Young virtuosi take a bow

A new generation of musicians are getting their opportunity to shine, thanks to the charity Emunah

By Jessica Elgot, March 31, 2011
Eleven-year-old cellist Anoushka Sharp wants to be a professional soloist. She gets “a huge buzz” out of performing, she says

Eleven-year-old cellist Anoushka Sharp wants to be a professional soloist. She gets “a huge buzz” out of performing, she says

Flair, musicality and a connection with the audience is what Israeli cellist Sagi Hartov will be looking for at the first Emunah Young Musician of the Year competition next week. Ten competitors, aged 11 to 18, will perform in front of a 300-strong audience, hoping to impress Hartov and his fellow judges, Malcolm Singer, director of music at the Yehudi Menuhin School, and opera singer Teresa Carhill.

The musicians came through a first round in which nearly 50 hopefuls competed to win a place in the final.

"At this age, we are looking for talent, but also how the performer responds to the audiences," says Hartov. "I find the more expressive they are, the more knowledgeable they are about the piece and the music. We aren't going to be picking apart every single note."

Deborah Nathan, director of Emunah, a charity which cares for disadvantaged families in Israel, adds: "Jewish kids, especially if they are observant, don't much get the chance take part in music festivals because a lot of them take place on Saturdays, and many are in churches. But we have such a lot of talented musicians and this is the chance to showcase what they can do."

Hartov says he believes it is harder for young classical musicians to break through these days. "They are expected to do everything - study, perform and the marketing. But I do think this generation is actually more talented than the previous ones. I have seen youngsters who are better than established musicians."

Dan Hilton plays in a jazz quartet

Dan Hilton plays in a jazz quartet

Many of the young performers describe playing classical music as a release, a way of expressing emotion, and Emunah has been using music for this purpose at their centres in Israel for years. Nathan says: "It's a way for us to reach kids who have been emotionally, physically, sexually abused. They can explore their feelings through the music, and in performing they can experience success for first time. It boosts self-esteem and confidence."

Anoushka Sharp, aged 11, has aspirations to be a world-renowned cello soloist. "I think that is important to have ambitions. I know that a career as a soloist is extremely competitive and requires some good luck." A member of the National Children's Orchestra, she starting learning the cello when she was four. "I am incredibly lucky to have talented musical friends at North London Collegiate School who I play regularly with. I get a huge buzz from performing. Applause - it's addictive."

Pianist Nathan Dean, 13, began to enjoy playing two years ago, having found a particularly inspiring teacher. The Yavneh College pupil says: "Most of my friends are not used to listening to classical music. They live in the 'pop music' world. But I love how you can express feelings with your instrument. I would like music to always be a part of my life. And I would like to be able to play so well that I can play anything."

Dan Hilton, 13, is performing saxophone at the competition, but he is also a keen cellist. He plays sax in Highgate School's jazz band and in a jazz quartet. "I like baroque and romantic music, but I'm also keen on pop and indie," he says.

Dame Alice Owen's pupil Sam Felton, 13, is studying for his Grade 7 guitar, having achieved distinctions in every exam he has taken. He says: "Before performing I am always very nervous, but when I start to play it feels great."

Robert Hartman, who is 12, is preparing for his barmitzvah as well as playing violin, piano and the saxophone. "Music is one of my greatest passions in life, but it is certainly through the violin that I feel I can express myself in a more intimate way – that's the instrument I'm playing in the concert," he says. He has played at the Wigmore Hall and in Germany and Vietnam. "My music lets me make new friends all over the world."

Twelve-year-old singer James Harvey would love to be a future West End stage star. "My ambition is to sing a solo in one of the top shows. Many of my friends play instruments and we have joined up to form small ensembles. I like classical music because it makes me feel relaxed, but I also enjoy singing pop music as long as the lyrics are good."

Immanuel College pupil Raz Benson, 15, has been playing piano for nine years, practising for an hour and a half every day. He says: "I think classical music can portray a limitless number of emotions and characters. I love the challenge of perfecting a piece. I love the thrill I get from performing. I will definitely carry on with music and performing for as long as I can."

Liam Shinar, was the winning violinist in the first round of the Emunah competition. A pupil at North Bridge House School in Camden, the 14-year-old says: "I love being able to master a piece of music. And while I'm performing, I feel completely involved with what I'm playing - everything else is almost blocked out, as if I'm in a box."

Singer Louis Solomons, who is 18, says he does structured practice sessions three times a week, but "since I enjoy singing, I also often sing in an impromptu manner."

The Menorah Grammar School pupil says: "I enjoy classical music because it makes me feel uplifted. Performing makes me realise what Hashem gave me, which I hope brings joy and pleasure to people who hear me. My ambitions are to make some CDs and sing in a live recital."

Twelve-year-old Ilya Kogan is peforming on the clarinet at the Emunah competition - it is an instrument he has played since he was seven years old.

A pupil at City of London school, he says his friends "do enjoy classical music but prefer other styles. Listening and performing classical music gives an enormous pleasure and awakens lots of emotions. I enjoy performing because I can communicate my ideas and feelings through the music to the audience."

Emunah Young Jewish Musician of the Year is at the Royal Academy of Music on April 10. Call 0208 203 6066 or email

Last updated: 11:43am, March 31 2011