Thornden Hall provided the setting for a great advert for Hampshire music on the sultry evening of Thursday 7th July. The Winchester Symphony Orchestra provided a skilful accompaniment to concertos performed by four wonderful soloists from the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra, conducted by Nick Wilks in his final concert for WSO after sixteen years, and the HCYO before that. Nick has made a huge contribution to Hampshire music over his career, and is now taking his baton to a new challenge in Scotland.
The Young Soloist Competition supported and hosted by the WSO is a great plan. Providing these performing opportunities to local talented young musicians in a friendly and supportive environment is hugely important to their artistic development and to the future cultural life of Hampshire. The last few years have been very difficult for performing musicians, and it is hugely encouraging to see such support for live music, with the Competition formally judged by the eminent conductors Christopher Seaman and Robin Browning.
As Christopher Seaman pointed out, we had four superb performances from the four soloists, and all four were fortunate to benefit from excellent accompaniment by the WSO. The judges' criteria were control, command of the instrument and communication with the audience. The winner, Shoshana Yugin-Power, clearly a remarkable all-round musician, established an immediate rapport with the audience, and her confident character and musical communication gave her the edge on the night.
All four soloists showed very high levels of technical skill, and command of their instruments. Hannah Crowdy started the evening with the challenging Vaughan Williams oboe concerto, a late work combining his distinctive individual blend of pastoral lyricism and virtuoso passage work. Oboe and string orchestra combined to create a very authentic sound, and Hannah showed an admirable confidence in tackling the work's technical challenges.
Next, Freya Garside played a charming performance of Gordon Jacobs's Concerto for Bassoon, Percussion and Strings. Freya played with a lovely tone across the whole range of the instrument, and showed great rhythmical control and individual character in this slightly quirky but very enjoyable piece.
For the second half, the WSO strings were supplemented by the wind section and we saw the full orchestra as Shoshana followed with the Reinecke flute concerto. In this piece, Reinecke is very careful to protect the flute from the more powerful orchestral sound and either provides the flute with a series of extrovert virtuoso flourishes, followed by interludes of full orchestral passage, thus avoiding balance problems, or as in the slow movement, he cuts down the orchestral accompaniment to a few sections and solos. This certainly suited Shoshana, who took full advantage of the freedom and elegant decorative and expressive passage work in the flute part.
To end the evening, Eleanor Holmes provided an admirable interpretation of the Glazunov violin concerto. This is a piece in the romantic style, a fundamental part of the violin concerto repertoire, highly challenging and requiring a virtuoso technique. However, the Glazunov also presents major performance challenges because the violin part competes throughout for space with the orchestra, and this adds to the work's technical challenges. Eleanor took on a really difficult challenge well and finished strongly with an impressive final movement. Another outstanding performance.
The evening ended with the judges' summary, and a few words from David Blunt thanking Nick Wilks for his years of musical direction. We look forward to the resumption of the orchestra's activities in the autumn under new direction.