A great afternoon of classical music from five finalists

For 33 years the Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra has been discovering superb young instrumentalists in its annual competition.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 3:40 pm
Juliet Wolff with Mayor and consort

On Sunday, January 26, the Birley Centre’s capacity audience was treated to some wonderful playing by the five finalists who had made it through the first round: a cellist, two pianists and two violinists.

Who, this year, would follow in the footsteps of such giants as Freddy Kempf who, at merely 14, took the prize in 1991? This year’s winner, as always, would win not only a cash prize but, more importantly, the chance to play a full concerto later in the year with the Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Each finalist was required to perform excerpts from two contrasting concertos, and the orchestral parts were played from a reduced score on a grand piano. For the audience, this situation was no problem when the string soloists were performing (the two violinists and the cellist). When the piano soloists were playing, and the orchestral parts were played on the second piano, I found myself occasionally wondering which pianist played that glittering arpeggio, such was the skill of both the piano soloists and their accompanists.

To choose winners was no easy task for the four judges but no-one could quarrel with their eventual decisions. Chairman Graham Jones and his professional colleagues Philip Edwards, Dorina Latawska and Lisa Wigmore eventually chose 21-year-old cellist Juliet Wolff for the major prize: no surprise as her Dvořák and Tchaikovsky displayed a rich tone and supreme technical control.

The difficult choice of second place was resolved by, unusually, awarding two of the competitors the number two slot: pianist Justine Gormley (Ravel and Rachmaninov) and violinist Anthony Poon (whose cadenza and harmonics impressed me enormously in his Mozart and Dvorak).

The other two finalists were so impressive that either would also have made worthy winners: Aidan Chan’s ‘Yellow River’ piano concerto was a knock-out, as was Elodie Chousmer­-Howelles’s Glazunov.

While we waited for the panel to come to a decision, we were entertained by the junior winner of the St Cecilia Bequest Berniya Hamie who played a Beethoven Sonata. My cup runneth over!

The ESO’s concert manager John Thornley was master of ceremonies so we knew that the event would flow smoothly.

A great afternoon for music-lovers!

And now we look forward to the rest of the ESO’s 40th season, which continues with Haydn’s Creation on Sunday, April 26, at 7pm in St Saviour’s Church. Visit www.eso.org.uk.

By Robin Gregory

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