Rowan Pierce, 27, has won £7,500 and a role in a future production by The Grange Festival at the inaugural Grange Festival International Singing Competition. At yesterday’s final [Sunday 24 September] with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the prize was awarded by a jury composed of Dame Felicity Palmer (also the Patron of the competition), The Grange Festival’s Artistic Director, Michael Chance, ROH Jette Parker Young Artists artistic director David Gowland, internationally acclaimed accompanist and coach Roger Vignoles, Managing Director of Groves Artists Jonathan Groves, Head of Concerts and Programming at Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Heather Duncan and Director of Artistic Administration at The Grange Festival, Scott Cooper. The Final’s conductor Peter Robinson also served as a jury member.
Rowan Pierce is an alumna of the Royal College of Music (where she was awarded the President’s Award by HRH Prince of Wales) and is also a Samling Artist. Recent and future performances include engagements with the Academy of Ancient Music, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Gabrieli Consort. Rowan was also included in the first cohort of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Rising Stars scheme, and she made her BBC Proms debut with the OAE in August this year singing Handel’s Israel in Egypt.
The competition also awarded £5,000 to Samuel Sakker (second prize) and £2,500 to Božidar Smiljanić (third prize) – as well as roles in future productions at The Grange Festival. Other finalists Katie Coventry, Sam Furness, and Dominic Sedgwick won £1,000, and winners of the Song Prize (awarded at the semi-finals to Rowan Pierce) and the Audience Prize (Dominic Sedgewick) won £2,500 and £2,000 respectively. The Accompanist Prize was awarded to Ceri Owen for her playing for Dominic Sedgwick in the semi-final, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Prize was awarded last night to Samuel Sakker.
The exceptional level of the singers and accompanists aged 32 and under who entered the first International Singing Competition at The Grange (continuing The Hampshire National Singing Competition, last held in 2013), as well as the variety of nationalities which took part, make The Grange Festival International Singing Competition a major forum for young talent from home and abroad. Around 150 young singers from 28 countries entered the competition.
As the first country house opera company to present such a competition, this ambitious undertaking underlines The Grange Festival’s desire to extend its work outside the summer opera season, offering a broader and more dynamic range of events than ever before, as well as its artistic vision to nurture the careers of young singers.
Michael Chance, Artistic Director of The Grange Festival, says: “We had six finalists yesterday covering a large range of repertoire, from Handel to Weill, Mozart to Lehár and much more. The winner, Rowan Pierce, produced a beautifully balanced programme of Handel, Mozart and Finzi. The judges felt that hers was the most accomplished performance. She dazzled in effortless, nuanced coloratura in an aria from Handel’s Semele, chose Mozart’s famous concert aria ‘Vado, ma dove?’ - which perfectly suited her well-projected, unforced sound - and moved us all in the surprising choice of Finzi’s ‘Dies Natalis’ in which so much of Thomas Traherne’s luminous text of wide-eyed innocence glistened. It was a close-run thing between her and the two other winners, Samuel Sakker and Božidar Smiljanić. Samuel’s singing of ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling’ from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, gloriously free and golden, with a rich palette of orchestral colours clearly revealed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, was one of the day’s delights. And Božidar was effortlessly convincing as Figaro in ‘Se vuol ballare’. The audience overwhelmingly voted for the beguiling sound and looks of Dominic Sedgwick, clearly destined for great things. His group ended with the ‘Peace’ aria from Britten’s Owen Wingrave, which created an intense and profound mood in the theatre which was deeply affecting. The other two stars were Katie Coventry, intelligent, dramatic and seductive, and Sam Furness, an artist who always takes risks, never settling for the safe option in a wide range of expression and repertoire. We were blessed with six young singers all at the start of successful careers and all capable of making the audience feel that they would wish to be nowhere else in the world at that moment than listening and watching them.”