On the search for the 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year #1

In an alternate universe, in this year’s Waterloo Festival ERSO would have been proudly presenting a concerto performed by the winner of the 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year. Sadly that can’t happen, but we wanted to let you all know more about the competition and why it takes place.


The Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra (ERSO) was founded in 1931 by Ernest Read, a pioneer in the development of music education and youth orchestras. Since the orchestra was founded, members have always included talented music students and young professionals at the start of their careers who are keen to gain experience. Famous names who benefitted from training and experience as ERSO members during their early professional lives include horn player Dennis Brain, clarinettist Jack Brymer, oboist Evelyn Rothwell and flautist James Galway.

ERSO at Waterloo Festival 2019

Famous former ERSO members ERSO also has a long tradition of working with emerging soloists. Ernest Read provided opportunities for young soloists, especially for musicians from within the orchestra. The first ERSO player to get this chance, back in 1931, was the young Evelyn Rothwell, who went on to become one of the UK’s most famous oboists. And, did you know that the young Jacqueline du Pre gave her first ever performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto with ERSO (known then as the London Senior Orchestra) in December 1959?

And there are other famous names who benefitted from working with ERSO early in their careers including Nigel Kennedy, Steve Isserlis, Michael Collins and Tasmin Little. Guy Johnston received his first solo opportunity from ERSO at only 14 years old when he performed Lalo's Cello Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. Guy went on to win BBC Young Musician of the Year and became a famous solo cellist and a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and he recently said: “I’ll never forget it- Lalo in the RFH aged 14 or so! Thank you ERSO”

Today ERSO remains committed to working with young up and coming musicians and founded our ERSO Talent programme in 2017 to bring together all of our work with emerging professional musicians. The programme helps young musicians to bridge the gap between their training and a musical career by providing valuable professional opportunities. The programme has provided opportunities for emerging conductors, composers, orchestral musicians and also soloists through our annual ERSO Soloist of the Year competition.


The ERSO Soloist of the Year competition

Our soloist competition provides aspiring solo players with the valuable and rare opportunity to rehearse and perform a concerto with a full symphony orchestra. We make the competition open to players who have played in at least one concert with ERSO during the season which widens eligibility to many music students, post-graduates and professional musicians at the start of their careers.


As part of this year’s Waterloo Festival, we had planned to showcase this year’s winner in our concert on 21st June. Sadly this will not be possible, but the competition carried on and we hope to have the winner perform at our October concert.


This year we had the privilege of reviewing 23 really fabulous entries and we were overwhelmed by the talent that was displayed. Choosing only 4 players to move onto the Final was incredibly tough!

These four finalists will be given the chance to work and rehearse on a movement of a concerto of their choice with a full orchestra as well as receive valuable advice and insights from our professional conductor and leader which will help them to develop and manage better their performances in the future. The winner will be awarded the invaluable opportunity of performing their concerto with ERSO in our October 2020 concert. Over the course of the coming days, we'll be meeting these four wonderful musicians!

"Having had the opportunity to perform with ERSO and Peter Stark was without a doubt one of the most fulfilling and rewarding performance experiences of my career thus far. The ERSO players are enthusiastic and extremely dedicated, they provided an ideal environment for a young soloist like me to feel comfortable and supported on stage. Having the chance to work with someone like Peter Stark is difficult to come by, and I am so thankful to the ERSO for giving me that opportunity to learn and perform. I think this competition is an amazing chance for musicians to expand their musical perspective and enhance their learning. I will cherish my performance with ERSO for years to come!"

Callie Brennan, Winner of ERSO Soloist of the Year, 2018

2018 winner Callie Brennan with ERSO and Conductor Emeritus Peter Stark
"Having the opportunity to perform the Schumann Concerto with the ERSO was an amazing experience. Taking a piece which I love so much and having the chance to play it with full orchestra in the final was a treat, let alone the concert at Waterloo Festival. I learnt a lot in the rehearsal process from both Chris and the orchestra and this has helped me to take my phrasing, projection and rhythm to a much more detailed level in the piece. The competition was fantastically organised and I feel honoured to have had the chance to participate! Thank you ERSO”

Henry Hargreaves, winner of the ERSO Soloist of the Year, 2019


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