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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Young Musician of Wales final

By Amy Willis, Cardiff Evening News – Hwyl Arts Supplement

The winner of this year’s Young Musician of Wales final, 17-year-old cellist Steffan Morris, from Neath, displayed the most passionate performance of the evening.

As he played his first piece, Alone by Giovanni Sollima, his almost had his eyes closed throughout the entirety of the performance, clearly trying to feel the music as he played. His fingers whizzed along the strings with faultless speed as his foot tapped the pace. At the end of the piece he opened his eyes and squinted up at the cheering crowd. The bemused rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights look on his face showed just how much he had become caught up in the moment.
He showed the same infatuation with his two other pieces, Nocturne for cello and piano in E flat major by Frederic Chopin, accompanied by Nigel Hutchinson on the piano, and the cello concerto, fourth movement by Edward Elgar, accompanied by the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra.

But it seemed a little unfair that the other two 17-year-olds in the competition, Anne Denholm on the harp and Steffan Ciccotti on the marimba, received second and third place trophies while 12-year-olds Ben Creighton-Griffiths and David Shaw left empty handed.

Ben Creighton-Griffiths, from Cardiff, played the Harp with such confidence it was difficult to understand how such a talent could be overlooked. The complexity of his hand movements was really advanced for someone so young- even the conductor of the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra was beaming with pride.

Yet he remained unplaced despite a fantastic performance. This showed a real flaw in the judging system.To save the spirit of the competition it should surely have been judged on a combination of musical potential and musical knowledge.

To save the spirit of the competition it should surely have been judged on a combination of musical potential and musical knowledge.

Sadly, it seems the judges only took musical knowledge into account. This questions whether it was fair to pit two 12-year-old musicians against three 17-year-olds who had a five year advantage in experience. In doing so, the competition could only ever lead to disappointment.

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2 Responses

  1. Richard Stevenson says:

    Whilst I agree that Steffan Morris was undoubtably the finest performer of the evening, it was a welcome relief that the 3 best performances of the evening placed in the top 3, whilst the two nonetheless very promising younger musicians were awarded with the “Runner’s Up” prizes.
    It is a tragedy that these days that all too often the top awards at music competitions go to the youngest applicants, whilst far more accomplished young musicians who can offer performances that are far more technically and musically accomplished are overlooked simply because they are no longer “cute.”
    It is the performance on the night, and the response this generates from the audience, that should be rewarded in these competitions, not the fact that a 12 year old is playing repertoire that is “really advanced for someone so young” – surely it would be better to encourage the younger applicants to strive to reach the far greater levels of musical maturity and sensitivety that the older competitors often demonstrate?
    Maybe then we would see something truly impressive once the performer has had time to mature as a musician, and can combine years of performance experience and technical practice with their own matured interpretations of the music, and conveying this to the audience (and panel) through their performance.
    Talent alone is not sufficient to perform advanced concerto repertoire, as any professional musician will happily explain. It takes years of practice, experience, and familiarity with similar works to even be able to begin to grasp what is required to make a performance “magical.” Simply “playing all the notes” (even at the right pitch, correct rhythm, correct dynamic) is unfortunately insufficient, and will result in a robotic performance that has as much musical depth as a doorbell. There have been few musicians in history who have demonstrated an ability to grasp this at an extremely young age (e.g. W.A. Mozart), and whilst Ben and David’s performances were indeed “really advanced for someone so young”, it should be clarified that this does not mean their performances were “really advanced.”
    I strongly disagree that it was “unfair that the two 17-year-olds […] recieved 2nd and 3rd place” – the notion that 17 years old is simply not young enough is, in my view, utterly ridiculous. The two 17-year-olds in question gave far better performances, and developed a much stronger rapport with the audience. Simply awarding prizes to the youngest applicants undermines the whole ethos of the competition – yes, it’s a competition for “young musicians”, but the crucial word here is “musician,” not “young” – the “young” aspect of the competition is taken care of with the age limit, and I am among many musicians (and competition judges) who feel that it would be sensible to have a lower age boundry, or even a separate competition for the extremely young competitors.
    How, when reviewing a MUSIC competition, you can get away with writing “Sadly, it seems the judges only took musical knowledge into account” is beyond me.
    I should imagine that the two 12-year-olds are anything but “disappointed” – at that age is it an honour to even get to the final in a televised competition such as that, and to have performed so well in front of a large audience is no mean feat – I’m sure it’s an experience they will cherish for years to come, but thankfully, at the end of the day, the trophies were awarded to the 3 best musicians of the evening.

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