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BBC Young Musician: A music prize like no other

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Clemency Burton-Hill Clemency Burton-Hill | 12:00 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

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.


  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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".

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with no. 5. I missed the programme and have had to hunt around the site for the result! Not even shown on the entertainment/arts front page.

  • Comment number 7.

    More than 12 hours after the composition result. Nothing on the BBC web pages, nothing on the news programmes or Ceefax (that I can find) to say who won. Nothing in three of the quality newspapers.

    This is a very sad comment on the state of classical music in the UK today.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with David Hitchin. Why is the result not on the Education and Arts page? Where's Will Gompertz (not that he knows anything about art music, but he is the arts editor after all)?

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with the other posters - why such poor coverage of such an outstanding competition?

    All the competitors were brilliant - what wouldn't you give for just a hundredth of their talent and dedication - but Laura Van Der Heijden's poise and natural stage presence shone though like a beacon. She could become the foremost cellist of her generation - up there with Jaqueline Du Pre.

    Her playing melted my heart and her richly-deserved win really made my day. I can hardly wait to hear more, especially her Elgar Cello Concerto!

  • Comment number 10.

    Facebook and Twitter have been alive today about the lack of reporting on the real 'Britain's Got Talent' Such a contrast in our culture to find £500,000 going to a dog act and headlines in the media while just £2,000 goes to Laura. Clemency, perhaps we need to know why the BBC did not want to celebrate this success in the light of all you say?

  • Comment number 11.

    It was a wonderful competition this year, and I think the right person won. I can't imagine a better presenter than Clemency - heartfelt, informed, musically extremely knowledgeable - but she balances this with a light touch. I think the whole thing was fantastic.

  • Comment number 12.

    A music prize like no other - Yes! No media coverage!

  • Comment number 13.

    I really enjoyed this whole event, and I agree this should have had more converage. I would also have liked to hear exactly what the judges thought and what comments they made.
    Were there any young people in the audience?
    The audience that I could see behind CBH and her guests could at best be described as 'mature'!

  • Comment number 14.

    I had the great good fortune to get a ticket for yesterday's final at The Sage.
    I haven't spent a happier, satisfying nor more thrilling afternoon in years. What struck me was the incredible maturity and composure of all three finalists, apart from their talent. To have been in the presence of such wonderful musicianship was a JOY! As Clemency noted earlier - why couldn't they all have won!
    Laura commented that she felt so very lucky to have won! I then recalled how a sportsman, in answer to a comment being made about luck playing a part in his success, responded by saying that, yes, it was quite amazing, the more he practised the luckier he became!
    That says it all:the dedication of these young people is both humbling and inspirational. I wish all of them every good wish for their futures.
    Finally, I wholeheartedly concur that the lack of BBC News coverage - on both television AND radio bulletins was difficult to understand. The news should have been "trumpeted" over the airwaves.
    Thank you to Charlotte, Yuanfan and Laura - and to the others who came SO close.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thank you BBC. Yes, it is a shame that most people in this country would rather watch a dancing dog - but that's life. I for one am grateful that we have the BBC to stage such a wonderful competition. Clemency was the perfect presenter. Laura was outstandingly good - a very worthy winner. Congratulations to everyone involved. I hope the Queen enjoys the dog. :-)

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm not a big classical music fan but I've listened to Laura's performance again (my down load rates are very slow) and it was even better. She is totally engaging, exceptionally skilled and beautifully artistic.
    This level of performance does not come about by accident. It is the result of natural talent, massive comitment and hardwork.
    If we believed everything we read and see in the media the youth of to-day are lazy, drunk, shallow, under achievers and we should be very afraid of the future in their hands.
    This competition underlines how very wrong the way the youth of to-day are portrayed by the media.
    Is the media embarrassed to published reports of this competition or do they think that, like the fact that our young people are producing year on year better exam results, that the competition is getting easier year on year and therefore they should ignore it.
    If the media won't applaud this competition then please could everybody use twitter, facebook etc to spread the word.
    Fantastic musicians that show case what the young people of to-day are capable of.
    BBC get your news programmes (radio,TV, online) to run this story and syndicate it to newspapers etc.
    I know 'The Voice' was expensive for the BBC and you don't want this competition to upstage it.
    I'm certain the Queen would be honoured to have anyone of these finalists at a certain Royal Variety Show!
    It's a pity we have to wait for another two years for the next competition.
    Thankyou Laura for a fabulous performance.

