Wingate Scholarships and Music

When, not long after leaving the BBC in 1985, I was invited to advise the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation on the awards of music scholarships through the newly formed Wingate Scholarships, I had what seemed like useful experience in the field. I had chaired the panel of judges at a BBC piano completion in 1974 and I had been a panellist for the Artur Rubenstein Competition held in Israel in 1977. On both occasions a major prize-winner was a very talented young musician. The fact that he has vanished, apparently without trace, has taught me that, though probably a necessary evil, competitions are not always a reliable guide to further achievement.

So Wingate Scholarships, not publicly competitive, not conducted in a blaze of media hype, struck me as a more constructive way of helping musicians to fulfil their potential. I was glad to be involved.

Over the years - and I am astonished to find that they now total 20 the number of scholarships has grown from one in 1988 to ten in 2003 and 2004 when the number fell back a little. In 2008, 8 out of the 52 awards made in almost all academic disciplines were given to musicians). Wingate Scholarships have also supported sixteen music scholars at the annual Verbier Festival.

It is an impressive record of educative patronage and a majority of Wingate music scholars have, rightly, been young performers with some scholarships also going to composers and researchers in Musicology.

Of course, not all our scholars have made big names for themselves: that is also as it should be. Orchestral musicians, chamber music players, teachers all are important and valuable.

Selecting the best candidates for audition or interview has been a responsibility which I hope my distinguished colleagues (among them, over the years, Tom Hemsley, Catherine Wilson, Neil Black and the late Dame Thea King) and I have exercised fairly. Certainly the procedure has been exacting: Each year I listened to about sixty cds and cassettes before handing them over to two advisors one for singers and one for instrumentalists. The shortlisting process consisted of putting together the comments and marks of all the assessors and a discussion with the Administrator of the scholarships. The result was a list of (usually) about 6 composers and musicologists for interview and 12 musicians singers and instrumentalists for audition. The auditions have always been both enjoyable and taxing. The short interviews which follow each performance often reveal character and courage (and sometimes virtual penury!). The award winners usually keep in touch, and we meet at an annual gathering.

Wingate scholarships, with which I am truly proud to have been associated seem to me ideally to combine stringent professional judgement with considerate humanity.

I salute Tony Wingate, their wise progenitor.

Robert Ponsonby, CBE.