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Not one UK paper reports BBC Young Musician result

We regretted last night that the production and presentation of the final – won by the luminous Laura van der Heijden – were low-key to the point of torpor.

We also pointed out that the competition website was not updated for days and the result was not announced onsite on the night.

This morning we find that the entire British press has ignored the outcome. This may be, in part, a failure on the part of the press but it is a much bigger shortcoming on the part of the BBC, which failed from start to finish to promote the competition.

For various internal reasons, the competition was produced by BBC Wales. It looks like they fell asleep on the job and no-one at Centre woke them up. Next time, in 2014, Young Musician should be moved to a different production base.   Maybe there should be an internal BBC competition to host it.

The winner of this final deserved better.

UPDATE here.

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  1. It’s been a travesty for a few years. There is apparently some embarrassment inside the BBC I think at the whole idea of a competition for middle class kids to play classical music*. Even when there is coverage, it’s of the gushing “so how do you feeeel?” variety that has disgraced the proms for a while now.

    * how fortunate then when Peter Moore won it a while back, a northerner so he must be working class, and a trombonist so it’s not quite so embarrassingly un-inclusive as a violin!

    And don’t get me started on the composers’ competition that used to run parallel to the performers one. When I won it (let’s not be modest), I had a half-hour documentary on BBC2 in which the entirety of my piece was played by a heavily augmented London Sinfonietta and I was searchingly interviewed by Simon Broughton (I talked about Bach and Stravinsky for a good 5 minutes! and didn’t have to say “how I felt”), and the concerto final, at which Natalie Klein, Oscar Bettison, and I could be seen getting our trophies from the Duchess of Kent was on BBC1 (I think) at prime-time in the main Barbican concert hall – which was packed. The whole concerto of each finalist was broadcast. This was in 93/94 and I also got to meet the chairman of (sponsors) Lloyds Bank at the piss-up afterwards!

    Natalie’s had a rather more glittering classical music career than me since I must say :)

    Nowdays the composer competition has been shifted to a younger age-range starting at 12 (in my day, although I was 17, most of the other competitors were at university). And of course you’ll be lucky to hear anything about it on TV although I think recently it has been sponsored by the Grauniad and there is a (untelevised of course) prom performance. Not sure about that though. I think they only get to write for small forces too.

    I did get approached by one of the most recent composer winners (Ben Wetherfield) at one of my concerts, to which he had come after seeing that I’d won the prize previously. I went and listened to his music and was hugely impressed, so, it’s not as if there is a lack of composing talent out there.

    • Peter Freeman says:

      This blog needs to be made somehow to reach the eyes of those at the very top of the venerable, but somewhat creaky, it seems, beeb, to have any positive effect.

    • Michael Brough says:

      Depressingly, I agree. I had a 30-minute bass clarinet sonata and a commission for voice, clarinet and piano done for the first time at a lovely festival in North Yorkshire last year (how many bass clarinet sonatas are there, anyway – Othmar Schoeck and who else?) and not a dickybird in the local or any other press. It’s not as if composers are deliberately setting out to baffle their audiences any more with aleatoric or dreadfully astringent material, in the main.

  2. Jonathan Barker says:

    The press coverage this morning is indeed extraordinary by its absence, even on the BBC Arts & Entertainment section of its news site! But the really extraordinary thing about the competition is the musical and human talent (and coolness) of the extraordinarily young musicians performing. In a way, winning the overall title (a tough choice this year for the judges, all being second-guessed by every reasonably-informed TV or radio listener, should not matter as much as winning the category titles because, in the end, cellists “compete” with other string players and pianists with pianists in their careers. And there can be little doubt that all 5 of the category winners have assured themselves of promising careers and gained exposure as well as practice.

    The bigger issue is about how many people care about this kind of carefully (and long) nurtured talent as opposed to what was on display with a lot less refinement even if equivalent panache on Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice at almost the same time. It seems that Young Musician has steadily attracted bigger, though relatively modest “minority”, audiences, hidden away as it was mainly on BBC4 until this weekend’s promotion to BBC2. Clemency Burton-Hill’s presentation and appeal may have seemed a tad more showy and focused more on feelings than on some of the issues that appeal to radio 3 listeners. But she and the musicians will have pulled in more future audiences from those who are attracted to human interest stories while the steady old classical music-loving fraternity (sorority?) was probably all hooked anyway. Meanwhile there is marginally more “coverage” on Twitter and the informed blogosphere than there is in any of the mainstream media!

