A seventeen-year-old cellist from Edinburgh has won the highly prestigious Directors’ Recital Prize 2021 presented annually by Scotland’s national music school.
Layla Ballard, in her last year at St Mary’s Music School, was declared the winner of the 21st annual competition following a closely contested final with three other senior soloists. The other finalists were Benjamin Giblin (flute) aged 18 from Edinburgh, Lachlan Kennedy (violin) aged 17 from Glasgow and Bulgarian-Russian-American, Pavlina Gusheva, age 17 (piano).
The four senior finalist soloists competed before a distinguished panel of judges for the award which took place at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh and was livestreamed to an audience of parents, alumni and extended families.
Layla played Bach Cello Suite No.6 in D Major for unaccompanied cello, Second Movement – Allemande, Rachmaninov Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano Op 19 (1901), Fourth Movement – Alllegro mosso (G major), and Demenga New York Honk for Cello and Piano.
Having been at St Mary’s Music School since 2014, where she has been taught by Duncan Strachan, in September Layla will be starting her studies at the Royal College of Music in London with teacher Melissa Phelps. She has been part of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for two years and has had the opportunities to play in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, Konzerthaus in Berlin and Queens Hall in Edinburgh as an orchestral player and soloist.
She said: ‘Walking onto the stage after so many months of not being able to perform live felt like a huge achievement in itself. I was so happy to be able to play with my friends (it felt more like a concert than a competition). I wanted my programme to represent my own progress during my time at St Mary’s and when my name was called out by the judges as the winner I couldn’t quite believe it.
‘To have won the DRP felt like such an amazing end to my time at this school and I couldn’t thank my friends and the teachers more for all the support they have provided to help me get this far and for preparing me for the next step in my musical career.’
This year’s judges were Jo Buckley, director of St Mary’s Music School and chief executive Dunedin Consort, Bill Chandler, director of Concerts and Engagement, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and James Waters, director of the Lammermuir Festival, creative director Classical Music at Perth Concert Hall and joint artistic director of the Bath Festival. Accompanists were Elena Fischer-Dieskau and Simon Smith and S6 pupil Cliodhna Scott played in the intermission.
Jo Buckley, chair of the judging panel. said: ‘I am always staggered by the high standards that the young musicians of St Mary’s reach. As judges we have to remind ourselves that these are not professional performers in front of us!
‘All four finalists played superbly, but Layla’s Rachmaninov was the uncontested highlight of the night. She lived the music, and we in turn lived it with her. It was a very moving and compelling performance which completely swept us away.’
Dr Kenneth Taylor, headteacher at St Mary’s Music School, said: ‘The last 15 months have presented a wide range of challenges and the very high standard we witnessed in this years’ competition is a tribute to the hard work, enthusiasm, musicianship and often the ingenuity of our pupils, teachers and accompanists. I would like to congratulate Layla and all the finalists on their excellent performances.
‘The prize is donated annually by the School’s board of directors and provides pupils with experience of public solo performance in a competition situation. For aspiring professional musicians, audiences are vital and although we were not able to open our doors to the public this year I thank everyone who supported these young musicians by watching the livestream.’
St Mary’s Music School is Scotland’s national music school – one of five Government-supported specialist music schools in the UK and the only one of its kind in Scotland. It offers a world-class standard of music and academic education to musically gifted children aged 9-19 years. Entry is based on ability, with means tested bursaries and funding available via the Government’s Aided Places Scheme.