Musical Notes: BBC Young Musician 2012 - Percussion

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BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012: Percussion Section

The last of the five category finals is for the Percussion section, although you might be forgiven for thinking that this year it was a marimba competition, such was the emphasis on that particular member of the percussion family. This category is a late-comer to the BBC YMY competition, introduced in 1994.

As in the previous category finals, General Adjudicator Gareth Jones was joined on the judging panel by two specialists in the field. One of this week's judges was Adrian Spillett – winner of the 1998 BBC YMY competition, the only time it has been won by a percussionist – Principal Percussion with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Professor of Percussion at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and an acclaimed solo artist. Completing the judges line-up was Andrea Vogler, another returnee, she having been a finalist in the 1994 BBC YMY competition. She is now a freelance percussionist and educationalist, teaching at, among other places, the Royal Northern College of Music.

The five category finalists, three boys and two girls, included two brothers, so a bit of sibling rivalry was available to add further spice to the competition. Would there be any repeat of the drama of the 2010 category final in which one of the competitors dropped a stick and had to stop and retrieve it?

Now percussion – the kitchen sink department as it is known in orchestral circles – is the section about which I know least, so my comments are based almost entirely upon my musical ear.

The final kicked off with a performance from 17-year-old James Larter. I well remember James from his appearance in this competition two years ago, not least because of his dramatic entrance, beginning his performance from off-stage. My conclusion about him then was "Perhaps James needs to age a couple of years yet to really shine, because he is certainly a talent." Well he certainly matured and is now a pupil at the renowned Purcell School in Watford, and is co-Principal Percussion with the National Youth Orchestra. James cites Evelyn Glennie as a major influence. His starting piece, Hugh's Chilled Red, by Alan Emslie is a challenging piece for snare drums, which can demonstrate the player's control of dynamics and varied stick technique. This he followed with the first movement, Concentrics, from Dave Maric's Trilogy. Played principally on the marimba and vibraphone to the accompaniment of a CD track, James showed terrific rhythm. His final piece was Marimba Spiritual by Minoru Miki. This work was written at the time of the great famine in Africa in the 1980s and is in two parts, a slow requiem followed by a faster resurrection. A good performance overall but I was surprised not to see some use of a drum kit.

Set a high standard to follow, it was up to the first of our two brothers to take up the baton (or should that be sticks?). Richard Rayner, aged 18, is a pupil at the independent Felsted School and also attends the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on Saturdays, where he is studying percussion and piano. As if all that was not enough, Richard also plays in a touring rock band. He chose the same opening piece as the previous competitor, Hugh's Chilled Red. In Richard's version I thought the rhythmic accentuation was much sharper. His second offering was one of Eric Sammut's Four Rotations for Marimba. Noticeably, every note here was crystal clear, even in the quietest passages. Richard now moved on the drum kit for a performance of his own composition Uprising. This he very neatly segued into his final piece, handing over the drums without stopping to one of his friends from his rock band, while he moved on to the vibraphone. The two of them were joined by another band member on bass guitar for a piece entitled Little Friendly Giant by Édouard Lalo. Richard clearly just loves performing in public and gave a great, varied programme and a stunning, potentially winning performance.

Next to show what she could do was 18 year-old Molly Lopresti. She attends her local school in Totnes, South Devon, but travels four hours by train every Saturday to the junior department of Trinity College of Music in London. Her opening piece, a Mexican Dance for Marimba by Gordon Stout, I found a rather straightforward, uninspired item. For her second piece she played Evelyn Glennie's A Little Prayer. As the title suggests, this is a quiet piece, but I heard no distinction between the left and right hands. Her third piece, Charles DeLancey's The Love of l'Histoire, was a multi-percussion piece and to my ears was much better presented. She was playing from the sheet music, but in this context I think that is perfectly acceptable. Her final choice was Keiko Abe's Dream of the Cherry Blossoms, played on the ubiquitous marimba. I'm afraid I found Molly's performance rather flat, even though it did show a good variety of skills and dynamics.

Now we came to the second and younger of the two brothers, 15-year-old Peter Rayner. Peter's school is a normal, non-specialist one, but like many others he spends his Saturdays at one, in this instance the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Peter began his programme with Keiko Abe's Prism for Solo Marimba in which he demonstrated clear articulation of the left and right hands – beautiful playing. His second piece was Cold Pressed by David Hollinden, a multi-percussion piece in two nicely contrasting sections. Peter concluded with Michi, by fast-becoming composer of the evening Keiko Abe. A marimba piece, this showed superb control. An excellent performance; could it impress the judges more than that by his elder brother?

The final competitor in this category was 16-year-old Hyun-gi Lee – known by her friends as Gina – from Seoul, South Korea, a student at the Purcell School and the junior department of the Royal College of Music. She began with the Marimba Spiritual that we heard at the start of the evening from James Larter. With two accompanists, this piece was here given a strong rhythmic drive. Next she played Garage Drummer by James Campbell. This multi-instrument piece had a CD backing track and made use of a bow as well as drumsticks. This young lady was very active during her performance. The final piece on offer was the third movement, Majestic, from Caritas by Michael Burritt. Played on the marimba, this introspective, calming but still dance-like piece has quick left-hand arpeggios, which she brought out well.

I would have found it impossible to pick a winner from these five young people, but if pushed I would have had to say either Richard Rayner for his sheer musical presence, or Hyun-gi Lee for her exquisite performance. In the end the judges chose an absolutely delighted Hyun-gi Lee, so completing the line-up for the semi-final.

In the semi-final, the competitors must repeat their category final programme, but are allowed to change one piece to one that they played in an earlier audition round of the competition. Three lucky contestants will go forward from the semi-final to the grand final in which they play a concerto, or other work for solo instrument and orchestra, of up to 30 minutes duration.

The semi-final is followed two days later by the final, so my report on both events will (with luck) appear in next week's The Post.

Can't wait...

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