Daniel Barenboim writes that ‘music does not need interpretation; it needs careful study of the score, control over its physical realisation, and a musician’s capacity to become one with the work of another’. In Friday night’s Dashwood Keyboard Competition, the audience were treated to two exceptional classes in which all the competitors seemed to adopt this philosophy.

The hallmark of a great pianist is one who can control a wide tonal palette, and apply it appropriately to lift the composer’s intentions off the page. I was genuinely impressed by the quality of soundHelen Wareham Competition_ Senior and Junior Dashwood Keyboard Performance_22235 achieved by these young pianists, particularly by Harry Simmonds in the Junior class, and Alex Hills in the Senior class. Many of the competitors chose to play difficult works by Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Janàček, each requiring a particular affinity for the style and idiom. Freddie Hawes, Krzysztof Widera and Lina Mazzone gave refined and stylish accounts of Classical masterpieces by Mozart and Clementi, showing excellent technique and control, whilst Alice Simmonds and Katherine Carr gave moving accounts of pieces taken from each end of Brahms’ life. Krzysztof Widera showed his versatility by performing on the organ in Chapel, and presenting J.S. Bach’s Praeludium No.6 with clarity that belied its complexity. Olivia Chesser and Reuben Gray approached Frank Bridge’s exquisite miniature ‘Rosemary’ differently, highlighting the many possibilities that careful study of the score can offer, and Kate Wili and Fayruz Megdiche offered us a glimpse of the Nordic spring, both robust andHelen Wareham Competition_ Senior and Junior Dashwood Keyboard Performance_22233 tremulous, in their accounts of works by Grieg and Sinding. Sophie Howard and Harry Simmonds showed real flair and a grasp of the jazz idiom in their performances of popular songs that were both written for movies in 1939 (Over the Rainbow and All the Things You Are). The two stand-out performances for me, however, were  Benjamin Wili’s The Barn-Owl Has Not Flown Away, and Millie Mazzone’s Prophet-Bird. These works are extremely difficult to bring off out of context as they belong to deeply moving cycles; Janàček’s On An Overgrown Path, and Schumann’s Waldscenen. Having recorded both these cycles on the same disc (available from all good record shops!) I am very familiar with their challenges, and was enormously impressed by the manner in which Ben and Millie made sense of these two rather esoteric miniatures, convincingly offering them as stand-alone works, and with a maturity beyond their years.

On this occasion Ben took First Prize with Millie as runner-up, reversing last year’s result. Reuben Gray and Lina Mazzone shared Third Prize, and in the Senior Class, Alice Simmonds, Krzystof Widera and Fayruz Megdiche are the three pianists who progress to the final in the spring. Both Cyril Dashwood and Maestro Barenboim would have approved.

Richard Saxel
Head of Performance