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2011 BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Soloist — retrospective

Malcolm Wood looks back on a thrilling BBC Final, when a new euphonium talent made his mark.

RNCM Concert Hall
Manchester
Saturday 19th February
Finalists: Jonathan Bates, Michael Cavanagh, James McLeod, Lewis Musson
Black Dyke Band
Conductor: Dr Nicholas Childs
Presenter: Frank Renton

This competition goes from strength to strength – thanks to the quality of the young performers who are being unearthed year on year. 

For the fourth time in a row, the winner was the last to perform, with Wingates euphonium player Lewis Musson taking the title. He now joins a formidable list of past champions who have gone on to create for themselves burgeoning musical careers.

He is sure to do the same.

Incredible

Adjudicator Les Neish described the overall standard as ‘incredible' and he wasn’t wrong.

Both Les and fellow judge Paul Archibald were deeply impressed by the ability of all four finalists to communicate their musical personalities in their performances accompanied Black Dyke. 

As a result their final decision was a tricky one.

Contrast

Each finalist provided intelligent contrasting repertoire, which highlighted growing musical maturity – quite a remarkable aspect given the reliance these days on pyrotechnic excellence as a bedrock to many solo performances

And although secure technique was a feature in each of the finalist’s programmes it was the lyrical qualities that stood out – especially with the winner.

Lewis Musson's selection of pieces certainly showed that and more, and with that added ingredient of composed confidence, he grabbed the opportunity to take the title when it mattered.

He opened with the challenging arrangement by Thomas Ruedi (adapted by Dr Roy Newsome) of Gasper Carrando’s ‘Danse Du Diablet Vert’ (Dance of the Green Devil), which was darkly playful and energetic.

Set the seal

If this was impressive, the following ‘Neath the Dublin Skies’ by Paul Lovatt-Cooper set the seal on his victory – a performance full of opening lyrical presence followed by fleet footed vitality. No wonder last year’s winner Matthew White, congratulated him as he walked off stage. 

He had delivered a rendition he himself would have been proud of.

Victory will not only propel him into the media spotlight, as he gets the opportunity to perform on BBC Radio 2 over the next twelve months, but it will also alert the banding scouts that there is a real talent about to explode onto the contesting scene.

His mobile phone is about to go into overdrive.

Even Steven

The three other finalists will of course left the RNCM disappointed, but should be proud of their performances too.

Welsh influence

19 year old James McLeod, originally hails from the North East but currently enjoys playing next to David Childs at Cory.

Whether or not that inspired him to perform Peter Graham’s ‘Brillante’, with its obvious Welsh ingredients is debatable, but he delivered a cracking rendition his mentor (and with one of the original performers conducting Black Dyke) would have taken a great deal of satisfaction from. 

The more sentimental ‘Myfanwy’ was also played without recourse to misplaced emotion.

Time on their side

The two young tyros of Jonathan Bates and Michael Cavanagh have age on their side – and both will undoubtedly be back at this competition in the future.

Both are emerging talents – diamonds with the odd uncut edge – but thrillingly brilliant nonetheless.

Jonathan reached the final last year and his growing maturity as a player has been startling. 

Now at Black Dyke, the 15 year old displayed security of technique in his own,  ‘Rondo’ from ‘Sonata for Tenor Horn’ - inspired it seemed by the structure and pace of the famous Goedicke ‘Etude’, whilst he also highlighted his growing versatility as a performer with Philip Sparke’s challenging ‘Capricorno’.

Peaceful highlight

16 year old Michael Cavanagh was the runner-up at the British Open Intermediate Final last year, and the Marsden baritone player has also benefited from being able to soak up the experience of one of the world’s foremost baritone exponents, Katrina Marzella.

He certainly enjoyed the performing experience, delivering a bright, facile ‘Pequenna Czardas Pedro Iturralde’, which contrasted with the lovely warmth and lyrical appreciation displayed in John Golland’s delightful ‘Peace’.

New stars shine

Whilst the judges contemplated their decision, Black Dyke under Dr Nicholas Childs entertained the capacity audience with a short but high class concert programme that included ‘Festive Overture’, percussionist Andrea Price’s lively ‘Fling’ and the familiar pot-boiler ‘Marche Slave’. 

Their youthful new signings Zoe Hancock and Gary Curtin, also showed that they are both settling in well at Queensbury in Karl Jenkins’ ‘Benedictus’.

All that remained was for the judges to give everyone a short synopsis on the performances and for Lewis Musson to look both delighted and a little sheepish as he modestly accepted the plaudits, the prize and the warmth appreciative applause.

That may the only part of his current musical development as a solo performer he needs to work on.

BBC broadcast

The final is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Thursday 24th February at 10.00pm and thereafter via the BBC iplayer.

Malcolm Wood




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