The Talent Show You Should All Be Talking About

09/05/2016 16:52

Did you see Britain's Got Talent on Saturday night? No, not the ITV show. I mean the BBC4 version.

It goes by the less catchy title BBC Young Musician and has no sassy, glitzy celebs on its panel but, for sheer star quality, it leaves ITV's larks at the end of the pier.

You may not care for classical music, but don't dismiss it on those grounds - after all, did you know how much you like shadow puppetry and dancing dogs till you gave BGT a whirl?

Yes, the musicality of the contestants - all remarkably younger than 19 - is astonishing, but it's worth your time even if you don't give two hoots about Mozart. Seeing and hearing these people do their thing is an upbeat reminder of what we humans can achieve if we put our mind to it.

Established way back in 1978, BBC Young Musician is the longest running of all the current TV talent shows (bet you X Factor doesn't last half that long). On those grounds alone, it must be getting something right. This year, more than ever, there's a feeling that its participants aren't hot-housed prodigies with pushy parents, but genuine everyday kids who found their passion and stuck at it.

It's always struck me how, when we see sporting superstars excel at the Commonwealth or Olympic Games, gym and athletic club memberships rocket nationwide. Yet when we witness musical virtuosity, we regard it as something we could never emulate - something alien and rarefied bestowed upon an inhuman few.

Not here. Somehow the youth of these musicians blazes through their performances. Okay, it may only compel a handful of us to get that dusty old violin down from the attic and set on it with a fervour we only faintly felt twenty years ago. Regardless, instead of finding yourself admiring what these young artists do from a distance, as if they were exhibits in a museum, this year's players pull you inside the music, enveloping you in a sense of how it feels to be in their shoes.

They bring something guileless and entirely transparent to the stage, so you'll catch the whites of their eyes as they hit a really scary passage and equally you'll sense that feeling we all relish from time to time when you absolutely ace something you never thought you'd master.

Don't take my word for it: get on iPlayer and glimpse it for yourself in last weekend's semi-final, or this Saturday switch over from BGT for five minutes to the BBC Young Musician final and see how they compare. I guarantee what you'll encounter is as much cause for national pride.

I've also been struck this year by the pieces these young adventurers have boldly chosen to play: none of the chocolate box favourites we know from Classic FM, but fresh gems you'll want to hunt down and savour again.

In our business, we often fear audiences will shy away from hardcore modernist composers like Esa-Pekka Salonen but, in the hands of 18 year old Ben Goldscheider, his Horn Etude is an exhilarating thrill ride; Goldscheider becoming a musical Bear Grylls, fearlessly leaping through its dangerous terrain. You find yourself with him every step of the way.

Like me, you probably know little - if any - music by the late Spanish composer Gaspar Cassadó, but you'll be eagerly Googling him once you've heard 16 year old Sheku Kanneh-Mason venture out onto the tightrope of his solo Cello Suite.

Heading into the final with these two is 17 year old Jess Gillam from Cumbria. Her feat is something in itself: the first time in almost 40 years that anyone playing saxophone has made it to the BBC Young Musician final. In this day and age when gender inequality still abounds, let's see more TV shows celebrating teenage girls who set out to break new ground. A true inspiration, she frankly rocks.

All three finalists get to perform next week with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Here I feel for the other two dynamite semi-finalists Jackie Campbell and Andrew Woolcock who've just missed out on that thrilling opportunity despite coming top of their instrumental categories, piano and percussion and respectively.

I doubt this is down to the show's producers who've clearly worked hard to craft a broadcast of real integrity. Doubtless the network wants to keep things slim to make way for the inevitable Dad's Army re-run that likely follows.

This is a great shame given how all other TV talent shows get spectacularly bloated finales stretched out way beyond their worth. I urge the BBC, having invested this much in these uplifting and awesome young Brits, to go the distance and give all five category winners the experience they deserve in future years.

Still, catch what you can of these dazzling personalities. Between them, the five semi-finalists generate more drama, energy, grace and wonder than you could ever hope to find elsewhere on Saturday night telly.