“Music is a Great Leveller”– HRH Prince Michael of Kent at the ‘Gryphon Young Musician Award 2019’ in Moscow.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent, Simon Green.

Simon Green

“Music is a great leveller,” declared His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, during our earlier private interview with him, where he had been more than candid on various questions we had put to him. Following this interview, John Harrison and I were sequestered away in a room with light refreshments on offer while we waited for the real deal to begin, which was why HRH and ourselves were here at Brookes International School, much to the envy of the other leading private and Independent schools who were taking part, to bear witness to a musical extravaganza: ‘The Gryphon Award 2019, RBCC Independent Schools Young Musician Of The Year’. Ten finalists with an age range from 8-16 years old, a veritable potpourri of singers, violinists, pianists and a trumpet player were on offer to whet our appetite.

Alexandr Rublev

The concert was due to begin at 7.00pm and at 6.30pm I was delighted to welcome my great friend, Lyubov Zolotova, who I had managed to coerce out of her home where she admitted the walls were beginning to close in on her. There was additional method in my madness, as Luba is a professional musician and I wanted to have a second opinion sitting next to me to assist me with any ideas and opinions. There was in fact only one Brookes School finalist representing them- a delightful 8-year-old girl, but more about her later. The event was sponsored by The Russo British Chamber of Commerce (RBCC), of which HRH is The President, and in tow was the chamber’s Executive Director, Alf Torrents. With the concert hall pretty full, Mark Broom took to the stage to make the necessary welcome speeches as HRH had already been introduced to the proceedings. He was followed by Brookes’ charismatic headmaster, Charley King, who enthused the audience as to what was to come.

Charley King, headmaster of Brookes School

Kicking off the final was an exceptionally talented trumpet player, who immediately reminded me of Charley regaling us with his efforts to play the trumpet, which I suspect weren’t quite in the same league as the young man before us (though Charley may beg to differ on that one!) who had full control of high and low notes plus some neat little trills which are difficult to execute with precision on the trumpet. “Music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between,” declared Beethoven. However, this young player played with such speed and dexterity, that he barely had time to pause for breath. He went off to great applause, and I found myself musing if that’s what we’re getting tonight, it’s going to be impossible to guess a winner. However, not everyone was quite up to his standard, and in particular, several girls chose to sing for us, and it seemed to be a bit of a challenge for them from time to time. Mostly this revolved around the range of their voices, which because of their young age, their vocal chords were still trying to establish what would be their most natural level, note-wise, to sing at. To that end, I would have to say that the pianists and violinists were batting on a much better wicket in this prestigious final. The other problem at this age is the child’s ability to engage the audience, because they’re concentrating so hard on the actual performance and getting the notes right, that one or two players came across as somewhat wooden and just trying to get though their act in one piece, if you’ll excuse the pun. Only the penultimate girl, Alexandra Samoylenko who sang for us, who was a young lady in red, had a natural propensity for crowd pleasing, and this she did with aplomb. It’s a shame her voice didn’t quite match her rich gesticulations and ready smile, with a natural ability to draw the audience in, and should she ever decide to hang up her singing shoes, I suggest she could pursue an acting avenue! The final act in part one came in the guise of an 11-year-old girl,  Karina Ter-Gazaryan, who played the piano beautifully, and indeed has been the recipient of several international awards- small wonder, given that her still petite hands raced over the notes in serene style. Her confidence and composure belied her age as she took command of the piano with some deft handling of difficult pieces. The three of us at the front decided she was a potential winner, along with the trumpet player.

A competent violinist called Elizaveta Malysheva was the third up, who possessed a nice vibrato technique and was strong on the high notes, but this was a difficult piece to execute well. A couple more routines and we were invited to relax in the interval with canapes and wines or juices. I witnessed a rather amusing scenario between a couple of youngsters aged around 7 or 8 I would guess. We were predictably hovering around the wine area (quelle surprise!) when the aforementioned boys decided they liked the colour of the red wine and were about to remove a couple of glasses for sampling. They saw me looking at them and couldn’t work out what to do, so they bided their time until I was distracted by conversation and tried again. They were just lifting the wine to their mouths when the bartender looked round and ordered them to put the glasses back. In my day, when I was behaving in similar fashion, I would have walked away from the area having got the glasses, but guess this was their first such expedition, and probably last, which ended in failure! Part two saw a procession of average performances, none of which particularly blew my skirt up so to speak. One of them managed to make her performance look like she was playing at a funeral, and she went on for far too long; I was very relieved when I saw the final page of the accompanying piano player. At last it was the turn of the 8-year-old girl, Varvara Konopleva, the one, after a heads-up from Mark, that had fascinated me.

Varvara Konopleva

Suddenly a great cheer went up and this glorious apparition, totally ethereal, in a beautifully turned out cocktail dress strode purposefully on to the stage with the applause still ringing in her ears. She went straight to the piano, immediately took stock of the situation and decided she could do without the music rack, so down it went. What insouciance completed with such sangfroid! She had just torn up the rule book and acted with the authority of someone way beyond her tender 8 years on this planet. Having adjusted her seat, she proceeded to play with the skill of a person several years her senior, her tiny hands skating over the keys with grace and power. She treated us to 3 pieces and alas had just one small slip, but quickly regained her composure and control of the situation then brought her performance to a close to tumultuous applause, and a star was born.

Ivan Bessonov

The judges were then sent out to deliberate and cogitate as to who deserved to win this coveted prize, and we were then treated to the piece de resistance of the evening: Ivan Bessonov, the Eurovision Young Player of the Year in 2018 who treated us to a couple of Chopin pieces, the waltz in C-sharp Minor I used to play in my school days, but to nowhere near his level. He played with passion, inspiration and a unique interpretation, and the piano danced to his tune as if by royal command. His innovation and skill had to be seen to be believed as he combined chromatic scales, arpeggios, chords and cadences with a wonderful combination of crescendo and diminuendo. This was a master craftsman plying his trade to all and sundry- small wonder Europe bowed to his superiority in recognition of this absolute doyen at work! If the truth be known I would have paid a substantial entrance fee just to hear him, such was his prowess. All too soon he culminated with a serious of loud chords which brought the curtain, not to mention the house, down on this never to be forgotten act. I later discovered to my utter incredulity he’s still only 16 years old despite appearing rather older, but his future is already assured.

The winner, Elizaveta Malysheva

The judges returned to deliver their verdict and we were confident one of our choices would be duly rewarded, however it was not to be as they went with the safe violinist much to our surprise. Let nothing deter me from congratulating Elizaveta on her victory against such powerful competition, and I’ll be first to say it’s the judge’s prerogative to nominate whom they see fit for this accolade. A couple of the other finalists deserved to be disappointed, but there will be other years and they’re right at the start of their musical careers with so much unfulfilled promise yet to come. This was a monumentally successful event and I’m already looking forward to returning next year. I would however like to suggest that, going forward, they should offer top three prizes so more participants are rewarded publicly with successful achievements. I would like to conclude that all the contestants in this grand finale, and especially the 8 year old from Brookes school, adhered to the Brookes School adage- “Be Brookes”- and this they did in spades and I was proud of each and every one of them.

Prince Michael with all participants of the finals. They were all winners.