    • Celia Johns says:

      Regrettably all I heard of the competition was a small part of the final on Saturday evening. I was however interested in finding out who had won. It took me nearly 20 minutes on Sunday morning trawling round the Internet to find out! And it was on Wikipedia that I located the answer, not the BBC website where I confidently expected the information to be. It really is a disgraceful state of affairs.

  3. Ben Woodgate says:

    A dancing dog got more interest (& 250 times more prize money!) for its ‘talent’ – I despair at the culturally dumbed down majority population thanks to the likes of these so called talent shows.
    The musical talent in this country is among the very best on the planet. But a dancing dog is favoured.
    Irreversible too I fear…

    • The dog was great, and his owner was clearly dedicated to their act and had put in a lot of hard work. It’s not their fault, or the fault of majority of the British population who prefer this sort of entertainment. What I despair of is the increasingly occurring dumbing down of the BBC’s presentation of its classical music programmes, both on TV and radio. I resent being spoken to as if I were an uninformed idiot on occasion, when I’m listening to the proms. Surely the BBC must realise that they risk alienating their original audience with this style of presentation. And for what gain, if all the folk they are trying to interest are watching the talent shows anyway?
      I thought that the point of a license fee was to allow the making of programmes which would interest minorities? Not to always have to pander to the moronic popular view?
      The latest crossover programme, Maestro, is a sad indication of the way real hard work, dedication and talent are being disregarded in preference to a quick hit in the interest of a fleeting moment’s entertainment, at the expense of genuine culture. Who cares how Josie Lawrence (much as I admire her) conducts Carmen? I for one would far rather see Sir Mark Elder perform stand up comedy. However at least the participants are appreciating the hard work, concentration and dedication required, all of which every one of the young people on Young Musician of the Year had in bounds, even if the BBC assumed no-one much was interested. Again, I despair.

      • Will Anderson says:

        While I agree with you almost entirely, with regards to the BBC’s presentation of the proms it is important to remember the intentions of their founder (Robert Newman) in the late 1890s: “I am going to run nightly concerts and train the public by easy stages. Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.” To speak to the audience as if they already know everything about “classical music” may well leave that minority who do feeling in the know, but can alienate the prospective listeners (that the concerts are trying to “train) even if to the clued-up the coverage can sound patronising.

      • Birgitta says:

        Absolutely spot on.

      • Musiker says:

        Funny you should say that about BBC dumbing down, Laura.
        I’ve been out of the country for 20 years and have only recently started listening to Radio 3 regularly again via the web.
        When I was at school and at university, I listened to Radio 3 all the time and told all my friends and colleagues here in my new home Germany about how unique and special it was. It seemed to take a pride in digging out rarely heard repertoire and broadcasting “difficult” or little-known and contemporary music.
        The listeners’ requests that got played never seemed to be mainstream or well-known works, but the more off the beaten track the better.
        Composers of the week were also those a lot of people would not have ordinarily known or had chance to listen to.
        It was, for a school pupil and subsequent student like myself, who lived in the provinces and had no money to go to concerts and opera, a real musical education.
        Since I’ve started listening regularly again, I’ve felt rather disappointed about how mainstream Radio 3 has become.
        Of course, it could also be that I’ve also developed in my personal tastes too. I’ve come a long way in the intervening years, so maybe some of it is that I myself have changed.
        But I do have nagging doubts nowadays that Radio 3 has, to its detriment, dumbed down a fair bit.

        • NigelCropper says:

          I couldn’t agree more. When Classic FM first started up I found it unlistenable-to: all those ad breaks and bleeding chunks from the classics linked with syrupy anchormen (and women). It has improved since then, I think, but Radio 3 has plummeted downhill, to the extent that at times I find it hard to tell the difference.

