Looking back at BBC Young Musician of the Year 1994

 Aged 17 in rehearsal with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the Barbican Centre in 1994.

Aged 17 in rehearsal with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the Barbican Centre in 1994.

I still recall my percussion teacher in Glasgow, Pamella Dow, brandishing the application form. It had finally happened - the BBC Young Musician of the Year had opened its ranks to Solo Percussion, and we had, at last, a category of our own, alongside Strings, Winds, Brass and Keyboards. This was a superb and brave leap forward for the competition, and I duly applied. I also felt great excitement and challenged by the amount of music needed for the recitals in the heats ahead. It was a lot of music to assemble, should I progress through the various stages!

Reaching the concerto final held an extra surprise for me, in the form of Errollyn Wallin’s brand new Percussion Concerto, commissioned to mark the occasion of percussion’s inclusion. This was 1994, still fledgeling years for the art (James MacMillan’s ‘Veni, Veni, Emmanuel’ was barely a couple of years old at that time), and it was a strong move by the BBC to create a new piece for our repertoire. Furthermore, I instantly got an authentic taste for the launch of a big new work - discussions, rewrites, rescoring instruments and negotiating tempos. It all came good though, and I was extra lucky to play my concerto final with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain - this was really magic for me and so much fun!

Things progressed well for percussion in the competition and the next year Sam Walton came in and played the Richard Rodney Bennett Concerto. Then, in 1998, Aidy Spillett picked up on the then new Joseph Schwantner concerto and won the competition outright, remaining the only percussionist to do so (although Elliott Gaston-Ross came very close recently). Owen Gunnell was next in 2000 and the four of us have been as thick as thieves ever since.

I’m really chuffed to play with ’the lads' at the Royal Albert Hall gala event to celebrate 40 Years of the competition on 15 July. It’s had its ups and downs and challenges over the years, its controversies and identity issues - but I am a big big fan. Long may it continue - and looking forward to a big crowd this Sunday!