September 11, 2009 / 1:55 AM / 9 years ago

British baritone Farnsworth wins prestigious Wigmore prize

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Singing songs on subjects ranging from death to drink, British baritone Marcus Farnsworth has won the top prize in the sixth biennial Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition.

Farnsworth, 25, was selected for the 10,000-pound ($16,550) prize on Thursday night by an international panel of singers and musicians in the final round of the four-day contest which saw the field whittled down from 34 competitors to four finalists.

Farnsworth, however, accompanied by pianist Elizabeth Burgess, did not get the loudest applause from the famously demanding audience in the acoustically near-perfect London hall.

That was reserved for African-American fourth place finisher Sidney Outlaw, from Brevard, North Carolina.

Outlaw captivated the packed hall with a program that ended with a moving setting of a text from the final sermon by the slain U.S. civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and a spiritual.

But Farnsworth, from Nottingham in the east midlands of England, got the jury vote with an engaging recital that mixed a Schubert lieder about death with settings by French composer Francis Poulenc of bawdy 17th century poems, one of which begs a hostess to pour more wine so that “I’m merry, merry, merry.”

Farnsworth, whose mother is a dance teacher and father a pianist, said despite the challenges of making it in the music world, the songs in which he specializes provide “a level of intimacy that cannot be achieved in any other art form.”

He said he had chosen to perform the challenging mix of songs by seven composers in order to show “that those composers from vastly different fields can fit together.”

Irish mezzo-soprano Ann Murray, one of the judges, said winning the competition “was like a springboard.”

“It’s like buying a house,” she said. “You only need one person to be interested.”

(Writing by Michael Roddy)

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