Adjudicators

Robin Ashwell

Robin Ashwell is well known as the viola player of the Sacconi Quartet, one of the UK’s finest string quartets. With the Quartet, he made his Wigmore Hall debut in 2004, and since then has performed internationally, broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3 and appeared on numerous CDs.

Upon graduating from the Royal College of Music, Robin was awarded the prestigious Tagore Gold Medal, the College’s highest prize in recognition of achievements and contribution to College life. As an Associated Board Scholar at the College he studied with Ian Jewel and Andriy Viytovych, and won the Cecil Aronowitz Prize for outstanding viola playing. He also studied baroque and classical viola with Jan Schlapp, Catherine Mackintosh and Annette Isserlis, and went on to be Principal Viola of the European Union Baroque Orchestra during their 2001-2003 seasons.

With the Sacconi Quartet, Robin has collaborated with some of the world’s finest musicians, including Freddy Kempf, Pekka Kuusisto, Mark Padmore and Paul McCartney, appearing as solo violist on his 2009 hit song Come Home. Also with the Quartet, he has commissioned and premiered works by Jonathan Dove, Graham Fitkin, Roxanna Panufnik and many others. The Quartet has made three world-premiere CDs of works by Dove, Fitkin and McCabe, and a further five CDs on the Sacconi Records label. Robin has performed concertos by Walton, Berlioz, Mozart and Elis Pehkonen, and collaborated with Roger Chase, Garfield Jackson, Yukiko Ogura, Douglas Paterson and Andriy Viytovych in a concert of viola-ensemble music entitled Viola Invasion. More recently he has performed John Woolrich’s haunting Ulysses Awakes for viola and strings and recorded Panufnik’s virtuoso solo piece Canto for Signum Classics.

Robin combines his performing schedule with a love for and dedication to teaching. He is Head of Strings at Westminster School, coaches chamber music at the Royal College of Music, and teaches viola and violin at Sevenoaks School. He is indebted to Ellen Solomon, whose beautiful Sacconi viola of 1934 he is privileged to play.

Gary Branch

Gary Branch studied piano at Trinity College, London and in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, Gary became very interested in early pianos and their link to the great Classical and Romantic composers.

Returning to the UK, he discovered Finchcocks Musical Museum, a specialist centre for period keyboard instruments. Although the museum closed in 2015, he is presently involved with the development of the Finchcocks Charity for Music Education and has the role of Director of Projects. Since 2020, Gary has also been working in association with Coach House Pianos, Swansea as a piano historian and performer presenter, to promote the histories and backgrounds to some of the finest pianos available today.

Gary has worked with several well known musicians including Neil Jenkins (tenor), Kathleen Kemler (American flutist), Jamie Akers (lutenist/period guitarist) and Steven Devine (harpsichordist/period piano.) In 2021, he has been invited to perform with his Finchcocks Charity colleague Jean Phillips for the Lichfield Festival, promoting the music of Clementi and annually performers with Jean for Saga Holidays ‘Classical Music Christmas Holiday’.

Gary has broadcast on BBC local radio and on television, including on the BBC’s ‘Great Railway Journeys’ at Finchcocks Musical Museum, focusing on a Broadwood and Sons square piano and its link to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; this was broadcast in January 2016. Gary often adjudicates festivals and competitions for young musicians, and has worked for the Finchcocks Charity and the Dulwich Music Festival in this role. He is delighted to be returning as an adjudicator for the Abertawe Festival in Swansea in 2022, which promotes young talented musicians in South Wales, where he now lives. He is also the Music Director for the John Kerr Award for English Song, a bi-annual competition to promote the English song repertoire.

Recordings include ‘I’ll Sing Thee Songs’ with Greg Tassell on the Finchcocks label and ‘Classical Vienna’ on the Resonus Label with period guitarist Jamie Akers. Further, a recent recording for the Holst Museum in Cheltenham, performing on Holst’s piano for a film and interactive display.

Early Music Review -“Gary Branch handles the various features of the Graf fortepiano with panache, making it sing beautifully or almost whisper depending on the requirements of the music.

Gerard McChrystal

Gerard McChrystal was born in Derry, N. Ireland. He was the first student to graduate from the RNCM with three awards in 1986.   He did postgrad at The Guildhall School, London. During his year in London he reached the final of the RTE Young Musician of the year for the second time, won The Lombard & Ulster £15,000 Foundation on RTE’s ‘The Late,Late Show with Gay Byrne’ as well as The Royal Overseas League, London, The Countess of Music Award, The Sir James Caird Travelling Awarded, Scotland, The Martin Music Award, The NFMS Award and appeared on the BBC’s ‘Opportunity Knocks’ with Bob Monkhouse.   Gerard won a scholarship to study at Northwestern University, Chicago with Fred Hemke. He was awarded his masters degree in 1988.

His UK debut was with The Philharmonia premiering Dave Heath’s ‘Out of the Cool’ in 1989 at St John Smith’s Square. Also in 1989 he performed as soloist in the premiere of Shaun Davey’s ‘Relief of Derry Symphony’ with The Ulster Orchestra. This performance was also recorded for his first CD.

Gerard has performed in over 35 countries including China, USA, New Zealand, Korea, South Africa and Azerbaijan. His main ambition is to develop collaborations and encourage composers, especially from Ireland, to write for the saxophone. Collaborations include composer Philip Glass, The Soweto String Quartet, Rambert Dance Co., London Musici, The Smith Quartet, Classical guitarist Craig Ogden,  vocal groups Anuna and Codetta, Saxophone quartets Saxtet and The Bros Quartet. As part of Bros Saxophone Quartet he has recorded and performed music by Salvatore Sciarrino in Milan. ‘Pagine’ by Sciarrino was released on Stradivarius Records in 2016.

Gerard’s was an ambassador for Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 and performed in the opening and closing concerts with artists including Snow Patrol, The Undertones, Liam O’ Flynn, Dana and James Nesbitt.

Gerard has made 15 cds with orchestras including BBC NOW, Ulster Orchestra and London Musici. His saxophone series are published in London and Melbourne. Gerard is Professor of Saxophone at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, London and also teaches at RWCMD, Cardiff. He is a Vandoren Artist. Plans for 2020 include a tour to South East Asia, tour of Portugal and a performance in The Royal Naval Chapel, London with Claude Delangle, Professor of saxophone at The Paris Conservatoire. In April his latest cd will be released with organist Christian Wilson. The CD was recorded in The Royal Chapel, Tower of London and features music from Haydn, Handel, Vivaldi to Jehan Alain and Barbara Thompson.