Six young conductors to watch out for in the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition 2021

Twenty young European conductors will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in the 16th biennial Donatella Flick Conducting Competition from 21-23 May 2021 in London. This year’s event marks 30 years since the first Competition in 1991. The winner receives a £15,000 cash prize from Donatella Flick and becomes Assistant Conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra for one year. 

The competition was originally billed to take place in February 2021 but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s now taking place in a Covid-secure environment with a number of changes in place. 

For the first time all 20 candidates will have the chance to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra which now takes part in all three rounds of the Competition, rather than performing only in the Final. A new jury has been assembled, and each competitor entering the UK will arrive early to quarantine according to UK laws.

The jury consists of conductors Sian Edwards, Carlo Rizzi and Andrew Constantine, winner of the first Competition in 1991 and from the LSO, Principal Bassoon Rachel Gough and David Alberman, the Orchestra’s Chairman and Principal 2nd Violin. The soprano Danielle de Niese and the composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan are also on the panel, which is chaired by Lennox Mackenzie, former Sub-Leader of the LSO. 

The 16th Donatella Flick Conducting Competition takes place from 21-23 May at LSO St Luke’s on London’s Old Street and the Final will be broadcast live on Medici TV (www.medici.tv) from 18.30 BST on Friday 23 May. 

I’ve done a completely unscientific, fairly light touch scoot through the twenty competitors biogs and introductory videos on the competition website to see which competitors draw my attention. One has to a dog in the fight, so to speak. So I’ve hedged my bets and plumped for seven.

Teresa Bohm (Spain)

Not all of the competitors have submitted videos for this year’s competition. Of those that haven’t my eye is drawn to Teresa Riveiro Bohm‘s conducting CV. Already a Conducting Fellow with the BBC Scottish Symphony, Teresa is at the older end of the age range and will undoubtedly maturity and experience to the podium. She is already signed to Intermusica agency. Her digital concert with RCS and SCO winds last November shows her to be a compelling watch with great physical presence, a graceful baton technique, and in the case of Errolyn Wallen’s glorious Cello Concerto last year, a strong assertive beat which is rather pleasing to follow.

Chloe Rook (UK)

Twenty-three year old Chloe Rooke from the UK is currently studying in The Netherlands. She has a remarkable presence for someone who – in my eyes at least – seems so very young. She has remarkable presence and a solid sense of poise. Even in this video her gesticaticulations are strong. It will be fascinating to see how that sense of confidence translates in front of the LSO.

Paul Marsovszky (Germany)

Paul Marsovszky is the twin brother of another Donatella Flick competitor Johannes Marsovszky. There is a calmness to his delivery and stillness his face in this video introduction which makes the prospect of seeing both Marsovszkys conducting in the competition. It will be interesting to see how his range of expressions changes on the podium and what impact that brings about in the players.

Victor Jacob (France)

Victor Jacob is on the list not because he’s a namesake (I’m not that superficial) but because in the line-up of pieces to cameras, Victor’s maturity is reflected in a slightly stronger, warm style of delivery. There feels as though there is experience and perhaps a little more maturity (as a result of being older). His eyes are even in this video remarkably expressive conveying a sense of excitement and anticipation.

Gabriel Venzago (Germany)

But especially interesting is Gabriel Venzago who out of all the videos posted on the Donatella website, there is a dry wit and a healthy dollop of self-deprecation too (“at 31 years of age and the oldest in the competition that makes me the grandfather”) that makes me wonder whether this will be part of his rapport building skills when first working with the LSO.

Felix Benati (France)

I’m especially struck by Felix Benati’s presence on camera. I’m anticipating grand gestures that coax, graceful movement, and precise beats. There is too a rythmic lilting quality to his delivery that makes me want to listen more to what he’s saying. Perhaps his natural expressiveness like that of Victor Jacob makes him worthy of keeping a close eye on too?

Southbank Centre’s Summer Reunion starts 28 May with concerts from Chineke!, Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia

Very pleased to receive a press release this morning detailing a whole range of indoor, outdoor and broadcast events the Southbank Centre has planned for the coming months up until August of this year. I’m counting down the days.

There’s a fair range of indoor classical events in the Royal Festival Hall including some well-chosen works that make for fitting musical statements that document the return of live music. Vaughan Williams 5 in particular will be a must-attend.

Chineke! kicks off the Summer Reunion with soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason performing Dvořák’s Cello Concerto (28 June). The following day, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brings families together for its popular format, ‘Noisy Kids: Heroes & Villains’ (29 June).

