BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012: Woodwind Section
Right, I'm back to report on the Woodwind section final of this competition, held over from last week. General Adjudicator Gareth Jones's colleagues on the judging panel this week are two former winners of the Woodwind section final: clarinettist Emma Johnson, the BBC YMY winner an astonishing 28 years ago in 1984 and now arguably the world's greatest player of her instrument, and Juliette Bausor, section winner in 1998, who is principal flute of both the Northern Sinfonia and the London Mozart Players, also guesting as principal flute with orchestras such as the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, London Philharmonic, London Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras.
Five members of the woodwind family were represented in the final: recorder, clarinet, saxophone, flute and bassoon. Unusually though for this competition, no oboe. Our competitors, three girls and two boys, ranged in age from 15 to 191.
The youngest competitor, 15-year-old recorder player Charlotte Barbour-Condini was the first to perform. The recorder has only reached the woodwind section final twice before and on neither occasion did it win. Charlotte is a very talented multi-instrumentalist, having also achieved the entry requirement standard of Grade 8 on both piano and violin. In her programme she played three different recorders. She opened with a piece Trotto, by that very prolific composer Anon. In this she was accompanied by a pair of modern drums. A practical solution perhaps but I would have liked it to have been accompanied by the tambour, which would have been historically sound. For her next piece, she moved forward in time from the Medieval to the Baroque with Dario Castello's Sonata Seconda. For this, she was accompanied on a two-manual harpsichord. In both these pieces she demonstrated a beautiful fluidity of tone. The last piece we were shown (the third was omitted) brought us more up to date – Music for a Bird by the virtuoso early music flute and recorder player and composer Hans-Martin Linde. This comparatively modern piece (1968) includes some unusual playing techniques, such as breathing and even speaking into the recorder mouthpiece. An excellent programme and performance throughout.
After the youngest came the oldest competitor, 19-year-old clarinettist Jordan Black, currently in his first year at London's Royal Academy of Music. He began with the first movement of the Brahms Sonata in F Minor. This at times skittish, at times contemplative movement demonstrated the wonderful warm tone of the clarinet to great advantage. Jordan was an animated player on stage; it was nice to see someone not quite so rooted to the spot. His second piece was Gra by American composer Elliott Carter. The Polish word 'Gra' means 'Game' and features two players. Jordan told us that he thought that clearly delineating the characters of the game players was the key to the piece. His final offering was the Capriccio from Giampieri's Il Carnevale di Venezia. This piece is a set of musical variations on a well-known theme – UK TV viewers may well have recognised it as the signature tune to a series of programmes featuring the late Bolton steeplejack Fred Dibnah. It requires great fluidity on the part of the player and Jordan was well up to the mark. A leading contender surely?
Next we saw and heard 17-year-old saxophone player Lucinda Dunne, a pupil at that source of so many young people in this competition, Chethams School in Manchester. A large part of her programme was given over to four of the five movements (we were shown only two, the first and fourth) from Tableaux de Provence by Frenchwoman Paule Maurice. The first movement was a fast, flowing piece which I enjoyed enormously; the fourth was much slower, moody and atmospheric. I did wonder whether devoting such a substantial chunk of her 20 minutes to one work, albeit in four sections, was a wise choice. Since we only saw half the performance, I'm not in a position to judge. Her concluding piece was entitled Pequenza Czarda by Spanish composer Pedro Iturralde. This piece, which is a Spanish interpretation of a Hungarian dance, the Czárdás, demonstrated a really beautiful sax tone. It also made brief use of the technique we have seen before in this year's competition, that of playing towards the accompanying piano, with the dampers released, in order to activate the sympathetic vibrations of its strings. An enjoyable performance but I didn't think it was up to the very highest standard.
Fourth to perform was 18-year-old flautist Luke O'Toole. Luke is another pupil at Chethams, where he is taught by Katherine Baker, the principal flute of the Halle Orchestra. He in turn is the principal flute of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Luke eased into his programme with the first movement of the Sonatina for Flute and Piano by Eldin Burton, a lively piece with very accurate playing. This was followed by the third movement of a Sonata in E minor by JS Bach, quite beguiling listening. Luke's final offering was the Fantasy on 'Der Freischutz' by Paul Taffanel. This piece, which uses ideas from Carl Maria von Weber's opera, is a showcase for the player's technical abilities, which is probably good from the competition perspective, but less satisfying for the listener, at least for this one. That said this was a terrific performance and another leading contender to win this section final.
So we got to the last competitor in this very closely fought woodwind section final, 18-year-old Charlotte Cox who plays the big daddy of the family, the bassoon. Charlotte is a former pupil at the Purcell School and is now in her first year at the Royal College of Music, where she is taught bassoon by Julie Price, herself a section finalist in the 1980 competition, only the second since its inauguration. Charlotte is the eldest of four musical siblings. Her programme began with the first and fourth movements of a Sonata in C major, originally for cello, by Benedetto Marcello. I know I've said it before, but I was disappointed to see her playing from music, not just using it as an aide memoire for security, but actually sight-reading from it. She followed the Marcello piece with the first movement of a Sonatine by Polish composer Alexandre Tansman, and the slow Adagio second movement of Carl Maria von Weber's Concerto in F major. In both these pieces I was aware of a distinct lack of rapport between bassoonist and accompanist. The music-stand seemed to be acting as a barrier between them, Charlotte doing her own thing and the pianist expected to shadow her without any real contact. Her final offering was an arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee. I was disappointed with this performance, but I would have liked to hear her play the programme sans stand but avec music.
The presentations over, it was up to the judges to decide. Personally I couldn't separate clarinettist Jordan from flautist Luke, with strong contention from recorder player Charlotte and saxophonist Lucinda. To my surprise, the judges felt there was a clear winner and that was our recorder player Charlotte Barbour-Condini. A great achievement by her and much-needed recognition for recorder players everywhere.
So now we have four of the five semi-finalists decided, to be joined by one from the remaining percussion section final, and an exciting one it promises to be. Hopefully you should find my report on it in THIS issue of The Post.