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Future stars can take the baton and run; A summer offshoot of the CBSO Youth Orchestra has produced a clutch of rising classical stars, writes Christopher Morley.

Byline: Christopher Morley

The current cohort of CBSO Youth Orchestra members is busy beavering away in preparation for its next concert on Sunday at Symphony Hall, when Andrew Litton conducts them in a mouth-watering programme of Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is the soloist) and Mahler's epic Fifth Symphony.

But there is a little-known offshoot of this remarkable orchestra which swings into action every summer, when a hand-picked bunch of these zealous musicians perform as the CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy.

At the same time Michael Seal, Associate Conductor (and also second violinist) with the CBSO presides over masterclasses which include aspiring young hopefuls trying their hand at conducting the orchestra, and the results have been spectacular.

The last two years have seen alumni from these masterclasses winning their way to the last three competitors in one of the world's most prestigious contests, the Nestle and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. In 2011, it was trumpeter Jamie Phillips, and in 2012 it was tuba-player Ben Gernon, who fought his way past 82 contenders to win a place at the Salzburg finals this May. Ben was also a finalist in last year's high-profile Donatella Flick conducting competition.

Two other young men have been launched on busy conducting careers as a result of their involvement with Mike Seal's masterclasses. Birmingham-based Alpesh Chauhan, studying postgraduate conducting at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music (where he studied cello with CBSO principal Eduardo Vassallo), is assistant conductor to Seal at the highly-talented Birmingham Schools' Symphony Orchestra; and violinist Thomas Payne is already conducting several orchestras across the region, as well as at Birmingham Conservatoire, his most recent appointment being with the Ludlow Orchestra.

Jamie Phillips, now assistant conductor to Sir Mark Elder at Manchester's Halle Orchestra, remembers his tuition from Michael Seal with great affection.

"The CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy, which takes place each summer with a smaller cutdown version of the full symphony orchestra, allows a handful of young conductors and soloists from within the orchestra to have a go at either conducting the orchestra or playing a concerto.

"I did this for a couple of years in a row, coached through my chosen pieces (Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and the full orchestral version of Copland's Appalachian Spring) by Mike Seal. I can say without a doubt that these two conducting opportunities, in a world where chances to stand on the podium are often few and far between, were extremely valuable in terms of me convincing myself that I might stand a chance of doing the whole stick-waving thing a bit more often."

And the stick-waving thing is proving highly exciting for Jamie.

Seal. Russell Duncan "The Halle's going really well at the moment," he enthuses. "I've just finished a fairly intense but brilliantly exciting couple of weeks assisting Mark Elder on a string of concerts including a concert performance of Act III of Die Meistersinger.

"I made my debut with the orchestra in Manchester back in November which was great fun. We did Dvorak's gorgeous Scherzo capriccioso to a packed hall and it was a really terrific occasion. Oh, and the family Christmas concert which I did with Alasdair Malloy was a right laugh!" Jamie still maintains links back home, not least with the Birmingham Festival Orchestra he founded a few years ago, and whose next concert is at the Adrian Boult Hall on April 5. "We can't wait! We're performing with the brilliant young Rumanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu who's joining us for Mozart's C major Piano Concerto, no. 25. We're contributing to the Britten centenary year with his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, and then as if all that isn't enough, we're giving a performance of Richard Strauss's glorious tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, which should take the roof off!" And Jamie sends his best wishes to Ben Gernon as he approaches the climax of his Salzburg venture.

"I was so pleased to see that there will be another Brit flying the flag at the Nestle and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award this year. I'm sure he'll do brilliantly, but I guess the most important thing to remember when you're out there is that the prize is having got to that stage already."

The CBSO Youth Orchestra performs at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on Sunday, February 24 (7pm).

Jamie Phillips conducts the Birmingham Festival Orchestra at the Adrian Boult Hall on April 5. Thomas Payne conducts the Ludlow Orchestra at St Laurence's Church, Ludlow on May 11.


Jamie Phillips - I learnt so much from Michael Seal. Picture: Russell Duncan

Ben Gernon will be battling it out for the Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. Picture: Kevin Leignton
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Title Annotation:Features; Review
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 21, 2013
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