My latest activity to migrate online has been jury service on the New Elizabethan Award. This is a guitar and lute competition, run by the Worshipful Company of Musicians, where applicants are asked to play works from the first and second Elizabethan ages. Generally, when we reach the final round, the performers fly in from around the world to play to us, and on this occasion we got close to holding a live final in Wigmore Hall. But with ever-changing quarantine regulations multiplying, we were all forced to retreat behind our computers.
Our finalists therefore had to appear via their own filmed recitals, a techno-skill which we’ve all had to learn pretty quickly. I must confess that I found it relaxing to hear these fine players via the medium of my laptop, whilst comfortably installed on my sofa. I compare this with my experience at the previous competition two years ago, when the effort to listen to eight live guitar recitals in a row was rather daunting, and of course didn’t allow playback and re-hearing. Much as I don’t enjoy the current enforcement of virtual listening, I must observe that our soloists got a more careful appraisal by this method, at least from me.
From the era of QE the First, our finalists performed of course a great deal of Dowland, and their 20th century choices included several hearings of Britten’s Nocturnal. But they also gave us some great performances of guitar music by Nicholas Maw and William Walton. It was a reminder that those of us still living in the second Elizabethan era should get on with our guitar compositions, because there still doesn’t seem to be enough substantial modern repertoire for an occasion like this.
This year’s winner was English guitarist Michael Butten. It’s not often that you can hand someone the sum of £15,000 (plus a Wigmore Hall recital); a particularly positive action during a time of financial hardship for so many freelance performers.