Friday, April 12, 2019

You ARE the future

This week I've been adjudicating at the Whitgift International Music Competition - a wonderful initiative at Whitgift School in Croydon at which musically gifted boys from around the world arrive to compete for prizes and in some cases scholarships to study at the school. I've been involved with it from the beginning in 2013 and following the progress of the entrants over the ensuing years has been quite tremendous. The standard this time was absolutely gobsmacking, with entrants from Moldova, Montenegro, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Belarus and the UK in junior and senior categories for each of strings and brass/woodwind - and our breath was taken away by quite a number of the performances we were lucky enough to hear.

Last night at the gala concert that concluded the event I gave a little speech. There were things I Really Wanted to Say, and I still really want to say them - so here they are.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour to be here today as chair of the jury for the Whitgift Music Competition. At lunch on the first day, my fellow jurors and I turned to each other and said “How about that for a way to spend a Monday morning!” And indeed, what could be more inspiring than hearing this array of truly remarkable young musicians who have come all the way to Whitgift from as far afield as Hong Kong, Mongolia, Montenegro and Moldova - to say nothing of the Whitgift Boarding Block and day pupils - especially to play to us? I’ve been involved in the competition since its inauguration back in 2013 - the level of musical accomplishment has always been astonishing, and as you’ve heard, this year is no exception.

The Whitgift Music Competition is a ground-breaking initiative and indicates just how powerfully lives can be changed when a school decides it will throw its weight behind supporting musical talent. In 2013 the devastating decline we’ve been seeing in musical education in UK schools was already underway; Whitgift bucked the trend by setting up this wonderful scheme. And it has proved to be a trailblazer: I'm hearing rumblings now that other prestigious educational institutions have begun to introduce copycat initiatives. All credit to Whitgift for continuing to give its support and its blessing to musical talent from around the world. I think the results not only are transformative for those who win, but also enhance the lives of the other students who have the chance to collaborate with their peers, making music at a fabulous level. It helps bring music into lives that might otherwise miss that chance; and it expands everybody’s world view and cultural understanding.

Judging the competition is a complex business because we’re looking at two distinct strands. One is the matter of sheer excellence. The prizes we award tonight are purely for artistic achievement. But also of crucial importance is the Headmaster’s Scholarship - the chance for a boy showing exceptional promise to come and study at Whitgift. Let’s face the fact that not every budding young musician wants to attend a British boarding school and take GCSEs and A levels; sometimes they just want to practise their instruments! We should never underestimate the amount of work it takes to do well at music - it’s actually like becoming an Olympic athlete. So for the scholarships, everyone has to be happy that these go to youngsters who will flourish in this environment and become Happy Whitgift Boys.

But for those who do take up the scholarship, there are opportunities that really are unrivalled. They can study with some of the best instrumental teachers in London, they have splendid performing opportunities both at the school and outside it, they have the world-class musical life of London on their doorstep to explore and enjoy, and by the time they finish school they are exceptionally well placed to enter some of the finest conservatoires or universities in this country and abroad. Previous scholarship holders like Dan-Iulian Drutac, and Ion Mosneaga have taken up scholarships to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music, one boy has gone to the splendid Birmingham Conservatoire, another abroad to study in Essen in Germany, and the list continues. Our senior strings category winner last time, Krzystof Kohut from the Czech Republic [pictured above with violin], proved the value of the musical work ethic, too: he had applied to the previous competition and not reached the final. Well, he spent the intervening two years working flat out, came back again - and scooped first prize. Since then he has been flourishing at the school both musically and academically and he is off to music college soon with flags flying. In the end, seeing one person realising his very considerable potential so wonderfully can become a beacon for all the rest of us to do the same.

And that’s why it’s such a privilege to be on this jury, and it’s why I keep coming back and back for more. It gives us hope. These young people are the future.