2019 Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Sunday, 24 February 2019, City Literary Institute (City Lit), 1-10 Keeley Street, London, WC2B 4BA.

Jury: Dr. Janet Obi-Keller, Caroline Palmer, Melvyn Cooper

1st: Rose McLachlan (Chetham’s School of Music)
2nd: Ellis Thomas (Royal Northern College of Music)
3rd: Sebastian Benedict Flore (Centre for Young Musicians)

On Sunday February 24 we held our annual Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition in the comfortable, well-appointed and attractive venue of the Recital Hall at the City Literary Institute, universally known as City Lit, in its surprisingly quiet setting minutes from Aldwych and Holborn, London. We are deeply grateful to Trish Shaw, Head of Music, for enabling us to hold our competition in what turned out to be a well-nigh perfect location. Seven gifted young pianists gathered and there was a lively and friendly atmosphere throughout the day.

Each pianist, as is our custom, played an own-choice sonata (with the option, not taken this year, of a couple of sets of Variations) and the set Bagatelle, this year the humorous and quite tricky C major op 33 no 2. We were delighted to welcome pianists from two schools new to us, the Centre for Young Musicians London and Trinity Music Academy Croydon, both of whom acquitted themselves admirably.

First off was Sebastian Flore from the Centre for Young Musicians, opening with a confident and witty Bagatelle. His Moonlight Sonata showed him immediately to be also a thoughtful, poetic player who was able to draw us into the rarefied world of the first movement. Some of the later playing lacked the ultimate polish, but there was a fiery, committed Presto finale and overall this was one of the most engaging and communicative performers.
Amiri Harewood, from Trinity Music Academy, played the E flat Sonata op 31 no 3, sometimes called The Hunt on account of its Presto finale with the sound of hunting horns. He too was musical and communicative, even if at present he needs a little more control of touch, and a tighter hold on rhythm, to do full justice to his vision. He really went for the Finale – exciting playing and I’d like to hear him again.

From the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Jack Williamson offered the charming E major Sonata op 14 no 1, Beethoven at his most domestic and unstressed. Perhaps he missed some of the ‘domesticity’, with a rather over-enthusiastic touch on the bright Steinway, but there were many responsive and musical moments to enjoy, also in his Bagatelle.

Sebastian Carrington represented the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Junior School. Opening with the Bagatelle, his very fast tempo did not always make for clear rhythm and articulation; his opening Moonlight Adagio was also taken quite fast – definitely two-in-a-bar as Beethoven marks, though it perhaps robbed the music of some of its mystery and poetry. Work in progress here, but Sebastian is clearly a gifted and thinking young pianist.

From the Royal College of Music, George Campbell fully conveyed the humour of the Bagatelle – a witty, sophisticated response. His Waldstein – one of the big tests for a Beethoven player – had many fine qualities if it was a little on the Romantic and virtuosic side for the full majesty and symphonic stature to emerge. I’m certain there is huge promise here.

Rose McLachlan, from Chetham’s School Manchester, immediately showed a pianistic sophistication and assurance that marked her out. Offering our second Hunt Sonata, she guided us safely through its many moods, twists and turns. The opening movement took a while to settle, and there were a few less certain moments, but she definitely had the measure of the ‘hunting’ finale. Her Bagatelle – perhaps more grazioso than scherzando – showed a freer, more personal response after the formality of the Sonata.
Also a Mancunian but from the Royal Northern College’s Junior School, Ellis Thomas is a serious and advanced young pianist. He opened with the Bagatelle: an individual, personal response, quirky and communicative. The late E major Sonata op 109 was certainly a huge contrast, and his opening movement – if a tiny bit too free – was always personal and ‘in the music’, with real understanding. As the sonata progressed, to a slightly cautious Prestissimo second movement and the Finale’s great variations, there was some less convincing playing, with a need for more architectural strength, but the playing was always sincere and committed.

Our Jury, consisting of Janet Obi-Keller, herself a former Head of Music at City Lit, Caroline Palmer, Professor of Piano at the Guildhall School, and our Vice-Chairman Melvyn Cooper, awarded the First Prize to Rose McLachlan, Second Prize and Audience Prize to Ellis Thomas, and Third Prize to Sebastian Flore.

I want to emphasise just how enjoyable the day was – only wishing that we had a bigger audience! Please watch out for the announcement of the next Junior competition which will take place in the big Beethoven year of 2020, and be sure to note it in your diary!

Written by Julian Jacobson © 2019

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