2009 BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Soloist Semi Final - retrospective


Malcolm Wood made it through the snow to Manchester on Sunday and was rewarded by an excellent night's brass competition at the BBC.

The finalistsl
Talented quartet: The four succesful qualifiers look forward to the Final

In many competitive environments it is often said that losing in the semi-final is the worst experience of all.  It can be soul destroying.

Not with the BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Soloist competitions however. Being selected to take part in the semi-finals is a major achievement in itself - such is the quality of the applicants.

Eight down to four

This year, Mark Harrison, David Moore, Melanie Whyle, Stephen Sykes, Nathan Richards, Matthew White, Lauren Reeves -Rawlings and Tristan Button battled it out for the four places in the final, which will take place at the RNCM in Manchester, on Saturday, 21st February.

The competition is now in its sixth year, and it has been a real showcase for some of the finest talent around. Former winners include Brenden Wheeler, Katrina Marzella and Ben Thomson.

Due to the BBC’s problems with ‘fake contests’ last year’s event was cancelled, but one thing was for sure this year - there was nothing fake about the four finalists or the unlucky performers who just missed out.

In the end, adjudicators Russell Gray and Jamie Prophet selected David Moore, Stephen Sykes, Matthew White and Lauren Reeves-Rawlings.

Contrast the key

Three of these four finalists opted for quite contrasting repertoire during their performance, demonstrating various facets of their playing. 

Jamie Prophet cited that perhaps more thought should be given by some of the competitors to the music chosen, whilst in the case of David, Matthew and Stephen, the experience of performing in such events as the BBC Young Musician of the Year and the British Open Solo Championships, paid dividends.  Lauren Reeves-Rawlings meanwhile, opted for just one piece but had enough quality to get through. 

David Moore and Stephen Sykes took the honours in the first part of the night. 

Flugel player David is the elder brother of the reigning BBC Young Musician of the Year, trombonist Peter, and he certainly delivered the goods with Goff Richards ' Pastorale’ and ‘Song and Dance’ by Philip Sparke. 


Meanwhile, the 2nd movement of Reiche's ‘Concerto for Trombone’ was confidently played by Stephen before really shining with Robin Dewhurst's ‘Brasilia’.

Both soloists were in complete control during their performances in what were two outstanding pieces of musical communication to both the judges and the audience.


Also progressing through to the Final was Matthew White, a former finalist in this competition as well as getting to the Brass Final of the Young Musician of the Year in 2008.

Matthew delivered a recital of mature poise with ‘Hymn from Adiemus’ (Karl Jenkins) giving him the opportunity to demonstrate beautiful lyricism, whilst Peter Graham's ‘Bravura’ saw him overcome the technical hurdles of the work with consummate ease and agility.

Horn finalist

The last of the successful quartet was Lauren Reeves-Rawlings, just 17 years of age and the first French horn player to make it through to final. 

Heralding from Wessex, Lauren is a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and showed herself to be an accomplished performer.

Lauren opted for the first and third movements of Edward Gregson’s ‘Concerto for French Horn and Band’.  Without doubt this was a high quality performer who was so calm in the opening movement and who clearly relaxed as she displayed her versatility in the jaunty finale.   

Three of a kind

The semi-final proved to be one of those nights where a popular piece of music was chosen by three of the competitors. 

Hohne's ‘Slavische Fantasie’ was the pick of the three trumpet players, Mark Harrison, Tristan Button and Nathan Richards - leaving host Frank Renton short for words (something virtually unthinkable) when informing the audience (and radio listeners) about the piece and the composer.

Mark Harrison has proven himself to be a fine exponent of the soprano cornet, but is now concentrating on building his skills on trumpet. 

Mark unluckily drew the short straw and was the first contestant of the whole night, and if anything, can consider himself unfortunate not to have got through to the final courtesy of an interpretation of Hohne’s work that was full of bravura playing.

Unfortunately, both Nathan Richards and Tristan Button appeared to be a little bit tense and nervous and this took the edge of their displays, although not before showing real glimpses of their potential.

Queen of the Night

That just left, Melanie Whyle, the only soprano cornetist of the contest. 

Melanie studies at the RNCM in Manchester and opted for the beautiful ‘Queen of the Night’s Aria’ and the powerful ‘Flowerdale’ -  originally written for Peter Roberts.  As with Nathan and Tristan, Melanie gave a fine performance displaying excellent attributes, and if she hadn't been up against such stiff opposition, she could well have made it to the final.

Fine accompaniment

Accompanying the performers were Brighouse and Rastrick under Alan Morrison, and they produced some first rate understated playing for the soloists.  They also entertained the audience with music that included the march ‘Jubilee’ and a selection from ‘King of Kings’ arranged by Leigh Baker before the announcement of the results.

Picking the winner?

All four finalists will look forward to the Final at the RNCM in Manchester on Saturday 21st February, where the Black Dyke Band will accompany them. 

The three finalists who have competed in finals previously will certainly know what its all about, and that experience will certainly be beneficial.  The remaining finalist, Lauren Reeves-Rawlings should not be discounted at all though, as she appears to be a natural performer in front of an audience. 

Free Tickets

Tickets for the final in the Haden Freeman Concert Hall are available from the RNCM website – www.rncm.ac.uk or the Box Office on 0161 907 5555 on a first come, first served basis with a requested limit of four per applicant.

Radio Broadcasts

The Semi Finals will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Friday 13th and 20th February with the final showcased on air, a week later.

Malcolm Wood


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