Morgana Warren-Jones and Winnie Su win the Williams-Howard Prize

Mezzo-soprano Morgana Warren-Jones and pianist Winnie Su have won the second annual Williams-Howard Prize.

The first prize of its kind in Europe, the competition encourages the study and performance of art songs of composers of African heritage and is open to singers and collaborative pianists. In addition to financial prizes, first prize winners receive a coaching session and recital at the Buxton International Festival, with first and second prize winners also receiving a performance workshop at the Cooper Hall Foundation in Frome, Somerset.

Lucy Farrimond, Juanjo Blazquez Garre, Michael Harper, Morgana Warren-Jones and Winne Su

Held at the RNCM, the prize was established by renowned countertenor and RNCM Tutor Michael Harper, in honour of two special people; his grandfather Chester Ambrose Williams Sr and Helen Palmer Howard, his teacher and mentor who encouraged him to sing from an early age.

Michael’s international career as a countertenor and teacher has uncovered the distinct lack of study and performance of art songs of African heritage in conservatoires and concert halls. We are working to ensure that these songs are known, celebrated, performed, and not lost and forgotten, and our vision is that the new generation of professional singers and pianists embrace this work and that they are not forgotten but embedded firmly into the canon.

Michael Harper said: ‘I am so excited to see the growth of the prize in just one year. We’ve raised over £20,000 since we first launched the prize and increased interest in the student body at the college, nationally, and globally.

The positive experiences of the inaugural prize winners, Georgie Malcolm and Edd Campbell-Rowntree, the talent of this year’s participants, the support of Morag McLaren, the other patrons, the RNCM, and the Buxton International Festival only strengthen my commitment to keep working to support the prize and repository and to help to embed this repertoire in the canon of classical art song.

Last year’s recital at the Buxton International Festival was an unmitigated success with lots of positive feedback and I know that this year’s winners will offer the festival audience a memorable recital. Thanks for the support!’

Morgana and Winnie secured the £1200 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor First Prize with a programme featuring songs by Marques L A Garrett, Maud Cuney Hare, Florence Price and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Morgana said: ‘We’re honoured to have won this year’s competition and are very grateful to Michael Harper for creating a prize celebrating this repertoire. Taking part was a wonderful opportunity to explore repertoire by African-heritage composers that I hadn’t come across before and I look forward to programming this music in future recitals.’

Winnie said: It was such a privilege and honour to have won the Williams-Howard Prize with Morgana, and I am so excited for the opportunity to be an ambassador for this exquisite repertoire. The audience was crying, and then laughing, and we were right there with them on that emotional rollercoaster! I wish I had discovered these composers earlier and will definitely be programming more in the future. How can I not, when the music is so good?!’

The pair will perform a recital, Colour My Song, at Buxton International Festival on Friday 21 July, giving audiences a rare chance to experience this glorious music.

The £600 Avril Coleridge-Taylor Second Prize went to mezzo-soprano Sophie Iliaifar and pianist Harry Lai, with soprano Lucy Farrimond and pianist Juanjo Blazquez Garre receiving the Amanda Ira Aldridge Honorable Mention, worth £200. All prizes were divided equally between singer and pianist.

Congratulations to all the finalists who took part in this year’s competition.

28 March 2023