truly a marvel, no matter what was put in front of her she played beautifully, and I truly enjoyed playing with her. Her easygoing nature helped a lot during the audition. The adjudication notes that were posted after completing an audition were always highly constructive and gave me a lot to work on, both independently and with my tutor. And of course, a bar of chocolate after completing the audition sweetened it considerably!
2MF: How did you get on in your recent auditions?
LD: I was successful in my auditions at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and at Birmingham Conservatoire, gaining a course scholarship there. I have since accepted a place at RWCMD and hugely look forward to going there in September and studying with talented musicians.
2MF: What are your plans for the future?
LD: I am hopefully going to spend my next four years at RWCMD, and I am considering doing a post-graduate course in performance, following my undergrad. I hope to gain contacts and experience while I am at college which will hopefully open some doors for future work prospects.