Friday, May 26, 2006

Competitions? Music?

I've been trying to write this all week, but have felt too depressed.

By some malign chance, the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition and the Eurovision Song Contest fell on the same day: last Saturday. I'd been so busy with work that I didn't know the BBCYM was on and missed half the concertos. I was unlucky enough to hear the entire Eurovision.

Come on, folks, let's have some views. This is MUSIC. Is it also legitimate SPORT? Is art about competition? SHOULD art be about competition? Let me put my head on the block and say NO. Somebody in TV obviously thinks so. I disagree. Yes, it's good TV - at least Eurovision is when Terry Wogan's priceless commentary is involved. But have any of the contestants in the BBC competition noticed where their predecessors are today?

I can think of barely a handful of still-performing finalists from 20 years ago or so, who have actually managed to live down the label of being 'a winner' (ie, national concerto finalist) at BBC Young Musician of the Year. Ronan O'Hora is now head of piano at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and, to judge from the wonderful Faure performance I heard him give last year with the Razumovsky Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, he's going from strength to strength. Nick Daniel, oboist, is still top of his profession; Emma Johnson, ace clarinettist, is still top of hers, but still carries the YM proviso. Tasmin Little escaped the inescapable by reaching the strings final, but not the overall one, and has probably done better than anybody. How many others have simply vanished? Some alumni are stuck doing downmarket gigs where their fading label still carries a bit of weight. They just can't get past it. It's very difficult and a bit awful. Being Young Musician of the Year is a marvellous thing when you're 17. It's not so funny in your forties.

This year's competition was won by clarinettist Mark Sampson. I didn't switch on in time to hear what he had to offer, so can present no opinion. The very best of British luck to him.

As for Eurovision, I usually get it wrong, but was pleased to find that my favourite actually pulled in second this time - the Russian hunk, Dima Something, surrounded by slightly dead-looking ballet dancers. But I turned off the sound several times during the course of the evening because the performers simply couldn't sing in tune. France, nul points from East Sheen!! How could you?!? For the same reason, I also turned off Spain, Israel and something else that was so forgettable that I've forgotten it. The one act that made me flee not just the sound but the vision too was Finland. So who won?!

Did they win because everyone thought 'this is so appalling that they don't stand a chance, therefore we'll tactically vote for them to stop our own arch-rivals getting anywhere' and hence they garnered votes to sweep the board? Was it because they weren't trying to sound like Abba? I think Sweden were; I liked them; but that's because I like Abba, how could I not, formative years etc. Or was it the anti-White-Suit vote? (WHY were so many wearing white suits?! Try those for 10 minutes on the London Underground...) Or did I hate Finland because my hard rock antennae are simply as out of tune as France's moody blonde? Hmm.

Thank God both contests are over for the time being & we can now get back to enjoying music, of all possible genres, for its own sake. Which is how things ought to be.