          These days there is far too much inconsequential speech in supposedly music programmes these days and far too little adventurous programming. Since public concerts have to rely on programming music by a coterie of about 20-25 ‘safe’ composers (Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Tchaikowsky, Saint-Saens, Franck, Debussy, Ravel, Sibelius, Elgar, Vaughan-Williams and perhaps a handful more) surely the BBC ought to be actively trying to reedress the balance by offering more esoteric music. How often do we get music by Geminiani, Vanhal, Paisiello, Sterndale-Bennett, Balakirev, Bliss, Damase, Slavicky, Diamond, Rautavaara or Yoshimatsu? That’s the kind of programming that would get me listening.

          But of course these days everything comers down to ratings so Radio 3 has to play it safe just like thje concert promoters. There is therefore little room for the rarities we used to get on a daily basis – these days not even in the middle of the night, where obscure composers used to provide interest for insomniacs. I scour the Radio Times listings every week in the hope of finding something new to tempt me, but I’m usually disappointed.

          Radio 4 is not what it was, but these days I find it far more comforting than Radio 3, which I find increasingly annoying. I used to listen to Radio 3 all the time, especially in the car. Now it’s Radio 4 all the way.
          Oh for the days of Patricia Hughes!

  4. Susan Mackenzie-Park says:

    I was “disgusted of Salisbury” to read this item this morning. What is wrong when a young woman and her dog – whilst undoubtedly hugely skilled at what they do – can be plastered all over the front of virtually every Sunday newspaper, broadsheets and all, and the BBC YM receives no coverage at all. The latter won £2000, the former £500,000!!
    If the young pianist, also competing in the final, had been on Britain’s Got Talent, he would have brought the house down, been hailed by Simon “I am inordinately impressed by classical music even when performed with mediocrity” Cowell as the next Lang Lang. He would have had a recording contract in his pocket before the final credits had finished rolling and would have been on the BBC Breakfast couch at the earliest opportunity. Whether or not this would be a good thing is an entirely different can of worms to be argued on a different occassion,
    Any criticism of the whole process as being elitist and only for the wealthy middle classes is not justified. Although a large majority of the contestants who got to the televised stages appeared to attend one of the 4 English & 1 Scottish specialist music school, this only tells us about their musical ability and not their parents income. The commendable Music & Dance scheme provided by the government to support children talented enough to win places at these schools helps parents who do not have the funds to provide such opportunities for their talented child. My own daughter, through her own talent and hard work, has such a place at one of these schools. She has assistance to the tune of 85% making the asking price of £35,000 per year just within our reach. Many of her friends are on 100% scholarships and do not come from remotely privileged backgrounds.
    As long as the media perpetuate the myth of elitism and laud and fete some of the more dubiously “talented” acts then we will find that classical music & musicians will remain very much in the shadow of their counterparts in the world of “popular” culture.

  5. Fair point, but let’s not be too hard on the BBC. They do a lot for classical music in this country, let’s not forget!

  6. Jonathan Barker says:

    Britain without the BBC would be an unimaginably less appealing place and not just for classical music lovers and musicians (though we should all remember that the Murdoch media (and the Daily Mail) have long tended to press for just that! And, though Sky Arts is also valuable, it hardly matches the BBC’s output on TV, never mind the wonders of Radio 3. But Classic FM (remember that Daily Mail’s stake there) has also had an important role in bringing classical music to wider audiences. Now let’s look to our schools – and to the bursaries which enable talented young people from all backgrounds (but not enough) to experience an education that builds on their musical prowess.

    And the BBC News site did, over 16 hours later, finally publish an items about this year’s amazing cellist – with insufficient appreciation of the other amazing category finalists. Let’s have 5 silver medals next time, rather than just one gold!

  7. Jonathan Barker says:
  8. Michael Bryant says:

    Sonatas for bass clarinet and piano: a somewhat restricted field in view of many composers’ choices of more adventurous titles: Conrad Baden, John Binder, Derek Bermel, Michael Cunningham, Vaclav Felix, Oldrich Flosman (arrd), Paul Hindemith (authorised arrangement), Karel Janovicky, Daniel Kremser, Laco Kupkovic, Terje Lerstad, Norbert Linke, Ivana Loudova, Bohuslav Martinu (authorised transcription) Zbynek Mateju, Manfred Nedbal, Alfredo Nicotra, Milan Salich, Othmar Schoeck, Lubos Sluka, Jiri Smutny, Konrad Stekl, Antonin Tucapsky, Alois Vesely, Florian Wiefler, Thornton Winslow, up to the year 2000. The basset horn is the senior partner but has received less attention from composers than the bass clarinet.

