Showing posts with label Royal Northern College of Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Royal Northern College of Music. Show all posts

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Going Gold at the Royal Northern

I can think of few greater privileges in the musical world than having the chance to listen to the crème-de-la-crème of a college's talented youngsters perform all day. Last weekend I was lucky enough to be on the panel for the Royal Northern College of Music's Gold Medal Competition, together with the college's principal Linda Merrick, its artistic director Michelle Castelletti, composer Robert Saxton and general manager of the BBC Philharmonic Simon Webb.

The eclecticism, imagination and programmatic flair that we heard was a joy in itself. The day was arranged into five concerts, each consisting of two solo performances and in four of the five newly composed saxophone quartets. The atmosphere was lively and enthusiastic, with plenty of audience to cheer on the contestants, and on the platform all of musical life, just about, was here - from a budding Wagnerian soprano to an extraordinary performance on the cusp of body percussion, mime and contemporary dance, and from Berio's Sequenzas to a close encounter with Russian pianism of the Gilelsy kind. Ten of the college's most gifted students had reached this final stage, along with four composers, and the standard was so high that we ended up awarding four medals instead of three, plus one designated for a composer.

Here are our winners, in alphabetical order.

L to r: Lauren, Alex, Leanne, Sergio, Delia
Leanne Cody (piano). A young pianist whose passion for contemporary works was reflected in her ability not only to memorise Joe Cutler's On the Edge, George Benjamin's Shadowlines, and Ligeti's Etude No. 10 'Der Zauberlehrer', but to play them with the musicality, imagination, beauty, flair and sheer sense of love that other musicians might offer Beethoven or Schubert, creating rapt atmospheres with singing, glowing sound.

Sergio Cote (composer): Sergio, from Colombia, wrote a short saxophone quartet that made immense virtuoso demands on its performers and their ensemble, pushed the boundaries of the soundworld with startling breathing effects, and kept us on the edge of our seats.

Lauren Fielder (soprano). Lauren is blessed with a rich, pure and powerful soprano voice that proved deliciously versatile, especially when handled with so much intelligence and stylistic awareness. Having wowed us by opening with the demanding 'Come scoglio' from Così fan tutte, she gave mellifluous performances of three of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, a set of beautiful and sensitively performed Roger Quilter songs and to close 'Voi lo sapete' from Cavalleria Rusticana - in which she suddenly sounded entirely Italian.

Alexander Panfilov (piano). Having started his studies at the Gnessin School in Moscow, Alex has one of those unmistakeable techniques that shows the Russian School is alive and well...and living in Manchester. He's a big chap with a big sound, yet capable of great delicacy and vivid colouration; he performed a little-known piece of Beethoven, the Fantasia Op.77, with improvisatory flair and an ideally Beethovenian sound, followed by a very fine account of the Chopin Second Ballade, in which his feel for musical storytelling was particularly impressive. Finishing with Stravinsky's Three Dances from Petrushka he gave the music all the narrative and virtuosity you could wish for, besides making it look ridiculously easy.

Delia Stevens (percussion). It seems almost invidious to call Delia a "percussionist": what we saw here bordered on performance art and sound sculpture. She opened with Casey Cangelosi's Nail Ferry from Naglfar, a fearsome invocation of Norse mythology's "beginning of the end of the world" veering from repetitive bass drum booms to a conclusion in which cutting a series of strings released 20 suspended chopsticks onto the ground - think Norns cutting the strings of life, humanity scattered to the winds... Per Nørgård's Hexagram No.57: "The Gentle, The Permanent" from I Ching was a rapt meditation; marimba virtuosity whirled us away in Leigh Howard Stevens's Rhythmic Caprice and to close, the Compagnie Kahlua's Ceci n'est pas une balle required her to undertake a mime of invisible bouncing sphere to a pre-recorded tape that would surely make Marcel Marceau applaud.

Many plaudits to all our contestants: Helen Clinton (oboe); Michael Jackson (saxophone) - who gave a stunning performance of Berio's Sequenza VIIb; Kimi Makina (viola); Kana Ohashi (violin); Jeremy So (piano), Meinir Wyn Roberts (soprano); and composers Nelson Bohorquez, Richard Evans and Aled Smith.

Thanks to all of you for an amazing and memorable day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Today The Guardian has run Charlotte Higgins's interview with Martin Roscoe, who talks in depth about what really happened when he tried to blow the whistle about Layfield.

But also, they report that another Chet's/RNCM teacher, violinist Wen Zhou Li, has been "arrested on suspicion of sex offences".

Elsewhere, there is slightly better news.

While we were away last week, Harriet Harman intervened to stop Newcastle Council's plans to cut its arts budget by 100%.

Also, education secretary Michael Gove was forced to drop his noxious EBacc project and is now looking instead at a reformed version of GCSEs with an eight-subject base that may even include music. Triumph is scented over at the brilliant and tireless ISM, but the fight won't be over yet.

And much better news: Benjamin Grosvenor has been nominated for The Times Breakthrough Award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. Over the Pond, David Patrick Stearns has been listening to the star wars of the 20-something new generation pianists and lets us know that Trifonov's Carnegie Hall debut recital last week was sold out. But he picks Benjamin as the tip-top "artistic space alien": "Never have I not heard him boldly re-imagining the music he plays in ways that made complete sense, had conviction right down to the smallest detail but was completely unlike anything I’ve previously heard. How such depth of brilliance could be housed by somebody so young is enough to make you believe that reincarnation can come with accumulated wisdom." 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More of it

Depressing news today that two more teachers from Chetham's and the RNCM are being accused of abusing their pupils in the 1970s-80s. See The Guardian. One has not been named (yet). The other is the late Ryzsard Bakst (who died in 1999) - a pianist and professor who used to be revered as a living legend, if a difficult and eccentric one, and who taught some of the finest pianists in the country. No doubt there is more of this to be revealed.

An interesting comment reached me from a musician on social media after I vented my thoughts on the whole principle of boarding schools. It wasn't the schools that were to blame, he said, it was the people in them. Ah... a bit like guns, then?

Note, all these events took place several decades ago. One hopes profoundly that the different climate, culture and awareness that has sprung up since makes such matters a thing of the past. All the places involved have new administrations these days, as well as many, many devoted, honourable and top-notch professors. As we said the other day: keep calm and ask the right questions.

More reports here:
and here:
and here: