The British Art Song Song Competition 2016 took place on Saturday 19th November and was sponsored by the John Ireland Charitable Trust
The British Music Society collaborated with Nigel Foster’s London Song Festival in presenting the Competition (BASC), adjudicated by Sir Thomas Allen. Here is the BMS’s report of the competition:
To watch Sir Thomas Allen give a masterclass is to watch a performance in itself – in turn witty, serious and humorous. As well as being a great singer, he is a great actor able to immerse himself in the world of the poet and bring to life the characters and imaginary scenes with conviction and amazing insight. The audience was swept along by his passion for British Art Song and one singer aptly summed up the occasion by saying “this is such an honour” as she walked toward the raised platform for her turn in the masterclass/competition.
The fourteen finalists had been narrowed down from sixty-seven applicants (a far greater number than last year). Most were British but Vivien Conacher hailed from Australia and Julien van Mellaerts from New Zealand, and both Clare Tunney (3rd place winner) and Liam McNally made a special point of informing the audience they were from the north of England.
Sir Thomas Allen encouraged the singers to enjoy themselves. Attention was drawn to the importance of having ‘brightness’in the sound, the ability to ‘spin’ a line and think horizontally to the very end of a melody and beyond, rather than being obsessed with each note in a more vertical approach. Sir Thomas’s approach was flexible and never dogmatic, and he would lighten the serious nature of the art of singing with a sudden quip beautifully delivered: “if you don’t breathe, you die—it’s a well-known fact”. Beth Margaret Taylor from Glasgow was told to let go and relish the celestial harps in ‘King David’: “It’s Hollywood. Don’t tell Herbert Howells I said that!” This song was one of Sir Thomas Allen’s favourites as was Frank Bridge’s ‘Come to me in my dreams’, the latter being regarded by him as a gift to singers: “this is what singing has got to be about.”
At the end of the masterclass, Thomas Isherwood accompanied by Patrick Milne was awarded the £500 First Prize donated by the John Ireland Trustwho will also be sending Thomas a five volume publication of Ireland songs. He has completed his Masters at the GSMD where he now plans to attend Opera School. Thomas sang Finzi’s ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ and it was clear Sir Thomas was pleased with his performance of Ireland’s ‘When I grow old’ when he expressed his satisfaction with the unusual phrase: “We’ve got to the pub, we might have a couple of pints now.”
Nigel Foster’s 2017 London Song Festival will invite Thomas to perform as part of his award.
Other prize winners included Felix Kemp with pianist Somi Kim singing Ireland’s ‘Great Things’ and Mary Plumstead’s ‘Ha’nacker Mill’ in second place.
In third place was Clare Tunney and her performance of Ireland’s ‘If there were dreams to sell’ and Bridge’s ‘O that it were so’ with her accompanist Matthew Ryan. Both the second and third place recipients received the Stephen and Diana Trowell Prizes. Sir Thomas wished it were possible to award a fourth place to encourage the talents of Heather Caddick accompanied by Nigel Foster who, with only three weeks before giving birth, gave an admirable performance of Ireland’s ‘The Salley Gardens’ and Walton’s ‘Daphne’.
A rich vein of British Art Song was exhibited in the masterclass. The event was first-class, from the administration and organising of the event by the London Song Festival Artistic Director, Nigel Foster, the finalists and their pianists, Sir Thomas Allen (of course), the prizes (which included a BMS Composer Profile book and a song CD for every singer) to the beautiful ballroom kindly donated by Sir Vernon and Lady Ellis complete with tea, coffee and cake in the interval.