    I would like to ask the BBC why the YMY staff don’t take the care to spell or pronounce correctly the name of Witold Lutosławski? (as in Subito for vn/pf)

  9. Felicity says:

    I completely agree that there has not been enough coverage about this year’s competition let alone the winner! I only knew it was on because I happened to see it in the schedule! I agree that there has been too much focus on”how are you feeling” but at least you heard most of the competitors’ programme. I seem to remember that in 2008 there was more talking than music!!

    Sadly, there is more appreciation for the mainstream ‘talent’ shows as well as the view that all young classical musicians must be middle class. I went to 2 music specialist schools and if I had a pound for every person who assumed my parents must be rich I’d be rich indeed! Nothing could be further from the truth!

    I’m surprised by the lack of interest from the press about the winner and I had no idea about the composition competition that ran alongside it. It does sometimes feel like that more focus goes on being younger and Tim’s point about the entry age being lowered backs this up. What’s wrong with a couple of years more maturity? I don’t know about everyone else but I did feel that this year’s finalists lacked maturity compared to other year’s e.g Lara Melda.

    However it’s true the BBC does more than other channels and without it the world of classical music would be lost!

  10. ‘Tis sad, but it’s just a reflection of a wider malaise in classical music, and music education generally. I’ve spent the last ten or so years involved with Bedfordshire Youth Opera, and have noted a general decline in musical education of members even over that short time. Music is neglected as both an academic and practical subject, and music performance has fared worst of all as music technology – a valid and useful subject – has become mainstream. The study of ‘classical’ instruments has taken a major hit, with drums becoming the most taught instrument in schools.

    The end result? There are far fewer young violinists, clarinetists, trombonists and classical pianists than there were a decade or so ago (let alone two decades ago). Not only are there fewer potential competitors (though the standard of finalists is, I think, still reassuringly high), crucially there are far fewer viewers. A talent competition is less thrilling if the audience lacks common ground with the competitors, which is why amateurism is lauded on shows such as BGT. (Susan Boyle’s apparently inexhaustible charm comes not just from her average talent, but from her background; both of these support the myth that anyone can become famous.)

    While the BBC has, perhaps, done a bad job of publicising YMOTY, they can’t be held responsible for declining public interest. It would be good to get music performance back into schools, though.

  11. What a wonderful young artist! Thanks for posting the clip! We would have remained in the dark….

  12. Congratulations to Ms. Van der Heijden. Beautiful.

  13. James Webb says:

    It’s a shame that the brilliance and hard work of so many classical musicians is simply rubbished. I often feel that people in Britain, especially media people, are willfully ignorant, even proudly moronic, when it comes to a knowledge of serious music (in a way that they wouldn’t dream of being when it comes to serious literature or painting.) But the BBC, like so much of the entertainment industry, is fundamentally populist. In response to Tim’s post at the top, I think you were much luckier than me: I, jointly with Philip Howard, won the first BBC Young Composers’ Competition in 1992. The main prize was supposed to be £2000 plus a performance of a piece by the NYO. I spent a year, during A levels, sweating blood to compose a piece for orchestra which I desperately cared about at the time. After winning, I was told summarily that there would be no performance of it in any form, and that was that. I never had any contact with the BBC after the competition, and they literally didn’t give a damn about me. It was a total farce and left me very disillusioned ever since. Having subsequently worked for the BBC, I’ve seen from the inside how shamelessly exploitative these competitions are of the performers. That, I reckon, goes for the unfortunate performing dogs, as well as the brilliant young cellists.

    • Hi James, did I not meet you back then? Along with the Duchess we were given our prizes on the Barbican stage by the “previous winners”, but these might have been the musicians rather than the composers (sic!) and it was all quite overwhelming at the time.

