BBC Young Musician of the Year 98

Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth; Belfast, Waterfront Hall, Sunday 29 March

For those inclined to the view that the female teenager has far outstripped the male of the species, sunk as he is in terminal laddishness, the final concert of BBC Young Musician 98 would have provided food for thought. Four out of the five finalists were women, each radiating composure and command in equal measure. By contrast, the one male, a percussionist heaven help us, rampaged around the stage like a Tasmanian Devil.

The effect for those watching at home was not a patch on reality. The acoustic of the Waterfront is, on the whole, very favourable for soloists, and the sheer excitement of seeing these young people at work produced a very complete experience. There were staggering contrasts between the works on offer; how do you decide between the quality of experience derived from Nielsen's understated flute concerto, and Schwantner's much less interesting percussion concerto which, nevertheless, is designed to bring the house down?

It is tempting to dwell on individual performances, for example, the superb rapport between Juliette Bausor and the orchestra in the Nielsen, the concentration and energy of Adrian Spillett in the Schwantner, or Alison Farr's remarkable delicacy in Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but the tortuous detail of deciding the winner was, thank goodness, up to the judges (they went for the 19-year-old percussionist, Adrian Spillett).

The important thing to appreciate is that these young performers have relatively little experience of playing with orchestras, and great credit must go to the Ulster Orchestra and Barry Wordsworth, who gave them such sympathetic support.

And there is the question of whether listening to them performing with an orchestra is the best way of judging young soloists who have still to develop. But in the end the accolades were well deserved. Perhaps more importantly, the message was underlined that, for all the expert comment and soft-focus television can supply, music is always best experienced live.