A tenor from China who quit playing clarinet to focus on his voice has been crowned the world’s best young singer.
Zihua Zhang, 28, outshone competitors from all around the globe to win this year’s Pendine International Voice of the Future title at Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
Following a thrilling competition, he was presented with the Pendine Trophy – a solid silver salver – and a £3,000 cheque jointly by musician in residence Nia Davies Williams and artist in residence Sarah Edwards from the arts-loving care organisation, Pendine Park, who sponsor the competition.
The prize came from the Pendine Arts and Community Trust which was founded by Pendine Park owners Mario and Gill Kreft, to support cultural and community initiatives across Wales.
The runner’s up prize of £1,000 went to Welsh baritone Owain Rowlands, of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.
Owain was already a familiar face to many in the audience from his frequent performances on Welsh language TV channel S4C.
Australian soprano Charlotte Kelso, from Adelaide, was third.
Unbelievably, Zihua only took up singing in his late teens, having started his music career playing clarinet for 15 years.
He said: “I always played clarinet but then one day I suddenly thought I’d have a go at singing for a bit and I discovered it was a lot of fun. Then I just knew it was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
The dynamic talent remained cool headed despite a humid and stormy Saturday night final.
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod Executive Producer Camilla King said it had been a tough decision as all three finalists are potential stars of the future, but Zihua put in a truly show-stopping performance.
He impressed the judges with his stirring renditions of ‘What a Cold Hand’ from Puccini’s La Boheme, and ‘Ah Rise the Sun’ from the operatic version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Zihua. originally from Xiamen, a port city on China’s south eastern coast, dreams of becoming a professional opera singer performing at some of the great opera houses around the world
In the meantime, he is about to complete an advanced post graduate diploma at university in Birmingham. He previously gained a master’s degree from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
He said: “I can’t even take it in myself really. My fellow competitors were so talented that I never expected to win. It is such a great honour.
“The Pendine International Voice of the Future prize will be a big help in furthering my musical ambitions.
“It means I won’t have to survive on meal deals anymore! But seriously, it is so good to have that extra financial boost behind me.
“It’s certainly been an honour and a fantastic experience to compete in Wales at Llangollen. The International Eisteddfod is well known and respected in China, and it’s been unforgettable for me just to be here, never mind win.”
Pendine Park musician in residence Nia Davies Williams praised the exceptionally high standard of all three finalists.
She said: “The quality of the singing, and music in general, as always with the eisteddfod, has been amazing. And what was so nice is how the audience reacted with rousing applause for all the competitors. You could tell what a great time they were having listening to the rising stars of the future.”
Sarah Edwards added: “I think we have tonight heard some of the future famous names of the global operatic stage. We are proud that the Pendine Arts and Community Trust has sponsored such an outstanding competition and one which has seen entries come in from singers right across the world.
“It is a shame there can only be one winner but I am sure that in Zihua Zhang we have found a huge new talent. We send him our good wishes in furthering his musical career and achieving his dreams.”
On the judging panel for the evening was Robert Guy, co-founder and conductor of the Wrexham based NEW Sinfonia orchestra which headlined at the eisteddfod earlier in the week..
He said: “Overall it has been a magnificent night with some stunning performances which will stay in our minds for a long time to come.”