  • Comment number 17.

    Thank you ALL so much for taking the time to read and comment here, and for your overwhelmingly positive thoughts about BBC Young Musician 2012. I’m still buzzing from an amazing final and the series in general, in which standards were staggeringly high throughout. It was incredible to hear that around a million of you watched the semi-final this year – especially in the light of stiff competition from various other high profile talent shows happening on British TV screens this weekend; and, as MoiraKleissner, Classicalfan, DavidHitchen, Clare and others point out, despite the relatively low key promotion of this BBC Young Musician series. That’s not my area to discuss, but I hope those comparatively massive audiences, and the fact that it had a hugely positive reaction on Twitter and Facebook and was Critics’ Choice in lots of papers (with reviewers agreeing with you, Walter, that this was where Britain’s really got talent!) mean that next time around audiences will be even bigger.

    Hilli, you also make a very important point about how this competition paints British youth in a much more positive and supportive light than the one we are used to – thank you. I think it’s incredibly encouraging that our winner, Laura, does not attend a specialist music school but a regular state comprehensive: it proves that brilliant young classical musicians can come from mainstream society, and I hope her triumph serves as a major inspiration for teenagers everywhere. Personally, I am a great believer in the power of music education to support, develop and empower British youth and I hope that the relevant people in government also take your excellent point on board.

    PGTips and Gary B, I’m speechless - thank you so much, can’t tell you how delighted I am by your comments. In my presenting style I really do try and strike the right balance between musical expertise and accessibility to general audiences, and I deeply appreciate that you took the time here to tell me you thought it worked – you’ve made my day!

    Diddlums, I’m truly sorry to hear you don’t agree with them. I hope you don’t mind me clarifying something, though: when I said I was nervous before the competitors walked on stage, I meant I was nervous for them, because it’s so heartbreaking that having worked so hard, and being so brilliant, only one of them is going to win! I know all too well how nerve-wracking it is to perform to that level, so my respect for the young musicians and their emotions also shapes the questions we ask on-stage or just off-stage. We do take into account how extreme a moment it is, especially when the winning announcement has just been made. Having already discussed their choice of repertoire earlier in the show, it doesn’t seem to be the place to launch into a long assessment of the musicology of their programme, for example! And whilst I really appreciate that you would rather have a more in-depth interview, many in our TV audience are not necessarily classical music specialists, and are keen to hear something purely personal from the performers at that moment. But I certainly take your point about questions on board, and am glad there is a forum in which you could raise it.

    Once again to all of you, thanks so much for being in touch, and I will pass on all your good wishes to the brilliant Laura, whose name I predict we will be celebrating long after everyone’s forgotten about that dancing dog!

  • Comment number 18.

    I don't think I'm alone in wishing that more of the musicians' performances were shown, and WITHOUT the unnecessary voiceover comments from CBH or the musicians themselves interrupting their playing (e.g. ".... the piece has lots of slow passages and some quick passsages as well" How inane is that!!). This year's format change to include CBH half-whispered pieces to camera during the performances was unnecessary and annoying. Give the viewers credit - they can work out their own views on the performances without having to be spoonfed someone else's.

    Please take us back to the programme format a few year's ago, where there was less talk, less background info and more music. The BBC should be applauded for this brilliant competition, but please BBC don't dumb-down the presentation.

  • Comment number 19.

    A bit of a belated comment to say what a fantastic final it appears to have been. Unfortunately, the only way I could watch it was via YouTube! A real shame that iPlayer seems to have made the unmissable eminently missable (I'd have recorded it if I'd known - the semi-finals were on iPlayer, so why not the final?). Agree with the major view that this is where the true talent of the nation can be seen, and wonder if the BBC is guilty of elitism AND under-estimating the great unwashed!


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