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BBC Young Musicians and the SCO

27 Mar 2023

News Story

Mention the words BBC Young Musician to any Scottish audience and it’s more than likely Nicola Benedetti will be the first name that comes to mind.

While she is among the most prominent of the competition’s alumni, a quick look at the history of the competition is all that is needed to show she is in illustrious company, even if we consider only those who have played with the SCO.

In 2004, the year Nicola triumphed with Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No 1, the other finalists included the pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. His career has not let up since either: among his other notable achievements are being the youngest ever soloist to play at the First Night of the BBC Proms in 2011, aged all of 22. A regular fixture north of the Border, his last appearance with the SCO was playing Lizst's Piano Concerto No 1 in February 2022.

A full decade earlier, one Colin Currie made history by being the first percussionist to reach the competition final. He has become a champion of contemporary music, particularly known for his performances of Steve Reich. He also took part in the SCO’s celebrations of Sir James MacMillan’s 60th birthday in 2019 by joining the Orchestra to play Veni, veni Emmanuel, conducted by the composer himself.

Laura van der Heijden exhibited incredible musicianship and maturity from the moment of her first appearance in the category finals.

Bachtrack, on the 2012 BBC Young Musician final

Then there’s Laura van der Heijden, the 2012 winner of the title, who makes her SCO debut this month with Shostakovich’s fiendish Cello Concerto No 2. Her repertoire today is impressively broad, but this was already the case a decade ago: as the jury deliberated at the 2014 final (the last to be held in Scotland, at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh), she played Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations, having won playing Walton's Cello Concerto.

The most recent BBC Young Musician alumna to have played with the Orchestra is Jess Gillam, who in 2016 became the first saxophonist to reach the final. Covid 19 put paid to her intended SCO debut in the 2020-21 Season, so we were delighted that Jess was able join us as part of the 2021-22 Digital Season – especially given how her parallel career as a broadcaster has taken off in the meantime.

Last but by no means least, if we rewind the clock all the way back to the very first BBC Young Musician of the Year (as it was then known) in 1978, there’s one competitor whose history with the SCO far exceeds anyone else’s. This fine musician has been a fixture with the SCO since 1992, when he joined the Orchestra as Principal Oboe: that’s right, the SCO’s own Robin Williams was a contestant in the inaugural year of the competition - proof alone that winning is far from necessary to launch a successful career as a musician.

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