The following week in June Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen bows out with two unmissable concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra after a disrupted final season; he is joined by Yefim Bronfman (4 June) and Mitsuko Uchida (10 June), two of his long-time collaborators.

The re-opening of the Southbank Centre coincides with the venue’s 70th anniversary. In May 1951 the Royal Festival Hall opened its doors for the first time as part of the ‘Festival of Britain’ – billed then as a post-war ‘tonic for the nation’.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Royal Festival Hall, a specially-commissioned poem about the beloved venue by Theresa Lola is to be filmed and released worldwide on 3 May. Theresa Lola is a British-Nigerian poet based in London and was appointed the 2019/2020 Young People’s Laureate for London.

Saturday 28 June, 7.30pm
Chineke! with Sheku-Kanneh Mason
Dvorak Cello Concerto

Wednesday 2 June, 7.30pm
Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Haydn Cello Concerto
Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5

Thursday 3 June, 7.30pm
Alina Ibragimova and Friends
Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time

Friday 4 June, 7.30pm
Esa Pekka Salonen with Philharmonia Orchestra
Beethoven Symphony No. 1
Lizst Piano Concerto No. 2
Sibelius Symphony No. 7

Thursday 10 June, 7.30pm
Philharmonia Orchestra & Mitsuko Uchida
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3

Friday 25 June, 7.30pm
Philharmonia Orchestra & Bach Choir
Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius

Sunday 4 July, 3pm
Nicola Benedetti with Aurora Orchestra
Beethoven Violin Concerto

Tickets go on sale to Southbank Centre members on Tuesday 27 April, and to non-members on Wednesday 28 April. Seating is limited in accordance with COVID guidelines but is anticipated to return to normal capacity on 21 June. More information on the Southbank Centre website.

Last week the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra also announced a programme of concerts running from May to July 2021.

Leeds International Piano Competition second round participants for 2021 announced

In what feels like a stream of announcements about live events returning, news from Leed International Piano Competition about its second-round in September 2021 is very welcome indeed. If there is a must-attend in the calendar it has to be ‘The Leeds’. My jaunt to hear Eric Lu was a very special affair indeed.

The twenty-four shortlisted competitors are from 18 countries: three from China; two from Britain, Russia, South Korea & Ukraine and one from Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Peru and Poland.

Finalists will compete for generous cash prizes, worth over £90,000, in addition to a selection of industry packages that support young artists at the beginning of their careers, including artistic management from Askonas Holt, a studio recording with Warner Classics, a major European tour organised with partners Steinway & Sons, plus concert and recording opportunities with London’s Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Who are the competitors in the second round of the Leeds International Piano Competition?

Those competitors with Spotify tracks available are linked below.

For full biographical details visit the Leeds Piano website.

1. Nour Ayadi (21, Morocco)
2. Alim Beisembayev (22, Kazakhstan)
3. Dmytro Choni (27, Ukraine)
4. Federico Gad Crema (21, Italy)
5. Galyna Gusachenko (28. Ukraine)
6. Arseniy Gusev (22, Russia)
7. Tyler Hay (26, British)
8. So Hyang In (29, South Korea)
9. Thomas Kelly (22, British)
10. Elizaveta Kliuchereva (21, Russia)
11. Kaito Kobayashi (25, Japan)
12. Maximilian Kromer (24, Austria)
13. Lucas Krupinski (28, Poland)
14. Ariel Lanyi (23, Israel)
15. Ying Li (23, China)
16. Yuzhang Li (21, China)
17. Lovre Marusic (28, Croatia)
18. Priscila Navarro (26, Peru)
19. Hyunjin Roh (20, South Korea)
20. Arash Rokni (27, Iran)
21. Victoria Vassilenko (28, Bulgaria)
22. Tony (Yike) Yang (22, Canada)
23. Gabriel Yeo (22, Germany)
24. Xiaolu Zang (21, China)

Who is on the jury of the Leeds International Piano Competition?

Imogen Cooper (England)
Artistic Director Adam Gatehouse (England)
Silke Avenhaus (Germany)
Inon Barnatan (Israel/ USA),
Adrian Brendel (England)
Gaetan Le Divelec (France)
Ingrid Fliter (Argentina)
Ludovic Morlot (France/ USA)
Steven Osborne (Scotland)

When is the Leeds International Piano Competition?

