Being able to publish the results of our excellent Young Musicians Platform Competition (part of the prize including playing with Devon music festival the Two Moors in October this year) has prompted me to write about awards in general and their benefits – or not, as the case may be.
Firstly however, to our own wonderful crop of winners for 2015… We have chosen four aspiring young instrumentalists who gave the panel and small invited audience much joy with their playing. While there is much for them to learn over the next ten years these fledging classical musicians not only showed their expertise in technical terms but more importantly, it was their innate musicianship that came through.
First of all, there were two clarinettists who couldn’t have been more different in their approach, style and presentation. One, Josh Pyman, was outgoing with bags of energy in his jolly and outstanding playing while Edward Holmes was more refined, drawing in his audience with an elegant, beautiful sound.
In a contrasting way, Alicia Steanton displayed a bright sunny disposition which came across in her superbly neat playing with a surprisingly huge tone from such a small frame. Last but not least was the cellist, Marina Martins from Brazil whose mastery of her instrument was mature beyond her years. Her approach was one of a budding artist penetrating deeply into her music with a story to tell.
We’re often asked how we choose between players whose instruments require different techniques, some too demanding for their age. For instance, it’s possible to play a violin from the age of three whereas to find the puff necessary to master a French horn – or the strength to hold it – is quite impossible.
The answer is that the type of instrument is not relevant as far as the festival’s competition is concerned and if children are capable of getting their fingers round the keys with ease, then that’s fine. The Young Musicians Platform awards four instrumentalists an opportunity to share a concert in the Festival’s October programme as well as each receiving prize money of £250.
As to awards in general, what do they signify? Firstly, from the competitor’s point of view, they provide an opportunity to assemble a programme up to concert standard. It is vital to choose repertoire that fulfils the requirements on the application form (very often they aren’t!).
They allow musicians a public platform on which to perform – this is a scary situation that young players find difficult to cope with for the first time. They draw attention to how one copes in a competitive atmosphere (my answer is don’t do them if you’re so terrified deep down that it removes the joy of making music). They provide an opportunity for assessment that can be inspiring but also, can be damaging if the criticism is too harsh. Prize money is useful and last but not least, to my mind, is the competitive environment upon which many musicians thrive.
However, competitions are so numerous now that apart from a handful, they have become meaningless. As someone who reads biographies of artists on a daily basis, an endless list of impressive sounding awards becomes exceedingly boring. There are a few that stand out: BBC Young Musician of the Year winners (quite often not the winner him/herself), Leeds Piano and Kathleen Ferrier competitions. Other useful ‘pegs’ are being on the Countess of Munster Scheme; likewise Martin Musical Scholarship and recipient of the Suggia Gift spring to mind. Separate to these will be appearances at the Wigmore Hall, concerts with major international orchestras and with known conductors that attract my eye.
It’s useful to know that winning a competition doesn’t signify a glittering career ahead. There is an expectation that it will automatically put an artist on the map, but sadly the opposite is often true and I have known many musicians who have felt deflated when nothing happens.
If I were to advise anyone on the merits of entering competitions, the one overriding thing is to enjoy doing them. Whether a winner or not doesn’t matter a jot. There is absolutely no point in standing on a platform in a state of total misery. This is guaranteed to kill the love and joy gained from being involved in music.