BBC Cardiff Singer of the World
There are some events that without a doubt have their own unique aura. The Aldeburgh Festival, the Three Choirs Festival, and the BBC Proms, for example, all have a real electric undercurrent. They bring with them a collective feeling of pride in our music making, of renewed commitment to creative excellence, and, quite simply, an honest love for music and the arts.
Now in its 30th anniversary year, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is another of these events with its own special atmosphere. It is a competition of international renown, and without doubt, a very big deal, but equally the atmosphere is like that of a week-long festival dedicated to the celebration of the opera world's emerging talent.
There is a very special atmosphere in St David's Hall as the auditorium doors close for the first round. As the house lights go down, and the stage lights come up, the audience waits in agitated silence for the first competitor to take to the stage.
The audience plays a very special role in Cardiff Singer, with many of the audience members attending all the rounds, all the lieder rounds, and all the associated events. Pre-round, post-round and during the interval, the bar areas are abuzz with in depth discussion of the competitors.
Favourites emerge, and are heatedly defended by their supporters, arguments ensue about repertoire, and who should have sang what, or who would be great to hear in a particular role, past competitors are recalled, and, obviously, frocks are discussed at length.
It is much the same in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Working closely with the finalists in rehearsal before their round, we have the opportunity to see perhaps a little bit more of their personality than the audience does when they walk onto stage with their 'game face' on, and so players very quickly find themselves rooting for one competitor or another.
What a feeling it must be to be a competitor in this competition. There is a two year build up to it (although obviously that is a mere blink of the eye in terms of the years of training and dedication the finalists will have already put into their careers), you are representing your country, and you are in a very public shop window for the bookers of pretty much every major management, opera, broadcasting and recording company out there.
Just take one moment to try to imagine yourself in that position, waiting in the wings. One step will take you out onto the stage. You walk out to applause, in front of the members of the orchestra, trying not to trip on the set or electrical cables.
You shake hands with the maestro. You take a moment to gather yourself and calm your breath, before turning to face the darkened auditorium with its sea of unknown faces, and the very well-known faces of the panel illuminated by the lights on their table - all these faces focused squarely on you.
You try to ignore the TV cameras pointed at you, try not to think of the multitude watching this at home. You inhale, filling your lungs with air and as the orchestra start to play you begin your programme. You've only one chance, and in such a short time, it is over.
BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is an incredible competition to be involved in. The talent of the competitors is staggering, and it is an honour to hear them at this stage in their careers. You can see coverage of this year's competition on BBC Two Wales and BBC Four, and you can also follow the action as it happens on Twitter.