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Percussionist Fang Zhang wins BBC Young Musician 2020

The Guardian logo The Guardian 04/05/2021 Imogen Tilden and agencies

A 17-year-old percussionist has been crowned BBC’s Young Musician 2020. Fang Zhang, born in China’s Henan province and a recent student of Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, was revealed as the winner of the competition’s grand final on Sunday 2 May, following its broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Radio 3.

The final of the biennial competition was delayed by a year because of the pandemic, and was filmed without an audience at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on 25 April. Three finalists each played a concerto with the BBC Philharmonic under conductor Mark Wigglesworth; competing alongside Fang Zhang were 18-year-old French horn player Annemarie Federle and 19-year-old oboist Ewan Millar.

Zhang follows in the footsteps of 19-year-old American-born/UK-based pianist Lauren Zhang, who won the competition in 2018. Previous BBC Young Musician winners include cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, violinist Nicola Benedetti and pianist Martin James Bartlett.

Fang Zhang is a member of the China Youth Percussion Orchestra, and has been performing around the world since he was 11 years old. He is only the second percussionist to win the overall competition – Adrian Spillett in 1998 was the first; the percussion category was only added in 1994 to the competition, which has run since 1978.

Zhang, who joined Chetham’s School in September 2018, impressed the judging panel with a performance of Prism Rhapsody by Japanese composer and marimba innovator Keiko Abe.


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a man and a woman standing in front of a building: Finalists … Fang Zhang, centre, with Annemarie Federle and Ewan Millar. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/PA © Provided by The Guardian Finalists … Fang Zhang, centre, with Annemarie Federle and Ewan Millar. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/PA

The panel was chaired by Saffron Hall chief executive Angela Dixon, and included composer, clarinettist and BBC Young Musician 2006 winner Mark Simpson, composer Errollyn Wallen, BBC National Orchestra of Wales principal conductor Ryan Bancroft and the experimental composer and turntable artist Shiva Feshareki.

Zhang said he was “honoured and delighted”. On behalf of the judges, Dixon said: “All three finalists showed exceptional musicianship. Fang chose to perform on a single instrument, the marimba, but elicited a kaleidoscope of colours and expression from it that deeply moved the jury and presenters. It was a privilege to hear his performance live.” Simpson praised a performance that was full of energy, drama, commitment and respect for the music.

Mark Wigglesworth hailed the much-needed optimism the competition offered. “All three finalists have shown a tremendous passion and determination to maintain their commitment to the competition across a year of uncertain silence. They play with humility and respect but daring and personality too, encouraging all who hear them to look forward to more positive times ahead.”

The BBC Young Musician 2020 grand final is available on iPlayer for 12 months, and BBC Sounds for 30 days.

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