The only task that really faced the jury in the Eighth Leeds Conductors Competition was selecting the second and third prize winners, for in Alexander Shelley they had seen the most exciting and gifted young conductor to have taken this highly prestigious award.
Shelley had chosen Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration for the final round, a score that is notoriously difficult, the task of seamlessly knitting together its changing moods having defeated many great conductors.
But here it emerged as an organic growth, everything paced to perfection, tempo changes so immaculately engineered, and in place of the oft-experienced sense of anticlimax in the closing pages, Shelley’s view of transfiguration was warm, glowing and wondrous in spiritual intensity.
His conducting technique is immaculate, everything crystal clear and a tool to his inborn musicality.
Even by the Orchestra of Opera North’s exalted standards, their playing was something very special.
Tecwyn Evans, who came third, had the difficult task of the opening slot with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. There was a great deal to enjoy, but tempos did tend to sag, and in generating an imposing ending to the final Great Gate of Kiev, the music almost ground to a halt.
At the other extreme Michael Young tore into the opening movement of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony at a tempo outside of the orchestra’s comfort zone, leaving the music sounding unduly breathless.
But Young was prepared to take risks to achieve the performance he wanted and it won him the Audience Prize.