Awards for Young Musicians day at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire


by Christopher Morley

Picture the scene on the stage of the august Bradshaw Hall at the heart of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. In one corner a teenage boy is tinkling lovingly through the Grieg Piano Concerto; in another a youthful percussionist is rattling expertly through the xylophone variation of Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; in another, two lads are heading balloons towards each other. One of them bursts, to great glee.

More about the balloons later, but let's explain the context. This was the mid-afternoon break in an intensive day of activities presented by the Awards for Young Musicians Trust, its 12th annual awards day since its founding 20 years ago on the legacy of the musical instrument collector Robert Lewin. Nowadays the generous sources of the various awards are many and varied, and one of them is particularly poignant to our region.

Simon Richards was a budding young violinist from Birmingham. He suffered from Chronic Brittle Asthma, but managed to get on with life and find the strength to play the violin, which he adored. Simon sadly passed away on 16 August 2015, aged 12. Since then, his family have worked to ensure that Simon's legacy will have a positive impact. One of their many actions was to set up an award in Simon's memory with Awards for Young Musicians.

The Simon Richards Award is given to budding young violinists and viola players from the West Midlands.

AYM helps talented young people with tuition fees, the purchase of decent instruments which will enable them to nurture their gifts, and assistance with concert-attendance, accompanied by family members.

Alpesh Chauhan, who developed his cello-playing talents through the help of a similar scheme, Birmingham's Young Musicians' Trust, is now a much sought-after conductor, and has recently become a Patron of AYM -- because he wants to "give something back".

Another Patron is RBC Principal Julian Lloyd Webber, who donated the use of the building and its many performance and break-out spaces for this action-packed day enjoyed by 60 award-winners and their proud parents.

"As a long-standing patron of AYM I am delighted to welcome so many young talented instrumentalists to Royal Birmingham Conservatoire!", he says. "This will provide them with the opportunity to experience first-hand the wonderful new facilities at the Conservatoire whilst at the same time challenging themselves musically with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group as they tackle the new commissions".
Members of BCMG sat alongside AYM youngsters as they rehearsed and played three new commissions composed specially for the day, three fascinating pieces -- a work created from scratch this morning by Jackie Walduck, Tension by Vito Zuraj, and Silent Forest by Shiori Usui.
And it was in Silent Forest that the balloons came in. This gripping composition reflects our concerns about deforestation, its impact on the environment, and the loss of bird song in particular. Bird song chirps throughout the orchestra, and as everything moves towards a close the balloons are released as they deflate, fluttering into the air above the audience like so many birds trying to find new homes. Before this denouement, an inexorable slow march of doom builds over a grim passacaglia for percussion. This is certainly a repertoire choice for well-trained youth orchestras.
By their work with BCMG the young musicians of AYM relished exploring contemporary music and all the colouristic and textural rewards it can offer; a bonus to the practical help Awards for Young Musicians brings them.
Adrian Lee, father of two cellists -- 13-year-old Fernando and 11-year-old Caspian -- who benefit from the scheme, pays tribute to the caring atmosphere with which it treats its young beneficiaries.
"When my failing sight meant my income was diminishing we needed to find ways of funding the boys' music. Fernando went online and within 30 seconds had found Awards for Young Musicians!
"The forms were so easy for a young person to complete, and now they have the opportunity to take their studies to a higher level. We're able to attend concerts and observe rehearsals (such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra recently)), and to see professional life with contemporary musicians at a very high level. I'd recommend AYM to anyone!
"It's given my boys self-confidence, the chance to express themselves, to go beyond what they think they can do. Taking risks safely!"
Mae Edwards is a violinist who recently graduated from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and is now back home in Nottingham teaching for the Nottingham Music Hub.
As a youngster she was struggling on a mass-produced violin when Isata Kanneh-Mason, just one of that incredibly talented Nottingham musical family, advised her to apply for admission to the Purcell School, and it was there she learnt about AYM. A grant from them enabled her to buy a handmade violin, "which really boosted my confidence and ability as a player.
"In a way it validated my talent, and now I'm mentoring younger musicians, who themselves are mentoring even younger musicians.
"I love outreach! It's my way of giving something back."
And that is surely the thread which runs through this heartwarming enterprise, a cycle which can only reinforce the motto of Awards for Young Musicians: "Giving talent a chance".

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