Incorporating the British Art Song Competition (BASC)

The annual London Song Festival Masterclass and British Art Song Competition is a combination of public masterclass and competition hosted by Festival Director, Nigel Foster, and provides a wonderful exposure to this repertoire.

The 2022 competition took place on 3 December at London’s Hinde Street Methodist Church and included a Masterclass given by Sir Thomas Allen and the BASC Prize sponsored by The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society as part of the composer’s 150th anniversary celebrations.  

During a 30-minute presentation, each singer and their pianist – previously selected by audition – are given the opportunity to work in depth on two songs of their choice with an eminent vocal performer; on this occasion Sir Thomas Allen, who then selects a duo to receive a cash prize and an invitation to give a recital at the following year’s London Song Festival. 

Currently studying at music college or opera studio level, the nine duo finalists, (the tenth unfortunately having to cancel due to illness), were invited to choose two songs, at least one of which must be by a set composer – which in 2022 was Vaughan Williams.

With RVW as the set composer, the songs chosen by the competitors were:

  • Daffodils
  • Tired (Four Last Songs)
  • The New Ghost (Four Poems by Fredegond Shove)
  • Harry the Tailor (Folk-songs from the Eastern Counties)
  • Youth and Love (Songs of Travel)
  • Dreamland
  • The Roadside Fire (Songs of Travel)
  • The Splendour Falls 
  • I have trod the upward and the downward slope (Songs of Travel)

Other composers represented included Madelene Dring, Williams Denis Browne, Butterworth, Walton, Finzi, Britten and Martin Bussey.

Working with the students during the Masterclass, Sir Thomas Allen encouraged the singers to speak the text aloud in order to gain a better understanding and enable them to communicate the song’s sentiment in a more expressive way, as well as to add colour and to sing through the line. 

Some of the technical points addressed to improve performance by Sir Thomas included collaboration and dynamics between performers – it was okay to acknowledge each other’s existence on stage, he said! He also encouraged the singers to loosen up and engage a little with the audience where it was called for, but not to the extent of a ‘hands on hips’ style, à la Carmen, which he did not approve of!

Of the more unfamiliar repertoire, Sir Thomas spent some time working with baritone Patrick Keefe on William Denis Browne’s, To Gratiana dancing and singing; a song I recall Andrew Kennedy recorded for an album of war songs entitled The Dark Pastoral, and suggesting that what was required was a less aggressive and toned down approach in order to bring the song’s elegance, beauty and sense of awe to bear. He suggested this song is text driven rather than having great lyricism and therefore interpreting the lines and setting the scene were paramount to a convincing performance. Patrick said: “His idea to extract the emotion, both textually and vocally, through the vein of majesty was totally accurate and opens new doors.”

Sir Thomas Allen with prize-winners Rebecca Leggett and George Ireland

Sir Thomas said that he would like to award the Prize to Rebecca Leggett (mezzo-soprano) and George Ireland (piano), who performed Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Daffodils and Madeleine Dring’s It was a lover and his lass, musing in his summing up that “RVW wasn’t half bad!”.

Rebecca Leggett is a recent masters graduate of the Royal College of Music where she was an Ian Evans Lombe Scholar and studied with Alison Wells, winning the 2020 Brooks-van der Pump English Song Competition, amongst others. Song is high on the agenda for Rebecca, and she has most recently performed with pianist Dylan Bewley-Perez in an Emerging Artist slot for the Oxford Lieder Festival and in a joint recital for the Thames Concert Series with countertenor Hugh Cutting. In the spring, Rebecca is looking forward to partaking in a joint recital with Brindley Sherratt for the Ludlow Song Festival accompanied by Iain Burnside.

George Ireland enjoys a thriving career, in demand both as a recital partner with some of the finest singers of his generation, and as a repetiteur in Opera and Choral music. From a non-musical background, he began to play the piano from scratch, self-taught at the age of 14. He recently graduated with distinction from the Royal College of Music where he studied collaborative piano under Simon Lepper and Roger Vignoles. Previously working with Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton, he has also studied conducting, vocal coaching and continuo. George’s forthcoming appearances include the Oxford Lieder Spring Song Festival.

Karen Fletcher

For more information: