‘I am astonished’ says BBC Young Musician winner

‘I am astonished’ says BBC Young Musician winner


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2018

Pianist Lauren Zhang, 16, ran off with the BBC YM of 2018 with a daring, gravity-defying performance of Prokofiev’s 2nd concerto.

The composer could never have imagined the tough piece being played by a teenager… and with such intensity and expressiveness.

Lauren, from Birmingham, showed unimaginable assurance and understanding.

UPDATE: What we have learned since her win:

1 This was her first encounter with a professional orchestra.

2 She’s from Albuquerque, New Mexico, migrating to England in 2010 when she got a place at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

3 She’s sitting her GCSE exams this week, starting tomorrow.

4 She has won a slot at the BBC Proms.

If you are in the UK, you can watch the final here.


  • Anthony Westgate says:

    A well deserved winner. She played a difficult piece with authority. This performance was on a par with a good Proms one, including the orchestra. Compelling music making!

  • Sarah Sander-Jackson says:

    Lauren was brilliant. Very inspired. I was spellbound by her performance. Sarah

  • KANANPOIKA says:

    Congratulations to Lauren Zhang!

    My interest always perked when I saw this magnificent concerto scheduled. I first played it with Bolet and later with Zeltser….the effect was mesmeric. There were other performances, but these two stick out…….”big boy”…”bad boy” stuff…!

    The massive 1st movement cadenza is a mind-blow….and I vividly remember Bolet
    saying the 2nd movement… “must sound like an oxcart with square wheels…….”

    Do I recall correctly……that the original score/parts were lost, and that Prokofieff
    re-wrote the concerto from memory? What a gift to us all……….!

    • Robert Warwick says:

      When I saw that she had chosen this work I wondered if she had made the right choise.
      Many teachers wouldn’t let a sixteen year student old play this work but given her immense God given gifts, it turned out to be the right concerto for her.
      How she has the emotional and psychological maturity to interpret this piece I don’t know.
      I’ve seen famous and celebrated pianists struggle with it but for her it was simply effortless.
      Richter said the third movement reminded him a dinosaur devouring its young.
      One of the most memorable YM finals in its history, good luck to all of them, they deserve it.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Yes, the first score was lost but he re-wrote the enature piece. (35 years ago tonight, I played this concerto in NY with Sixten Ehrling conducting; first concerto in full I ever played in public. 21, not 16, God bless this young pianist! Hope to hear her someday!)

  • Sue says:

    Congratulations. The future belongs to Asians.

    • Terence says:

      According to the BBC Ms Zhang was born in the USA and moved as a child to England.

      I don’t know where her parents were born.

      I realise you weren’t intending to be controversial with your comment Sue; this is just clarification.

      • Bruce says:

        I wonder if the US is the only country where being born there makes you one (e.g. if she was born in the US she is an American, or an Asian-American if you want to bring ethnic background into it). It’s not even true here — I’m mixed race and am regularly asked where I’m “from” — but usually once you explain that you were born in this country, people will accept that you’re an American, even if they continue to harbor a prejudice against your background.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Perhaps so. You should maybe work a little harder, Sue. The world is your oyster.

      Congratulations, Ms. Zhang!

  • Will Duffay says:

    Given it hasn’t been shown on TV yet it would have been very nice not to have the result given away. A ‘spoiler alert’ would have been good, Norman.

  • Eric says:

    How can you realistically compare Prokofiev PC2 with Paul Creston’s Saxophone Concerto?

    The disparity of repertoire really bugs me with the Young Musician Competition.
    Wind, brass, percussion players are all at a massive disadvantage in the concerto final.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      I think you are quite right to draw attention to this problem. The big, brassy and bold events for the solo instrument have a habit of silencing anything that is more introspective. What chance indeed for somebody playing a saxophone concerto (and for my money there was far more projection and engagement with the audience in Burton’s case than in Zhang’s), and what chance for a cellist with a beautiful cantabile line (but no fireworks to dazzle jury and audience) who happens to opt for Tchaikovky’s Rococo Variations. If it’s any consolation, there are a number of previous winners who have disappeared without trace and other finalists who have go on to make a career for themselves. Competitions can only say and do so much. Oh, and one other thing: people who perform last have an amazing tendency to end up winning.

    • Tommy says:

      The competition isn’t about comparing the pieces, it’s the performances. It doesn’t matter what they play, their musicianship will out.
      Michael Hext, Nick Daniel, Emma Johnson, David Pyatt, Ady Spillett and Peter Moore would presumably disagree with your last sentence.

      • Eric says:

        I would suggest that Hext, Daniel etc triumphed in spite of the obvious disadvantage they had re repertoire choice. Which makes them even more worthy winners!

        And, of course, the judges are fully aware of the situation.
        It’s just not a level playing-field.

        • Tommy says:

          The point is that it IS a level playing field if you judge the musicianship and not the piece.

          • M2N2K says:

            In theory maybe, but not in practice: different pieces for different instruments are often not equal at all, and performing them successfully requires not only different kinds but indeed different levels of “musicianship”.

  • D Williams says:

    The truth is that her performance was no more than adequate with a number of blatent errors.Indeed, after the performance she acknowledged these errors. It was an inappropriate choice for the final of this competition.

  • Chris Clift says:

    I was at Symphony Hall, for the final of the BBC Young Musician 2018, and in my humble opinion, Lauren stood out head and shoulders above the other two.

    First I wonder how many of your correspondents were actually there so that would have a bearing on their opinion(s).

    Second, again my opinion pure and simple, the audience reaction during each of the pieces tells a rather interesting story. For the performances by the cellist and the saxophone player, there was a cacophony of audience noise, coughing (without even trying to muffle them) and general fidgeting suggesting a lack of attention.

    During Lauren’s performance the audience was for the most part completely gripped by her phenomenal playing.

    Finally, and again my own personal opinion, the saxophone piece revealed a great dexterity and technical poise from the player, but in the more lyrical slow movement I felt the legato playing was too often fragmented.

    As for the cellist, notwithstanding his actual choice of the Tchaikovsky, he paused too much between the variations, thereby removing the required sense of continuity for a ‘theme and variations’ type piece.

    All that said, the three performers were outstanding in their respective section finals, and fully deserved their places at Symphony Hall on the night. Well done to all of them.

  • Bobbie says:

    I knew Lauren was something special whenI heard her Scarlatti. Anyone who can breathenew fire into a 400 year old piece has my vote. She was phenomenal.

  • Dr Stuart Russell says:

    Could her teacher perform that same piece successfully?

  • Paul Delcour says:

    I was very disappointed with again a pianist winning. While she played fine, it was quite average and the concerto contributed for a large part in itself, confusing audience but worse, the jury as well.

    The cellist was truly mesmerizing and the sax was beautiful with a daring and very pleasant choice of concert. I feel they both out musicianed the pianist.

    Also to be on your own with just one note at a time, and fully create that tone yourself, albeit for the cellist sometimes two, to capture an audience with that is true musicianship. The pianist, though touch is very important, has a ready tuned instrument and is so much more limited in terms of tone and dynamics, timbre.

    May I suggest the pianists get their own competition. There are already dozens and dozens for them. Yet for all others it is so much more limited or unknown.

    For me it was the cello no. 1, the sax no. 2 and the piano no. 3. This is not just personal taste, but a professional opinion and consideration. I was not in the hall, but listened online.