String players from the South Mainland scooped top honours in the keenly fought Young Musician of the Year contests last night.
The senior winner was cellist Sarah Keay, aged 15, who is in S4 at Sandwick Junior High School, and the junior winner was 11-year-old Pryde McGinlay, a P7 pupil at the same school, who played the double bass.
In the august setting of the town hall chamber contestants had to perform on a raised stage, before an audience not only of members of the public but their fellow contestants and the judges. As they waited, they had the added pressure of seeing the coveted silver cups standing beside them, ready to be awarded.
Each pupil performed two pieces, predominately classical, to display their talents to best effect, with the senior contestants’ pieces considerably longer than those of the juniors.
The standard of playing was extremely high and the young people played with confidence and polish, finishing with a professional-style bow. The judges must have struggled to decide the winners – in each of these contests there was only one winner, no second or third. How to compare primary pupils playing instruments as diverse as the trumpet, clarinet or piano, or secondary on saxophone, accordion and flute?
However in the senior section judges Brian Jones and David Griffiths (both from Orkney via North Wales) opted for Sarah, who played Concertina No.1 by Julius Klengel and Vivaldi’s Sonata in E minor.
In their adjudication they praised her “lovely warm tone” and “soft singing style”. She had “nifty fingerwork”, they said, and the interplay with her accompanist created some “beautiful moments”. Above all, she smiled. Addressing her, Mr Jones said: “You smiled a lot and looked at the audience, very few did. It was lovely to see a smile, very, very good.”
Sarah reacted to her win with a mixture of delight and disbelief. “I’m ecstatic,” she said. “There are so many talented musicians here I didn’t think I’d win. I always find performances nerve-wracking.”
A veteran of six years of cello-playing – she took her Grade 5 cello exam last year and practices an hour a day – Sarah also plays the violin and piano and is in the training school for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
Her tutor Feri Bartai called her a “super musical girl”.
Mr Bartai is also the tutor of Pryde, the junior winner. Dwarfed by her double bass, she played the Minuet de Poitou by Couperin and the Old Sea Dog by Sheila Joynes, both of which the judges deemed “excellent”. After the cup presentation Pryde, who has been playing the instrument for three years, said: “It was really good. I was quite nervous but it turned out OK in the end. I just played.” She previously played the fiddle, she said, but now concentrates on the double bass and is a member of the Saturday Morning Music Club.
Mr Bartai said: “At that age to make that sound is amazing. I’ve never seen anyone at that age to make that sound.”
Both winners fought off stiff competition. The juniors performed first, not necessarily faultlessly but all managed to regain composure in the case of a minor mistake. After all, said the judges, the first and the last notes were the important ones. There were seven contestants in this section (one withdrew through illness), six girls and one boy, mostly from Lerwick or the South Mainland.
These areas were again well-represented in the senior competition, with only one contestant, Martha Morton from Brae High School, who played the cello, coming from north of Lerwick.
In this session the audience was treated to playing of an apparently professional standard. Sophie Wishart from Sandwick opened on cello, followed by fellow Sandwick pupils Debbie Adamson and Hannah Adamson on violin, who impressed the judges by playing from memory.
Norman Willmore and Max Tyler, both from Anderson High School, were stunning on saxophone and trumpet respectively. Also from AHS was Chloe Robertson on violin, and, giving a sterling performance on the only traditional instruments of the night, were Matthew Scollay on accordion followed by Danny Garrick on fiddle. Kirsty Laurenson from Sandwick was the only flute player.
It was a long night of playing requiring stamina – and that was just for the audience. The players must have found it gruelling, being told to get to the venue at 6.45pm and not playing until possibly 10pm. The night was made longer by the judges’ lengthy adjudications.
But four hours of sitting on a hard chair was worth it to hear la crème de la crème of Shetland musical talent. All contestants were remarkable and should be inspired to carry on.