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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Why talent is forced to go it alone

By Norman Lebrecht / March 26, 2008

Most new recordings in these post-industrial times are self-made by soloists who can’t get an A&R man to answer an email, maybe because the A&R department has been shut down. Many of the self-made discs are very good indeed, though limited by way of distribution and exposure. I’ve been listening to a new release of Beethoven’s Appassionata and Brahms’ Handel Variations and was struck both by the intelligence of the coupling and the freshness of the playing. The artist’s name meant nothing until the booklet revealed that she was the youngest-ever finalist in a BBC Young Musician of the Year contest, as well as winner of Salzburg’s International Mozart Competition.

So what became of Sarah Beth Briggs? She was eleven years old and the nation’s darling when she came third in the 1984 BBC final to clarinettist Emma Johnson. Her piano teacher, Denis Matthews, hanged himself in 1989, a shock from which she took years to recover. Now 35, she teaches at York University and picks up dates where she can – two next month with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Carlisle and Lowestoft. She has not lost hope of making it onto the main classical circuit, but two wrong choices of agent effectively beached her career and it’s not easy at 35 to buck the commercial trend for sexy young soloists.

Still, she’s out there fighting. There’s a website, a CD and an eye for the offbeat, with rare items by Britten and Rawsthorne separating Beethoven and Brahms on her disc. Sarah Beth Briggs is a classic case of the ills of TV competition – too much fame, too young and too little help in handling it. Competition is healthy, but talent needs special protection. Television takes no care of those who come third.

To be notified of the next Lebrecht article, please email mikevincent at scena dot org

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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