Classical Pop Idol finalist hits 'loud' note

March 11, 2005

Bernard Hughes, a PhD student and music teacher with a taste for the Scissor Sisters and Bjork, hit the right note when he entered a piece for the inaugural Aberdeen University Music Prize.

The 31-year-old, who is studying for a doctorate at Royal Holloway, University of London, is one of five people out of a total of nearly 400 to be shortlisted for the university's music composition competition, described by the institution as a kind of Pop Idol for classical composers.

It came as a huge surprise to Mr Hughes, a music teacher and composer-in-residence at Lady Eleanor Holles School, in Hampton, Middlesex, as he had all but written himself out of the running.

"I enter lots of things and, once you have entered enough of them without much success, you tend to tick yourself off. So yes, I was very pleasantly surprised. I had never written for a string quartet before."

Taking his inspiration from Bartok, Mr Hughes described his piece as "quite loud and ferocious" - hardly what one associates with archetypal genteel string quartet pieces.

The Aberdeen competition attracted entries from around the world, tempting entrants with a £5,000 top prize and the promise of being commissioned to write a full-scale work to be premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Radio 3.

Paul Mealor, a music lecturer at Aberdeen and the prize's director, said:

"Nowhere else does this blend of excellence and inclusion, art and creativity take place. It is unique.

"The level of entries that we have received is amazing. The standard is exceptionally high."

Mr Hughes and the four other shortlisted composers will battle it out in a Pop Idol -style series of performances, played by members of the BBC SSO, staged over a weekend in April. From these the overall winner will be chosen.

While wishing Mr Hughes luck, at least if he does lose he has an alternative career - comedy. He appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999.

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