BBC Young Musician: A music prize like no other

Friday 11 May 2012, 13:00

Clemency Burton-Hill Clemency Burton-Hill Radio 3 Presenter

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There's often this moment backstage at BBC Young Musician when a competitor is about to walk on stage and I wish them luck and my voice cracks and suddenly we both realise, in that same instant, that I'm probably more nervous than they are.

Clemency Burton-Hill on the set of BBC Young Musician 2012

Clemency Burton-Hill on the set of BBC Young Musician 2012

As the presenter I try and play it cool, obviously, but inevitably I'm a gibbering wreck by this point because the tension and excitement levels are so unbelievably high.

It's substantially more nerve-wracking than being backstage at something like The X Factor - I know, I've been there - because these young people have worked for most of their lives to get here.

On BBC Young Musician there's no such thing as overnight success.

These teenagers are like our top athletes, dedicating themselves with a staggering degree of commitment to the thing they love most: classical music.

I'm so proud to be a part of it and thrilled that our growing audience numbers, which are up by around 150,000 from the previous competition, seem to reflect what I believe: that this is a uniquely enthralling show!

The way the competition is structured means I get to know the competitors quite well over the course of a few months.

It's a huge privilege and pleasure to see them at school, meet their families and friends and teachers, find out who they really are off-camera and away from the stage.

But this also means I become very emotionally invested in each and every one of them and I often experience this wave of panic when the jury are about to announce the winner when I suddenly think 'Nooo! Can't they all win?!'

After the verdict I always seek to reassure the ones who don't make it through that they are all winners. Sounds corny but it's true.

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Watch highlights from BBC Young Musician 2012

It's a huge achievement in itself to get to the category final stage (when there are just five left in each of five instrumental groups, down from hundreds at the start) let alone for the five who then win their category final and make it through to the semi-final.

In their disappointment, which is understandably crushing, I can sometimes see them thinking 'yeah right'. But I really mean it.

They are all outstanding young musicians and on a different night, with a different jury, a different twist of fate, any of them might take the title.

When I was younger I used to play the violin very seriously and once entered Young Musician myself.

I got through the first two rounds but didn't make it to the final. I don't think I had anything like the dedication these kids have! So I am bursting with admiration and respect.

I know all too well how much is at stake here and how terrifying - as well as exciting - it can be to face a jury of this calibre.

They are looking not only for musical and technical brilliance (that much is a given) but for that extra special something.

Who's got it? Who knows? On the night, anything might happen...

One thing's certain: for a young classical artist BBC Young Musician is simply the prize to win - there is no other international platform like it.

You can see that from the incredible careers that former winners like Nicola Benedetti, Guy Johnston and 2010s sensational champion Lara Melda have gone onto have.

This years strings category winner and semi-finalists Laura Van Der Heijden playing the cello

This year's strings category winner and semi-finalists cellist Laura Van Der Heijden

So the pressure is on.

And yet, amazingly, if you put the high stakes aside our finalists are basically just lovely, normal, hard-working, passionate teenagers. 'Ordinary', if you like.

They just happen to have a talent that is anything but.

Clemency Burton-Hill is the presenter of BBC Young Musician.

BBC Young Musician is next on on Friday, 11 May at 7.30pm on BBC Four. The semi-final is on Saturday, 12 May at 6pm on BBC Two and the final is on Sunday, 13 May at 6pm on BBC Two.

For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    These programmes were a fabulous showcase of the brilliant, talented young people we have, who aren't after quick flash celebrity status. As well as talent they put in years of practice and training. The result is spectacular.
    What a pity we only had clips of their pieces in the group finals and the semi-final.
    In the light of the number of hours spent on males playing sport on BBC this is a disgrace. We have a BBC that ignores the arts of classical music and dance in favour of lowest common denominator snooker and football - all male participants. When are the boys at the top going to recognise that a huge number of people enjoy classical music and dance and yet the time given to it is infinitesmal compared with the hours each week spent on sport of the male kind. Will someone in the BBC please listen to non sporty viewers and female ones at that? Where is variety and equality?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Loved the cellist and the recorder, felt sorry for the percussionist. I wish we could go back to all 5 category winners playing a concerto - so much fairer! And where are the organists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    So, Clemency, you say you are more nervous than the contestants! I very much doubt it. You have the much easier job of being a presenter - a job which you don't really excel at. Why do you ask the contestants such inane questions as "How do you feel?" I would love one of them to reply "I feel terrible and I'm going to be sick".

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Always happy to see and hear Clemency - so relaxed and full of joy. Wonderful performance from Laura (I saw her live last Sunday also) and glad she was chosen Young Musician of the Year ... at 15!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Such a shame that you have to dig and click through about three sections of the bbc site to find this piece or any Young Musician coverage. Dancing dog? Front page.


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