The Music Section of The Critics’ Circle is delighted to announce the winners of our Awards for 2020 and 2021

Young Talent (Composer) Alex Ho

Young Talent (Conductor)   Jonathon Heyward

Young Talent (Voice)            William Thomas

Young Talent (Piano)           Nicolas Namoradze

Lockdown Star                      Dr Hugh Mather and the volunteers at St Mary’s, Perivale

Outstanding achievement, streaming and digital    Joint award: VOPERA’s 2020 production of L’enfant et les sortilèges by Maurice Ravel, and the OperaGlass Works production of The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten

Outstanding achievement in opera    Birmingham Opera, in memory of the work of Graham Vick

Our Young Talent Awards applaud the way our award winners have triumphantly overcome the hardships and challenges of the last two years to make significant breakthroughs in their careers.

The Critics’ Circle Awards are unique, decided by the country’s most experienced professional arts journalists and critics on the basis of hearing the widest range of performances across the UK and Ireland.

This year we also recognise the outstanding achievements of individuals and organisations in response to the uniquely adverse circumstances of the pandemic in two ways:

  • A Lockdown Star Award for efforts and results during the pandemic of a level far beyond anything that could be reasonably expected
  • A Digital/Streaming Award for performance without live audience, of a particularly admirable standard

Our Outstanding Achievement in Opera Award recognises the unique value of the ultimate collaborative artform, and celebrates the ambition and achievement of British opera companies.

Young talent (composer)

Alex Ho is an exciting composer who has had a determinedly creative lockdown, putting out valuable works and winning major commissions at a difficult time. He combines a coherent individual voice with a breadth of styles, genres and instrumental disciplines, all fired by the spark of his imagination, combining his Chinese heritage and Western Classical form in a compelling and individual way.

​His AMAZON, one of the most original multi-media works to come out of lockdown, was commissioned by London Sinfonietta and Music Theatre Wales, and created over Zoom using stop-motion animation, narration and ingenious use of ‘found sounds’. Other works he has had performed over the last two years include Breathe and Draw for sinfonietta, two conductors and audience participation, Gambit, premiered in Salzburg, and In Significance for seven players, written for the London Symphony Orchestra and performed at St Luke’s in February 2020.

AMAZON can be viewed at

Young Talent (conductor)

American by birth (from Augusta, Georgia), Jonathon Heyward is proving an indispensable asset to British musical life. In 2020-21, he conducted Hannah Kendall’s The Knife of Dawn at Covent Garden, championed Elgar in Germany, and made a rapturously acclaimed Proms debut with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in a scintillating performance of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with Nicola Benedetti, and a “fast and fearless… exuberantEroica conducted from memory. His rapport with the young players was manifest throughout. Equally at home in Stravinsky as in Haydn and Dvořák, Jonathon Heyward seems the complete musician.

Young Talent (voice)

In the few years since he first came to attention with competition successes followed by debuts with important companies and at major venues, the young British singer William Thomas has impressed not only with the exceptional quality of his bass voice, but also with his serious and developing artistry, demonstrated as an operatic performer on the stage and as a recitalist in the world of song on the concert platform. 

His appearances during the 2020/21 season included The Magic Flute at Glyndebourne, Masetto in Don Giovanni for Seattle Opera, Jesus in a tour of Bach’s St John Passion under Sir John Eliot Gardiner; he made his BBC Proms debut in Mozart’s Requiem, and sang Colline (La bohème) for ENO at Alexandra Palace and Sciarrone in Tosca for the company at Crystal Palace.

In 2021 he also joined the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists and appeared on Jess Gillam’s This Classical Life on Radio 3.

Young Talent (piano)

Nicolas Namoradze may be a top-flight pianist, but he is very much more than that. He is a ceaseless hunter-out of unjustly forgotten repertoire – for example his championing of the works of York Bowen – and he is also a composer in his own right. And his neuroscientific research into how the brain processes music may alter the way musicians both practice pieces and learn them. His UK performances are as yet few and far between, but two recent ones have been exceptionally memorable. At the Wigmore Hall in 2020 he electrified his audience – and also seemed to electrify himself – with a performance of his own intricate piano studies. And at the Royal Festival Hall he gave a riveting account of Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano & Orchestra, as well as a performance of Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto with the LPO.

Lockdown Star

St Mary’s, Perivale – a tiny, Grade 1-listed redundant church in west London – has punched far above its weight with the range and quality of its streamed recitals. Dr Hugh Mather and the team – all volunteers – carried on with their three weekly recitals when Covid hit, providing young artists with paid employment and a platform during this hardest of times, raising their own funds, largely through donations, to pay the artists without any public subsidies. Both the quality of the concerts on offer and the diversity of performers and repertoire put the response of many larger, subsidised venues to shame. The concerts were streamed live using very high quality equipment installed by two former BBC engineers, Simon Shute and George Auckland. Live audiences are now back at the free-of-charge concerts, and live streaming continues. St Mary’s broadcast 154 live concerts and 53 recordings during the pandemic, and a full schedule of recitals for the year ahead is already in place.

We also wanted to give a special mention to Tom Poster and Elena Urioste. Among the many people who streamed live performance during lockdown they stood out for their sheer joyousness, eclectic musical choices and beautiful playing. Something that started just for a small circle of friends spread much more widely and reached a huge number of people, and brightened up our lives.

Similarly, The Wigmore Hall was a figurehead of the kind the music world needs: and it eagerly grabbed the role. It was an absolute beacon, and despite all its obvious advantages, the hall went far beyond what it needed to do. We would like to express our admiration of John Gilhooly, not only for the remarkable series of free online streams, which brought solace for audiences and work for musicians, but also for speaking up for the industry at a time when many leaders of arts organisations in the UK were conspicuous for their silence. 

Outstanding Achievement, Streaming and Digital

Joint Winners: OperaGlass Works – The Turn of the Screw, and VOPERA – L’enfant et les sortilèges 

OperaGlass Works’ swift pivot from a planned live-staging to not just filmed but fully reimagined and conceptualised digital opera in The Turn of the Screw represented both a highly creative response to circumstances and a satisfying digital product. Both musical and cinematic values were of the highest standard, and we hope this film will go on to have a long legacy on Marquee and beyond. 

We loved the ingenuity of VOPERA’s production of L’enfant et les sortilèges – showing us something fresh and new in its blend of animation and live performance, as well as offering a meaningful and topical response to extraordinary circumstances. We hope it too can go on to find a wider audience online. 

Outstanding Achievement in Opera

We wanted to express our admiration and gratitude to Birmingham Opera, and the late Graham Vick, for their extraordinary achievement over the years. This company, Vick’s brainchild, represents something unique in opera, and not only for the UK: a genuine attempt – and genuinely successful – to do something thoughtful, demanding and different (but not simply for the sake of it) – with huge imagination and energy, seeking to find what opera could mean in and for contemporary society. Never comfortable or safe, with lots of sharp edges, performed in highly unusual venues, the operas completely rethought for modern times, this was an annual reminder that opera has the power to be the most direct, unbeatably powerful, entertaining and involving medium to address things that really matter.

All enquiries to Guy Rickards or Robert Thicknesse

Guy Rickards, Secretary, Music Section

Photo credits

Kevin Leighton

Laura Thiesbrummel

Thomas Gimson

Nathan Nelson

Hugo Glindinning