The age-old adage has it that it is not the winning but the taking part that counts. And while these words do, through glib repetition, often ring empty of any consolation to the runner-up, when it comes to the biannual BBC Young Musician competition it seems that taking part does count for a great deal. Indeed, a number of the musicians pipped to the post on the night have gone on to step out from the shadow of the victor and launch glittering careers off the back of the competition.
1978: Stephen Hough (piano)
Trombonist Michael Hext won the inaugural BBC Young Musician award in 1978, in so doing fending off stiff competition from Malcolm Martineau and Stephen Hough. Since then, victory has not proved as difficult for the latter of the two beaten pianists, who won the 1982 Terence Judd Award and the Naumburg International Piano Competition of the following year.
More recently, he became the first classical musical performer to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and in the last decade has turned his hand, successfully, to composing. Hough is an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music and is a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, having been recognised in 2014 New Year Honours for services to music.
Martineau, similarly, has enjoyed a career as one of the world’s most accomplished song recital pianists.
1990: Thomas Adès
Where the 1990 recipient of the accolade, violinist Nicola Loud, now performs extensively on cruise ships, Thomas Adès, one of the pianists unsuccessful that year, has sailed on to more distinguished waters. After earning a double starred first for his studies in composition at King’s College, Cambridge in 1992, rubbing shoulders with Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway in the process, he was made Britten Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in 2004.
His work in the interim, including the orchestral compositions of Asyla, Polaris and Tevot and the opera Powder Her Face have brought him worldwide acclaim. Among various accolades, has been recognised both by a 2007 mini-season at the Barbican and as the focus of Stockholm Concert Hall’s annual Composer Festival.
1994: Colin Currie (percussion)
Having begun his musical studies at the age of five, Colin Currie was the first percussionist to reach the final of the competition in 1994. Losing out on the night to cellist Natalie Clein, Currie has since gone from strength to strength, graduating from the Royal Academy of Music four years later and winning myriad awards shortly after.
Though he spent time as part of several distinguished youth orchestras, solo performance quickly grew to be his main focus and has fed his reputation as a continued champion of new music, having premiered works by composers such as Elliott Carter, Louis Andriessen and Jennifer Higdon.
Currie now sits as Visiting Professor of Solo-Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music and as an Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre.
1998: Alison Balsom (trumpet)
Sixteen years after she lost out as a concerto finalist of BBC Young Musician in 1998, Alison Balsom returned to present the programme itself on TV, and did so again this year. In this time she has risen to become one of the most celebrated trumpet-players of her generation and played at the Last Night of the Proms in 2009.
While also turning her own hand to writing for the critically acclaimed Gabriel, which enjoyed a successful run at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013, Balsom has had numerous concertos written for her, which have furthered her continued exploration of the boundaries of her instrument.
1998/2000/2002: Katherine Bryan (flute)
Exhibiting the bloody-minded perseverance that would go on to pay dividends later in her career, flautist Katherine Bryan reached the woodwind final of the competition not once, not twice, but three times in a row. Losing out to percussionist Adrian Spillett, cellist Guy Johnston and violinist Jennifer Pike in 1998, 2000 and 2002 respectively, Bryan was appointed the principal flute of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra a year after her third and final entry.
Not bound to the orchestra, however, she has pursued extensive individual endeavours, performing Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with Pippa Tunnell in 2004 and giving a solo recital at the Cheltenham International Festival of Music the same year. In September of last year, Bryan released an album of music originally written for the violin, Silver Bow.
2004: Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
At the tender age of 11, in 2004 Benjamin Grosvenor became the competition’s youngest ever finalist, but was beaten to the title by violinist Nicola Benedetti. Having performed with the likes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Youth Symphony and the England Chamber Orchestra in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall to name just a few, Grosvenor already boasts an impressive CV.
And, given he only graduated from the Royal Academy of Music four years ago (with the Queen’s Award for Excellence, no less), the exceptional pianist still has so much of his career in front of him.
2016: Jess Gillam (saxophone)
Although cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason took the title in 2016, he was met with stiff competition: saxophonist Jess Gillam and horn player Ben Goldscheider. Gillam went on to perform at the 2018 Last Night of the Proms and became the first ever saxophonist to be signed to Decca Classics, the label with which she released her debut album ‘Rise’, which reached no. 1 in the Official UK Classical Charts.
She has also presented on TV and radio, becoming the youngest ever presenter for BBC Radio 3 with her weekly programme ‘This Classical Life’, in which she talks to other young musician about the music that inspires them.