The 52nd Competition for The Kathleen Ferrier Awards
Wigmore Hall, Semi-Final 24 April & Final 26 April 2007
“Success in this competition is not a prize for life” was the caveat that Dame Janet Baker added to the jury's summary of this year's competition. With a lifetime ahead to soak up knowledge and expertise and learn to be great artists, she exhorted them always to leave a space in their mind for further excellence.
The jury believed that all the finalists would find places in the profession. Some singers had made notable progress between rounds; others had had to contend with illness, singing whilst not totally in command of their technique; some heartbreaking decisions had been necessary.
First Prize was awarded to Katherine Broderick a young soprano on the brink of what will surely be a very significant career. She combines an outstanding technique with carefully judged characterisation. She ended her finals programme with Wagner (Dich teure Halle ). I happened to have heard her working on this about a year ago, which shows just how long it takes to prepare a big aria. She began with Mozart (Come scoglio) and sandwiched in the middle Bizet's humorous little song about a Ladybird.
Second prize went to a baritone whose voice had progressed markedly over the period of the competition, Benedict Nelson . His programme was rounded off with Figaro's Largo al factotum , always a tricky piece, particularly as in this case as he had had to switch moods completely from the weight sentiments of It is enough (Elijah).
For the song prize the jury was looking for subtlety of emotion, and care of words. They awarded it to Laura Mitchell for Vaughan Williams' Silent noon and Jonathan Dove's Ariel – an unaccompanied piece and a very brave thing to sing right at the beginning of a concert – but her performance had instantly grabbed the attention of her audience.
There were three other finalists. Soprano Anna Leese is already launched on her career with a list of bookings at ROH, and mezzo Caryl Hughes is shortly to sing Angelina for Scottish Opera. Samuel Evans was clearly aiming for the Song Prize – he provided us with the rare chance to hear some Welsh sung in the Wigmore Hall (W A Williams' Min Y Mor ) - his Clock of the years in the semi-final round had been exceptionally well done.
For audiences, half the fascination of a competition lies in evaluating, discussing and forming one's own critical judgement, whether it agrees with the jury or not. I would agree wholeheartedly with the jury over the award of the main prizes, but would also mention three singers heard in the semi final round, but not chosen for the final.
There was some surprise at the jury's failure to select Julian Hubbard whose well-rounded baritone, outgoing manner, and good sense of timing had commanded respect. He gave a strong performance (though not, I think, quite up to his personal best), which put him on many people's short list. He is next bound for Scottish Opera, for whom he will sing Dandini.
Tenor John-Colyn Gyantey is another singer with a quality voice that is improving fast. He needs to put in a bit more work on his languages but he came over as relaxed and confident, capturing the heart of his audience with There's a boat dat's leaving .
Very few 21 year old baritones reach the semi final of this competition, but Alexander Robin Baker was the exception. These are still very early days for him but he produced an incredibly mature and honest performance - his voice will strengthen and he already has beautiful clear diction. A name to watch out for.
The Accompanist's Prize was awarded to Joseph Middleton, though there were some who would have wanted William Vann. He outshone bass-baritone Samuel Evans, who seemed likely to have been not in best voice.
1st Prize – Katherine Broderick
2nd Prize – Benedict Nelson
Song Prize – Laura Mitchell
Accompanist's Prize – Joseph Middleton
Samuel Evans – bass baritone / William Vann - piano
Anna Leese – soprano / Kirsten Simpson - piano
Caryl Hughes – mezzo / Joseph Middleton - piano
Semi - Finalists
George von Bergen –baritone / Sergey Rybin - piano
Michelle Foster – soprano / Graeme McNaught - piano
Alexdander Robin Baker – baritone / Francois Salignat - piano
John-Colyn Gyeantey – tenor / Sergey Rybin - piano
Julian Hubbard – baritone / Aoife O'Sullivan - piano
Dame Janet Baker; Dr Sheila Armstrong; Nicholas Riddle; Russell Smythe; Roger Vignoles