BBC Young Musician: Teenage pianist Lauren Zhang wins 2018 title
Teenage pianist Lauren Zhang has won the BBC's prestigious Young Musician competition, just days before she starts her GCSEs.
The 16-year-old took the title after playing Prokofiev's challenging Piano Concerto No 2, accompanied the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Kerry Andrew, chair of the judging panel, said the performance "left us all breathless".
Lauren beat cellist Maxim Calver and sax player Rob Burton to win the title.
"I'm astonished!" she said after receiving the prize. "I'm pleasantly surprised and I can't believe it.
"The journey, right from the start of the competition, has been incredible."
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lauren started learning piano at the age of four, and is also an accomplished violinist.
The musician moved to the UK in 2010, bringing her family with her, after winning a place at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
She won the BBC's competition on home turf - having previously played in Birmingham's Symphony Hall at school concerts.
Although this was her first time playing with a professional orchestra, conductor Mark Wigglesworth had nothing but praise for the youngster.
"When you meet Lauren she seems... I wouldn't say 'shy', but controlled within herself and very confident about her own personality," he said.
"Then you hear her play and you discover this incredible depth and range of thought and imagination. That's an extraordinary combination."
Lauren said she chose Prokofiev's second piano concerto because it balanced "lyrical, elegant" melodies with moments that are more "grotesque or bizarre".
In addition, she confessed, it neatly fitted into the final's the 30-minute time limit.
Not that it was an easy piece to learn: "I really had to practise it quite a few times before I could play without stopping in the middle because it was just so difficult," she said.
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But speaking on BBC Four after the performance, Lauren said she "really enjoyed playing" the piece.
The BBC Young Musician competition began in 1978, and previous winners - including Nicola Benedetti, Freddy Kempf and Sheku Kanneh-Mason - have gone on to achieve worldwide success.
Having taken the 2018 title, Lauren will now perform at BBC Music's Biggest Weekend in Coventry on 28 May, and also at a special BBC Young Musician 40th anniversary concert at the BBC Proms on 15 July at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
She'll have to juggle these commitments with her exams, which start on Tuesday with a French paper.
"I think it's quite stressful juggling GCSEs with this competition," she said. "So I've tried doing some revision and all I can do is hope for the best. I've tried my hardest."