The second round of the Leeds International Piano Concerto runs from 8-10 September.

The semi-finals will be staged from 12-14 September. The Finals will run from 17 – 18 September.

All stages will be screened on Medici.TV

Live audience tickets available via the Leeds Piano website.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra announces new programme for May – July 2021

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has announced a new series of post-lockdown live audience concerts at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, running from 19 May 2021 until 7 July 2021. Concerts are performed twice – once in the afternoon, and later in the evening, and consist of shorter programmes with no interval. Standard (new) practise in a post-lockdown world.

But what sounds a little bit different and quite intriguing as a result is discovering that a new acoustic screen has been installed at the rear of the Symphony Hall stage, supporting a larger socially distanced ensemble than most at this particular time. That means bigger works and, as long as socially-distancing mitigations are either reduced or removed, a bigger audience too.

CBSO Concert Highlights

Two programmes with Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, including world premiere of Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel Symphony (16 June), and Weinberg and Mahler with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill (23 June) 

Edward Gardner conducting Stephen Hough in Saint-Saëns’ energetic Piano Concerto No. 4 (19 May)

Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 with Alina Ibragimova (7 July)

UK premiere of Julian Anderson’s major new cello concerto Litanies with Alban Gerhardt conducted by Kazuki Yamada (30 June)

Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5, conducted by Nicholas Collon (26 May)

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 with soloist Paul Lewis and conductor Chloé van Soeterstède (2 June)

Ian Bostridge conducted by Michael Seal (9 June)

A copywriting sweet-spot somewhere between due reverence, imagination, and click-bait

But you wouldn’t immediately gleen that information from the website if you’re not a recipient of a press release necessarily. The What’s On section of the CBSO website presents all of the concerts using titling conventions that assume knowledge or are a little ambiguous.

Thematic titles don’t necessarily reveal the detail of the event – the core content. Similarly, they’re all billed on the navigation page (see above) as 2.00pm concerts. From a user experience perspective this could (unless I had the press release already) lead me to conclude there was nothing available for me to watch unless I was able to break out of work hours and trot along to Symphony Hall. “Mirga conducts Ades” overlooks the key headline element – it’s the premiere of Ades’ newest work. Perhaps the most useful title on the page is Collon’s appearance conducting Shostakovich 5.

This perhaps won’t matter in the short term where the goal is, quite understandably, the need to get the machine working again, and get staff practiced in event management at a challenging point in time. And with capacity savagely reduced by COVID guidelines, perhaps the digital content doesn’t have to work too hard in order to sell the tickets.

Be Thoroughly Good. Tell the exciting story now.

As an enthusiastic audience member with an eye for digital content, I recognise I have an implicit need not being met here.

Live music is returning. The opportunity to hear an orchestra play again is tantalising. There is much aniticipation brewing. It is as though I’ve had all the earwax removed from my ears and I’m now being let loose back in an auditorium.

As a website user I don’t want to have to work hard to work out what I want to treat myself too. I don’t want to be beguiled by an ambiguous concert title; I need tempting triggers – a sort of copywriting sweet spot between due reverence, imagination, and click-bait.

Funnily enough, perhaps the most useful piece of functionality on the page is the one which is buried at the bottom: the ability to add these concerts to your diary via an .ics file.

I flag this with my blog post in mind from a week or so ago. We have this moment in classical music right now, to tell a different story. We have limited opportunities to make a bold statement. When our day-to-day experiences become noisier as they will surely become, so it will be more difficult to gain cut-through with cleaner user experiences.

To discover more about the summer season visit the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra website.


Bampton Classical Opera to be first live event with a live audience at St Johns Smith Square

Bampton Classical Opera will stage a performance of Gluck’s The Crown at St John’s Smith Square on 18 May 2021, the first event held at the venue with a live distanced audience since the start of the third lockdown in England.

Gluck’s The Crown was originally written for the name day of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and planned to be premiered on 4 October 1765. The surprise premiere never happened. The Emperor died unexpectedly on 18 August 1765. As a result Gluck’s work didn’t see the light of day until the late twentieth century. The last UK performance of Gluck’s The Crown was in 1987.

Now 34 years later, the opera makes another appearance, framed by Music Director Robert Howarth as ‘an allegory of hope’. The production was originally scheduled for November 2020, but postponed due to lockdown restrictions.

Two performances – one in St John’s Smith Square and the other in Oxford. The St John’s Smith Square performance will be filmed as live and made available on-demand via www.bamptonopera.org, £8 tickets.

