On Sunday 11th September we were proud to present the 2016 UK Young Theatre Organist of the Year Competition (YTOY), this year holding it at Kevin Grunill’s Astoria Centre in Barnsley, home to a beautiful 3/17 Compton theatre pipe organ.
Hosted by chapter trustee Michael Wooldridge, himself a former YTOY winner (1980), Michael started off by welcoming a very special visitor who had flown in from America to support the contest. Organist John Ledwon has perhaps the best job a theatre organist could ever dream of, playing at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. A great friend of our chapter over many years and a strong supporter of young organists, John made an interesting and inspirational speech to encourage our entrants.
With one competitor having had to drop out near the competition day, the first half saw this year’s remaining six entrants presenting fabulous arrangements including music from Jesus Christ Superstar, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. The music was very contrasting and the time flew by. Next came the interval and whilst the audience enjoyed a lovely spread of refreshments, this year’s judges, Jean Martyn, Glyn Madden and Chairman Len Rawle MBE, stepped out of the room to make their final deliberations.
The second half opened with some wonderful entertainment. First of all, we welcomed a special guest from north of the border, young Scottish organist Aaron Hawthorne, who at the age of 19 was too old to enter the YTOY but was thrilled to be invited down to play a cameo spot. His medley of music by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote scores for many Disney films, was superb. We very much hope to hear more from Aaran and that he will enter our new YTOY Senior contest (age 19 to 24) next year.
Next to the stage was Jayden Vicarey, a charming young man who at just fourteen years of age has a full and beautiful baritone voice. The brother of one of the entrants, he gave an enchanting rendition of Edelweiss accompanied by Michael Wooldridge at the organ. This made a lovely contrast and it was much appreciated by the audience.
2015 winner Declan Poole then took charge of the console to play his final cameo concert spot as the reining Young Theatre Organist of the Year. Declan was already a fabulous player when he won last year but the improvement in his playing since then is staggering. His final piece was an incredible arrangement of classic song Lover, including use of second touch for counter melodies and, at some times, the melody. His music was a joy to hear and received sustained applause.
The judges returning, Len Rawle made some general comments to offer some encouragement and advice to help the participants as they progress on their musical journey. Michael then introduced our Chapter Chairman, Nick Ashton, who presented all of the entrants with their participation certificates.
The first trophy presented was the Dean Herrick Memorial Award, given to the entrant from the previous year’s YTOY who the committee feel has done the most to promote or support the theatre organ. This year it went to Lucy Crouch, who has had a busy year of music, including playing in a couple of different venues in Bognor, on the Portslade theatre organ, for an old persons cream tea at Rye College and on a day excursion cruise aboard the historic Motor Vessel Balmoral, sailing from Rye Harbour around the Kent coast and up the Thames to Westminster Pier.
The Christie Cup is awarded to the player the judges feel has the most promise for the future and this year they chose the youngest entrant, thirteen year old Freya Vicarey, who overcame her nerves to give super renditions of Great Day and I Will Wait For You and who is certainly one to watch for the future.
Then it was time for the main results. In third place was Lucy Crouch, second was Dominic Standing and then Declan had to pass on his solid silver Chain of Office to a new winner, a very popular and worthy winner in the shape of Lewis Scott from Hull, who had played Stardust and Copacabana brilliantly.
After some thank-yous and goodbyes from Michael, Lewis took to the console to reprise his winning piece, Copacabana, proving what a worthy winner he is.
Thanks to Kevin Grunill and the team at the Astoria Centre for making us all so very welcome and for taking such good care of us all. The YTOY has long been one of the highlights of our chapter’s year and this year proved no exception. There was a camaraderie between all of the young performers and their families that was a delight to see, no aggressive competitiveness but, rather, an atmosphere in which everyone was supporting one and another and encouraging them to do well.