      I was going to say about prize money. We didn’t get a commission (not via the BBC anyway, although I had 3 commissions directly as a result of winning the prize, and very nearly wrote a piece for Natalie Klein that her mum was trying to organise, but it never came off sadly, mainly my fault). We got £1000 in prize money which I reckon was worth more in 1994 than £2k is today. Not that one does these things for the money – this competition is entirely about the kudos, which is considerable, even today. Everyone (in the UK) knows what “BBC Young Musician of the Year” is, when they might not know what the Tchaikovsky Prize or the Grawemeyer Award are for example.

      Regarding performing dogs. It’s very easy to be entertained by them, and it’s entirely in keeping with current popular culture, what with LOLcats etc (I bet David Cameron doesn’t know what they are!) It does however require some knowledge and effort to be entertained by classical music, and even then you miss half the point, it isn’t necessarily music designed for “entertainment” as such…

      … anyway – BGT, BBC, etc, it’s all about Bread & Circuses, keep the proles in order. Wouldn’t want to move their souls or inspire their spirits in any way, not when they might, just might, have reason to be angry with the government and feel like starting a revolution!

      • James Webb says:

        I only got half the cash of course Tim, ‘cos of the shared prize, though it did help fund my first year at university. We may well have met, but not at any subsequent BBC event I’m sure. On the musical cultural malaise: we had to spot Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in a pub quiz last week, and my team (out of 10) was the only one that got it right. Bread and Circuses it certainly is, and I think that even serious musicians have to remember that we’re all “entertainers” in a way. As a music teacher I like writing stuff for my students and that suits me fine. I don’t recall if Mozart ever won Vienna’s Got Talent, so there we are. I’m still working on my Bass Clarinet Sonata by the way, and it’s going to have part for a dancing dog :)

  14. The betrayal of classical music has been fomenting for many years now. I cut my teeth on Hans Keller and Alec Robertson. The Post-War world was one that saw the handing on of precious artistic achivement as a classless legacy that men and women had died for. The betrayal came from two quarters: from the Middle Class who regrarded the domain of Cathedral choir schools to be their rightful possession and from the so-called cultural liberators of the oppressed who advocated participatory educationa and cultural pluralism. They both betrayed the common man. As for the BBC , it should cease to broacast, or have its right to do so suspended, as they do more harm through their philistinism than their advocacy. Recent examples : playing single movements of works,
    ( would you exhibit a part of a complete Michaelangelo?) zealously praising the Vatican for canonising Hildegard of Bingen ( it was the wrong Hildegard) and announcing the wrong titles. Music alwyas triumphs, but it needs to know its true freinds.

    • It was the wrong Hildegard? You mean they didn’t canonise the 11th/12th century composer/mystic?

      Slightly off-topic, sorry …

      • Theannouncer confused the beatification of Hildegard Burjan with that of H.of Bingen who is already a Saint This was recognised recently by the church.

      • Maybe Duncan means that they should have canonised that old cabaret singer, The Incomparable Hildegarde.


  15. Mark Barrett says:

    Why so little evidence that YM was even taking place? To be truly populist, the BBC should not hide YM as if it were afraid of being branded “too middle class” but, conversely, give it at least enough coverage (for this indeed is in its remit, I would have thought) beyond simple transmission to show that we should celebrate and be proud of young musical talent. It’s naive to expect coverage on the level of The Voice or BGT (and the winning dog) but please let us see a decent effort being made to tell us all about the competition and what it represents. To be fair to BBC Wales, this entity has been responsible for keeping the Music and Arts flag flying with some very fine commissions – in general, though, some searching questions need to be asked within the Corporation, starting with a thorough ‘root-and-branch’ revamp of YMOTY and how it should be organised and broadcast (in the fullest sense of the word).

  16. Finally, she got the award of BBC Young Musician 2012 award. Congrats for wonderful performance. I wish that young artist keep performance continue. Fantastic and superb music video though. :)

  17. Ian Ball says:

    This is appalling. Not that there’s no interest in the media. It’s bad PR by the BBC. Perhaps the presentation style works against them – who is it in the organisation that believes it has to be sexed up with umpteen introductions, soundbites, incomplete performances and ‘symphonic Dr Who’ music? The final wasn’t too bad but the heats were DREADFUL. What demographic do they think this is going to appeal to??