Yay, Buxton International Festival

Elizabeth Watts and The English Concert who appears at the mighty Buxton International Festival (8-25 July 2021). She makes her debut appearance directing The English Concert in a concert of Scarlatti arias makes on 23 July. Tickets via the Buxton International Festival websites.

Whilst we’re on Buxton International Festival loveliness, I see they’re opening with Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. A tantalising proposition. If you’re not a Sondheim fan this will be lost on you, and you’re dead to me and a result. But dear God Buxton, what a fabulous treat to open your festival with. Tickets.

Back to the email and the primary reason for the blog post. The English Concert. See them perform Handel’s La Resurrezione  on Sky Arts on 3 May from 7pm. They release Handel’s Rodelinda via Linn Records on 14 May, and buddy-up with Garsington Opera 19, 26, 29 June and 7, 11, 21 and 24 July for a production of Handel’s Amadigi, Tickets. They also pop up at King’s Place on 24 June with Iestyn Davies. Tickets.

Daniel Pioro to become associate artist at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

News from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland that Daniel Pioro has joined RCS as Associate Artist in Contemporary String Performance to work with thirteen students is an exciting new development.

The idea is to create a collaborative music-making experience for developing musicians within the conservatoire that develops artistic thinking, performance, and genres. Pioro will work with cellists, violinist, viola players and composers, in addition to bringing additional artists to collaborate with the group.

It’s typically Pioro, reflecting the approach to curation he takes in both his live performance and on albums. His 2019 Dust release featuring Edmund Finnis’ Elsewhere is an excellent starting point.

I’ve been a massive fan of Pioro’s playing too. His Wigmore Hall appearance was electrifying, combining his trademark love of sound, and his distinctive approach to performance. Read the Wigmore review to get a sense of what I’m talking about here. That Pioro is bringing all of this into an education setting seems like a natural progression.

Robert McFadzean

And it’s great for music education in the HE sector too, positioning Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as an exciting destination for students, embracing unconventional approaches in pursuit of creativity. The announcement sets RCS apart. It will be interesting to see what other announcements follow from other colleges in the coming months.

An interesting time to identify small changes in how the music world now sees itself or wants to

Thinking more widely, this period of time transitioning from lockdown to opened-up living is turning out to be, as I predicted in various emails to PRs and arts administrators ten days ago, a fascinating time.

For the past year there have been murmurings about how classical music needed to change, and how this hiatus may well be an opportunity to bring about that change. In the announcements made by Wigmore Hall yesterday for example, there are glimpses of change – specifically artists aligned to brands, and announcing Rebecca Omordia leading Wigmore’s African Concert Series. I see this is a strong statement of intent. A brand positioning statement on diversity issued at a point in time when cut-through is maximised. And a statement that we’re looking at music in a holistic way to serve under-represented genres, and reshape classical in the UK.

Expectations shouldn’t be too simplistic. The change I’m noticing isn’t big bang stuff. It’s more about who is doing what, how they’re communicating it, and what that says about the wider sector. What’s important is using this moment in time to highlight the differences. And so far seeking out those smallish changes is energising.

Edinburgh International Festival and Wigmore Hall announce exciting new plans for 2021 live performances

Two key announcements this morning signal the return of live performance and, following the easing of some restrictions in England yesterday, the promise that a different style of performance experience is definitely returning.

Wigmore Hall combines news of a series of 120th anniversary events scheduled for May and June 2021, with an explicit commitment of at least one concert per season over the next five years for nine associate artists. Distanced audiences will have a chance to buy tickets drawn from a ballot. Those wishing to be in the ballot need to have paid a friends membership first. Membership rates range from £5 to £50 paid in installments over 10 months. A nifty membership drive.

The associate artists joining forces with Wigmore Hall are: Nitin Sawhney (composer/performer), Amjad Ali Khan (sarod), Amaan Ali Bangash (sarod), Ayaan Ali Bangash (sarod), Lawrence Power (viola), Gweneth Ann Rand (soprano), Trish Clowes (saxophone), Elaine Mitchener (vocal and movement artist), Christian McBride (jazz bass).

Also joining the rosta is the Nigerian-Romanian pianist (and Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcastee) Rebeca Omordia. She ledas the and African Concert Series that spotlights the depth and diversity of African art music, bridging the gap between Western classical music and traditional African music.

And up in Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival has announced dates for a return this year, with two important messages.

