Signum Quartet

Photography credit: Irene Zandel

I heard them first in Cheltenham

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Festival Director Meurig Bowen sings the praises of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artist scheme.

On three successive mornings this week in the glorious – currently extremely sunny – surroundings of the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham Music Festival audiences are being treated to some outstanding performances by the latest crop of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists.

The NGA scheme has been running since 1999, and you only have to look at the list of NGA alumni to realise what an elite group of international performers they are: they include the Belcea and Jerusalem Quartets, pianists Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne, string players Alina Ibragimova, Lawrence Power and Natalie Clein, and singers Alice Coote, Christianne Stotijn and Elizabeth Watts.

The person responsible for the selection of NGAs has been Radio 3 Editor Adam Gatehouse. Football teams have ‘scouts’ who pick out talent early on, eyeing up the likes of a teenage Beckham or Rooney from the touchline. In a rather different way, scouting in the concert halls and competitions of the UK and beyond, Adam’s gift for detecting signs of greatness early on in musicians’ careers has proved to be second-to-none.

So it’s always exciting to be able to present in Cheltenham, in association with BBC Radio 3, a new set of Adam’s ‘finds’ – some of whom, especially if they’re homegrown, are already on my own radar, whilst others are not necessarily. Being on the NGA scheme for two years is a hugely prestigious career boost for emerging instrumentalists and singers. And in a place like Cheltenham, we are able to put them together in performing combinations that otherwise might not arise: Leonard Elschenbroich and the Signum Quartet for the Schubert Quintet, clarinettist Mark Simpson with the Signums for the Mozart Quintet, pianist Igor Levit joining Elschenbroich and Simpson for the Brahms Trio.

I can’t recommend these NGA concerts in Cheltenham highly enough. My thanks to Adam Gatehouse for his wonderful work with this scheme over the years. And as audience members, let’s enjoy the strong likelihood that we can say this year, as previously, ‘I heard so-and-so first in Cheltenham’.