16-year-old Fang Zhang wins Percussion Final of BBC Young Musician 2020

The Chinese-born percussionist from Chetham's School of Music will proceed through to the semi-finals later this year

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16-year-old Fang Zhang has won the BBC Young Musician Percussion Final, and will progress through to the semi-final of the competition where he will be up against pianist Thomas Lukeoboist Ewan Millar and French horn player Annemarie Federle, as well as the winner of the Strings Final, which will be broadcast next weekend.

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Fang Zhang moved to the UK from China to study at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. At the Percussion Final, he performed Piazzolla’s much-loved Libertango, arranged for marimba and piano by Nunoya, and Csaba Zoltán Marján’s Niflheim for solo marimba. He was praised for his lightness of touch and broad dynamic range.

He was up against four other finalists including 16-year-old Lewis Kentaro Isaacs, who currently attends the Purcell School. He performed John Psathas’s One Study One Summer, a work for mixed percussion including marimba, cymbals and pots and pans. He also played Pius Cheung’s Etude in E minor for solo marimba.

17-year-old Alexander Pullen returned to the competition having reached the Percussion Final in 2018. Since competing last time, he has started as Eton College as a music scholar. He commissioned a new work to perform at this year’s competition: Crystal Projections by Jago Thornton, Eton College’s composer in residence. He paired this new piece with Lynn Glassock’s Motion for mixed percussion.

Another returner to the competition was 18-year-old Toril Azzalini-Machecler, who studies at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music. He performed Le corps à corps by Aperghis, a piece for Zarb (a Persian drum) and voice and featured fast, frenetic outbursts in French.

18-year-old Isaac Harari from the Latymer School in London also attends the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music on weekends and shares a teacher with fellow finalist Toril Azzalini-Machecler. His programme included the first movement of Sergei Golovko’s Russian Marimba Concerto and Michio Kitazume’s Side by Side for various drums.

The Percussion Final judging panel included Simone Rebello, director of percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Julian Warburton, professor of percussion at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Angela Dixon returned to the panel as chair of all the category finals.

Presenter Anna Lapwood was joined on this week’s programme by Owen Gunnell, who won the Percussion Final in 2000.

This week’s instalment of Jess Gillam’s regular ‘in conversations’ series was with BBC Young Musician 2010 Percussion winner Lucy Landymore, who, since winning, has gone on to perform in Hans Zimmer’s orchestra on tour.

The semi-final and grand final are scheduled to take place in autumn.

On Sunday 31 May, the Strings Final will take place, with three violinists, a cellist and harpist in the line-up.

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Watch the highlights of the percussion final here and watch the complete performances here.