    • Mark Barrett says:

      I agree, see my previous post, Ian. I think that there is no reason why the BBC shouldn’t take YMOTY seriously. The classical musical world is often toecurlingly bad at popularising classical music and this is one major example, sadly. In order to celebrate young talent from all segments of society, I think that the contest has to be thoroughly re-examined from top to toe, root and branch, from how the competitors enter all the way through the process – so that the outcome is positive for the entrants and finalists – and, well-produced television that no one should be afraid to make good PR from. All very tragic..

  18. As a pendant to this interesting discussion of the BBC coverage of YMOTY, I wonder why they did not enter anyone into Eurovision Young Musicians 2012, which took place a day before the YMOTY final. In previous years, the winner (or a finalist) of the previous YMOTY has represented the UK and delayed coverage of the competition has been broadcast in the UK a few weeks later. It may that places are limited, but I would like to know the reasons for non-participation. A list of countries that did enter is here:

  19. Bob Dowell says:

    Unlike any thread pertaining to Britain’s Got Talent and the like, this is the most considered and eloquent exchange I’ve ever seen on t’internet. Well said.

  20. Come and hear Laura perform Kol Nidrei in worthing with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra on May 26th. Support our new Young Musician of the Year and a first class orchestra under the baton of John Gibbons.

  21. A few months ago, I was listening to a Jacqueline Du Pre recording on Youtube and underneath it, someone had commented “why couldn’t God have taken Justin Bieber instead”?! Now, I can’t really agree with God taking anyone before their time, but the sentiment remains the same. I agree totally that too much exposure too young can be harmful, but it’s shocking that manufactured superstars become these golden figures, while really talented people who graft every day to maintain fantastic high standards are just relegated to the obscure reaches of the media, if at all!

  22. Ellie Ball says:

    I agree with all the comments about the country literally going to the dancing dogs…

    It is a sad indictment of our times that mediocrity is celebrated, not least by the likes of Simon Cowell, and talent, ambition, hard work and excellence is somehow too embarrassing to broadcast.

    Two of the finalists came from perfectly normal schools. Many of those at specialist music schools have parents who work full time in stressful jobs, sacrifice holidays, posh cars, posh houses and a comfortable life-style to afford the fees. Music is not exclusive, it’s just HARD WORK for the kids, the parents and the teachers.

    We have become a nation of couch potatoes who think that somehow our Human Rights have been infringed if the supermarket has sold out of ready meals and we might have to actually make spaghetti bolognese from scratch; a nation who think that somehow we are entitled to all the good things without having to work for them.

    The BBC could play a key role in addressing this attitude by showing how much work these kids put into music (and probably their school work and the rest of their lives), what great people they and their parents are and how much further you can get in life if you put in some effort, whatever your background. Of course the same applies to sport, foreign languages, science, or any other discipline.

    Instead the BBC promotes a performing dog whose owner could have taught it to dance whilst sitting on the couch, feasting on an uninterrupted flow of ready meals.

    P.S. Why is it that “The Apprentice” (also a great display of mediocrity) has better background music than the utterly uninspiring and musically void elevator music played on YMOY?

  23. Captain_Ovlov says:

    The Times (God bless it!) reported it, and a comment column praised the extraordinary quality of the finalists.

    I thought the young lady who played the rarely-heard Walton ‘cello concerto was absolutely outstanding.

  24. David Stark says:

    Interestingly, I found out about the YM final through ‘hearing’ the comments of friends on Facebook as they were posted during the TV broadcast. I did not know the programme was on (I know, I know, but I don’t get much time for checking TV listings) and I am sorry to have missed it (will watch on iPlayer) but am very heartened that a significant number, including friends who I know would not normally consider classical music programmes, were really impacted by the performances, especially those of the cellist who went on to win.
    So do not despair of your fellow-man and woman quite yet. There are still those channel-hoppers out there who can be transfixed by the simplicity of outstanding music and outstanding performers.

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