Guildhall School of Music & Drama Gold Medal

Friday 10th May 2019

The Guildhall School’s premier music prize was founded and endowed by Sir H. Dixon Kimber in 1915 and since the 1950s it has been open to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years. The final traditionally takes place in May each year in a sold-out Barbican Hall. Previous winners include Jacqueline du Pré (1960), Tasmin Little (1986), and Bryn Terfel (1989).

This year was the turn of the singers and the audience was entertained by Ema Nikolovska (mezzo-soprano), William Thomas (bass), Samantha Clarke (soprano) and James Newby (baritone). The contenders were first invited to sing four or more pieces accompanied by a pianist and each chose songs from a variety of composers that included Purcell, Schubert, Poulenc, Strauss and Liszt. Each singer was, of course, superb. However, this first round was merely the hors d'oeuvres for the entrées; the candidates' songs with a 78-piece orchestra!

The singers battled it out with works by Britten, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Mahler, Puccini, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky and more. There were three or four pieces each which really demonstrated not just the singing prowess of the candidates but also their engagement with the audience and stage presence. By the end, the audience felt impressed and wonderfully entertained but quite uncertain about how the judges could possibly choose between such equally fine performers. In the end, the judges, lead by Bryn Terfel, announced that the winner of the Gold Medal 2019 was the soprano, Samantha Clarke (pictured). Ultimately, it came down to a particular song choice in her repertoire that put her ahead in a 'photo finish'.

Congratulations to Samantha! And well done to Ema, William and James; all excellent. Together, they provided the audience with an evening of joy and magic.