A wonderful afternoon bringing to Eastbourne the best of music talent

Sirius Chau winner of the ESO young soloist competition 2018
Sirius Chau winner of the ESO young soloist competition 2018
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While the Congress is closed and the London Philharmonic is providing superb chamber music at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne’s own symphony orchestra is still able to provide concerts performed by a large orchestra, usually at St Saviour’s Church.

On March 18, for example, they will perform Tchaikovsky’s wonderful Symphony No 5, and the conductor Kenneth Roberts will combine the role of solo-pianist in Mozart’s Concerto No 21. Has another Barenboim come among us?

Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra's young soloist of the year competition 2018

Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra's young soloist of the year competition 2018

But the ESO’s contribution to musical life by no means ends there. In 1980, Graham Jones established not only a continually improving orchestra, but also ensured that financial support by the 11th Duke of Devonshire resulted in an annual competition for young soloists. Among previous winners was a young Freddy Kempf, now internationally renowned. This year’s performers have lived up to all expectations, and it is with complete confidence that I predict successful careers for those who came through the heats to display their talents in the final round at the Birley Centre on Sunday January 28.

Five finalists: one male, four female. Two concert grands placed side by side, one of them throughout mimicking an orchestra. Monetary awards for every finalist, and (most important of all) for the winner, the promise of a concert with the orchestra when a larger audience can appreciate how much they missed by not being present in the Birley Centre. Who will ever forget last year’s winner, 14 year old Coco Tomita, giving one of the best performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto I have ever heard (and I was present when David Oistrakh played it at the Albert Hall many years ago).

This year’s winner was flautist Sirius Chau, a student at the Royal College. The first movement of Ibert’s Concerto went at the speed of light, and Chaminade’s ravishing Flute Concertino brought tears to many an eye.

During the interval, one of ESO’s most experienced string players, certain that he would win, said: ‘Phew. I hope he doesn’t choose to play the Ibert at his winner’s concert.”

Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra's young soloist of the year competition 2018

Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra's young soloist of the year competition 2018

Placed a very close second was Lucilla Rose Mariotti, from Italy. In the opening movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, her cadenza was exemplary, as were her delicate harmonics. In the slow movement of Mozart’s third concerto, I jotted the word ‘exquisite’.

Freya Spence’s clarinet spoke most eloquently in Weber and Copland. No-one doubted that she is a future star. The same could be said of pianist Pui-Yee Angela Lau, whose commanding Beethoven and Ravel was marred only by the unavoidable fact that Ravel’s Concerto relies on his wonderful orchestration. Her brilliant accompanist was, inevitably, unable to ‘smooch’ like Ravel’s strings.

Last to compete was violinist Elodie Chousmer-Howelles who gave us confident and accurate performances of Mozart and Mendelssohn. Chairman of the judges John York stressed that she (and indeed every finalist) would have been a worthy winner.

While we waited for the adjudicators to arrive at their decisions, a real musical treat was provided. Amber Emson just missed the finals but nonetheless had been awarded the St Cecilia Award for the best performance by a competitor under 18 years of age.

To entertain us, she and the brilliant accompanist for the afternoon, Daniel King-Smith, played the entire Brahms Violin Sonata No 3: 23 minutes of pure joy!

Thank you ESO. Thank you Brian Knights and John Thornley for impeccable organisation. A wonderful afternoon. By Robin Gregory.