Those who read this blog regularly will know how much I enjoy adjudicating; it’s always a fascinating experience, and one from which I’m constantly learning.
On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to sit on the jury of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition. Organised by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, the competition is held every year and proffers young pianists the chance to perform a programme built entirely from the German Master’s extraordinary output. Each participant attends one of the conservatoire junior departments or specialist music schools in the UK, and had been selected to represent their particular institution.
Pianist, teacher, writer and editor, Nils Franke, and pianist and piano professor at the Royal College of Music and Birmingham Conservatoire, Julian Jacobson, were my distinguished fellow jury members.
Standards are consistently high at such competitions, particularly when competitors hail from notable music institutions, enabling them to study with excellent teachers. But on this occasion, we witnessed exceptional pianism.
This year’s competition was held at Trinity School in Croydon (South London). A splendid modern concert hall housed a full-bloodied, rich, warm Steinway Model D (those who played it commented vociferously on its beauty). Beethoven’s Bagatelle in B flat Op. 119 No. 11 was the set piece, and to accompany this work, the ten competitors were free to select a sonata of their choice. Rather fortuitously, none of the sonatas chosen were duplicated, so we were able to listen to a fair representation of Beethoven’s thirty-two works in this form.
Repertoire included early, middle and late period sonatas: Op. 2 No. 1, Op. 2 No. 3, Op. 10. No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, Op. 28, Op. 31 No. 2, Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57, and Op. 111. Most pianists began with the Bagatelle, which is a small and ostensibly straight forward work (compared to the sonatas), yet, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the whole afternoon, was the contrasts between interpretations. Not simply speed, phrasing, sound quality, or articulation (as might be expected); there were those who imposed their own interpretation and therefore ‘made something of it’, whilst others were happy to simply let the piece unfold more organically (as instructed in the score).
Each pianist dispatched their sonata with virtuosity, control and generally a high standard of musicianship. Some unleashed the full colour and power at their disposal (made possible via such an instrument), with greater aplomb and command than others. Those who dared to play beyond the notes, even beyond the instrument in some respects, revealing a distinct oneness and spiritual affinity with the music, were the triumphant.
The winner displayed these attributes in spades. Our decision was completely unanimous; Adam Heron (pictured below) treated us to a breathtaking performance of Op. 111, and he will no doubt be a future star of the piano world. Currently studying with Hilary Coates at Wells Cathedral School, from September Adam will attend the Royal Academy of Music in London. We wish him every future success.
Second place was shared by Rebecca Leung (from the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department) and Ellis Thomas (from the Royal Northern College of Music Junior Department), and the third place was shared by Tomos Boyles (from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department), and Gorka Plada Giron (from the Yehudi Menuhin School).
For those eager to hear Adam Heron, he will be giving a prize-winning recital at St. Barnabus Millennium Hall in London on Friday June 23rd 2017.
The Beethoven Piano Society of Europe is an international forum for pianists, teachers, musicologists and music lovers for the greater appreciation of Beethoven’s piano music in all its aspects. The Society’s primary aims are ‘the promotion of the authentic interpretation of all of Beethoven’s music for or involving piano, orchestral, chamber or vocal genres, and the deeper awareness of his pianistic oeuvre as a whole’; you can become a member, and find out much more here.