First, live performances will be staged in temporary canopied performance pavilions. That these are open to the elements makes the artist impressions of the structures tantalisingly futuristic and exciting. The now commonplace format adjustments are in place too – repeat performances with no interval for a distanced audience. Importantly, the website message from Edinburgh International Festival Director Fergus Linehan is potent.

“While we are looking forward to the prospect of bringing the Festival City to life once more, we appreciate that not everyone will be able to attend our performances in person this year.”

Elsewhere in a press release, his line is a little more explicit.

“We appreciate that these first steps back to live performances will be for audiences closer to home but are delighted to offer a parallel programme of digital work for those further afield.”

For Edinburgh to actively draw attention to the fact that limited audience facilities mean that necessarily the Festival is for locals rather than the usual national or international clientele is important. It’s sort of saying, ‘think of the locals this year’, something Edinburgh folk having been thinking to themselves for years given the impact the Edinburgh Fringe has.

Edinburgh International Festival (7-29 August 2021) releases its schedule of events on 1 June 2021.

National Orchestra for All seeks donations for its work breaking down barriers in music-making

The National Orchestra for All (NOFA) has released a new promotional video outlining the work the ten-year-old charitable organisation does in creating participatory music-making experiences.

NOFA is available specifically for young people who might otherwise be excluded because of social, cultural, health or financial barriers. Participants are nominated by a third party who can vouch for the young person’s commitment to music and the barriers they face.

It seems like such an obvious gap which needs plugging that I’m surprised I’ve not paid closer attention to NOFA before now. What draws my eye now is the point made by one player in this video: that by increasing access to those in society who are most at risk of being excluded so likelihood of a lifelong connection with the music that is played is increased.

No great surprises there, I suppose. That’s what the Simon Bolivar Foundation (or El Sistema) was doing with its network of Venezualan youth orchestras since 1975.

But when you’re spending a lot of time pondering how to maximise cut-through at a transition point for classical music as I’ve been over the past few months, then it’s the basic principles that perhaps come through loud and clear. Access is key. Please forgive the pun.

What is really useful to discover via the NOFA website is the cost per member. Such transformation via a mixed-ability youth orchestra demands £1500 per player. Members don’t have to pay (obviously), but somebody has to. That is the cost of access. £1500.

On the one hand – when I look at my monthly outgoings – that’s a significant chunk of money that makes sleeping at night a little deeper. On the other hand, £1500 to introduce the joy of participatory music-making to someone who wouldn’t otherwise experience it that seems a small price to pay.

Discover more about the work of National Orchestra for All and donate

St John’s Smith Square and Southbank Sinfonia to join forces from April 2021

A cracking start to the day this morning – a press release announcing the merger of two arts organisations.

Getting underway with digital concert on 15th April and underway by Summer 2021, training orchestra Southbank Sinfonia and Westminster concert venue St John’s Smith Square are joining forces to become Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Smith Square.

The new organisation will be a home for world-class musical development and act as a permanent home for the Southbank Sinfonia. The fellowship of musicians will rehearse, run workshops and community-driven events, in addition to participating in St John’s Smith Square’s ongoing festivals like Holy Week and Christmas Festivals.

The news is a strong message ahead of the much-anticipated transition back into live performance, positioning a much-loved concert venue and exciting ensemble at a critical point in time.

“We’re incredibly excited to be welcoming 33 wonderfully talented young musicians to become the driving force behind the creative programme at St John’s Smith Square,” commented Richard Heason, Director of St John’s Smith Square. “It’s a stunning building with a fabulous reputation for music-making which embraces everything from local groups to world-class artists. Placing emerging talent at the heart of the organisation guarantees the future of our musical heritage.”

St John’s Smith Square has consistently demonstrated resilience, resourcefulness, and determination throughout the pandemic. Director Richard Heason made the venue available for all manner of recording projects inside and out, underlining the value of the venue’s much-loved acoustic for audio and video captures. A variety of crowdfunding projects underline the organisation’s determination (as well the venue’s lack of Arts Council funding).

Simon Over, Music Director from Southbank Sinfonia, and Richard Heason from St John’s Smith Square become Co-Directors in the newly-merged organisation. Simon Over said,

“I’ve always loved performing at St John’s Smith Square.  Southbank Sinfonia has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the hall since its inaugural concert there in 2002, and in its 20th anniversary next year, the moment is right for the orchestra to enter the next stage of its development, making this splendid hall its permanent home.”