Celebrating the talents of our musical youth

WINNING LINE-UP: The 2018 competition
PIANO MAN: Alexander Ullman, overall winner in 2014

You may have been watching the postponed BBC Young Musician of the Year, but did you know that Tunbridge Wells and East Sussex residents have their own version? The prestigious Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition (TWIMC) aims to encourage youthful musical talent and has been going since 1979. 

In that time it has seen many of its winners, such as Paul Lewis and Anne-Sofie von Otter, go on to international careers in music. 

Although TWIMC may have been around for nearly 50 years, it’s not too old to learn new tricks. This was shown by the first online competition, which was held last month. The virtual event was a resounding success, as were a series of online concerts performed by former competitors hosted over the last six months. 

The biennial competition, now held in tandem with the Mayfield Festival, had to be postponed last year due to the Covid pandemic – and then again this year. 

In an effort to help young artists facing terrible difficulties, against a background of the devastating impact that the health crisis has had across not just music but the whole of the artistic world, the TWIMC Council decided that something should be done to help and encourage young musicians. 

The Council decided first on the online concerts and then on a virtual competition. The concerts helped individual musicians and allowed listeners to benefit from a live chat with the artist afterwards. 

They were such a success that when it was clear that it would be impossible to hold the full competition in 2021, the Council felt ready to try a virtual version. 

Strong encouragement to do so was given by the competition’s Honorary Patron, George Caird, and President, Levon Chilingirian, OBE, both of whom had seen at first hand how badly the pandemic was affecting the lives and careers of young musicians.

The Interim Competition was announced in January, and attracted nearly 70 talented performers aged between 16 and 28 from all over the world. 

There were three categories: Wind, strings and piano. Competitors had to send in a 15-minute video with at least two differing styles of pieces, and these were drawn together into one virtual programme which the judges used to assess the recitals. 

Some of competitors had to go to a great deal of trouble to find recording facilities. One potential entrant asked whether it would be all right to perform on an electric piano, as that was all that was available to him up in the Orkneys! He was encouraged to try next year instead. 

Others were able to submit only solo pieces as they could not find an accompanist, and while some were able to perform in music rooms, others sent recordings from their living rooms. 

However, all of them showed an astonishing array of talent, and some very interesting music choices. Indeed, one of the winners, Richard Scholfield, performed the world premiere of a piece written by Jay Capperauld.

It was probably not the prize – £100 each for distinction winners – but the stellar line-up of judges and the promise of feedback from those judges for every competitor that drew so many to enter. 

In turn, the judges – Sam Hayward and Joanna MacGregor, CBE, for the piano section; Tasmin Little, OBE, and Natalie Clien, OBE, for the strings section; and for the wind section, John Wallace, CBE, and Katherine Bryan – were blown away by the amazing performances produced by the young artists. 

Such was the talent on offer they found it difficult to choose, but at the online awards ceremony on Friday April 30 (another first) 18 merits as well as nine distinctions were awarded. Both the performances and the awards ceremony can still be seen online on the TWIMC website, together with the full list of winners. 

The distinction winners in the Wind and Brass section were Robert Finegan, saxophone; Adam Lee, clarinet; and Richard Scholfield, saxophone. 

The distinction winners in the Strings section were Eriko Nagayama, violin; Matthew Chin, violin; and Mio Takahashi, violin. 

And the distinction winners in the piano section were Richard Zhang, Juliette Richards and Sejin Yoon. 

Remember those names as they all have great careers ahead of them.

Both judges and competitors were delighted to have taken part and been given a focus for their artistic abilities at a time when so many are unable to make the music that we all love and appreciate so much. 

The TWIMC Council was delighted that the online competition was such a success. However, it is much to be hoped that next year it will be possible to go ahead with the full competition, which is due to take place from April 27 to May 1 2022, in the middle weekend of the two weeks of the Mayfield Festival, from Sunday April 24 to Sunday May 8. 

At least one former competition winner will be giving a concert during the festival, as one of the aims of TWIMC is to offer performance opportunities to its finalists. At least one of the judges will also perform. 

But, given the success of the online concerts and competition, who knows what else could be offered in addition to the biennial contest? 

Lockdown may have been a disaster in many ways, but it has certainly provided other avenues to explore as TWIMC continues to support and encourage talented young musicians at the beginning of their careers.


WINNING LINE-UP: The 2018 competition
WINNING LINE-UP: The 2018 competition

What is the Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition? 

According to its organisers, Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition is a musical event that is recognised around the world as a unique platform for showcasing the talents of outstanding young musicians as they embark upon their professional careers. 

The competition started in 1979 and became part of the Mayfield Festival in 2016, hosted by Mayfield School. It has played an important role in the careers of many internationally celebrated musicians. Past winners include: Piano virtuoso Paul Lewis; opera stars Anne Sofie von Otter and Patricia Rozario; great Spanish clarinettist Joan Enric Lluna; Russian pianist Yuri Didenko, and flautist Michael Cox, currently principal flute of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. 

The aim of the competition is to help and encourage advanced students and young professional musicians on the threshold of their careers, drawing entrants from around the globe and supporting winners by offering cash prizes and performance opportunities in the early part of their professional careers.

To discover more about the competition, email info@twimc.org.uk or visit twimc.org.uk

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