Going it alone

The BBC's Young Musician of the Year has just been chosen. But, says Robert Maycock, let's liven up next year's final by doing away with concertos for all
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The Independent Culture
For once exit poll, phone-in and judges agreed. With Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, the last and longest of the day's performances, Rafal Payne became BBC Young Musician 1996. Luck of the draw maybe, but his was the most charismatic showing, and the enthusiasm in the hall was easy to catch.

In a final where the choice of concertos was a talking-point - only one of the five was popular repertoire - Payne made a shrewd choice. The violin has so many concertos that plenty of underrated ones can shine, and Khachaturian's Armenian-tinged showpiece from the Soviet years must have won many admirers. Nobody has too many memories of other interpretations, either, though Payne's patent flair and virtuoso skill could stand up to most comparisons.

You can feel for Julien Cheriyan, the pianist who played Grieg's concerto many hours earlier. He showed a superb sense of scale and space, and he built the solo cadenza through a finely graded range of tone-colour and weight. Poetic and freshly thought rather than dramatic, this was a more confident performance than many you will see from older hands. At the time it sounded the one to beat, and he still seems the most imaginative and resourceful finalist.

Katy Pryce boomed out splendidly into the Symphony Hall acoustic as the Gordon Jacob Trombone Concerto began, but this Fifties piece, of the Hindemith persuasion, didn't offer the musical challenges of her brass final repertoire. Why didn't somebody point her to the Nyman or Sandstrom concertos? Why did she have to play a concerto anyway?

The BBC's interval filler made a rather desperate case for the continuing viability of concertos, but they aren't what brass players do most of the time, and they need to be stronger to stand up in concerts. Straight after the interval Richard Rodney Bennett's Percussion Concerto made the point all over again - well written, technically demanding, and forgettable. Sam Walton thundered around, dispatching it with all it asked for. But what a wasted chance to break away from the concerto habit and do something exciting for music on television. At least the bassoonist Benjamin Hudson had some Mozart, which he made agile and relentlessly smooth.

Ivor Bolton patently enjoyed himself conducting this, and held everything together tautly. It's a bonus to experience the 120 per cent commitment of the National Youth Orchestra. But now that the rest of the Young Musician build-up has grown closer to real musical life, the concerto final looks more than ever disconnected - a weird survival with the air of a genteel Grand National and presenters lapsing into the old how-does-it-feel ways. All right, I got caught up enough to phone in, too (for Cheriyan, since you ask). But in truth I'd be as glad to see the back of the whole paraphernalia as of the tedious doodle by Thomas Ades that the BBC unaccountably used as signature tune.

Next time, let's have a final session that respects the musical strengths of the earlier rounds: a presentation concert, not a race. Let's have an end to automatic concertos for all. Why can't a percussionist, or anybody else, play solos, ensemble pieces, improvisations, music from outside the classical constraints - anything that shows how exciting a contemporary performer can be? Roll on, Young Musician of the World.