A performance that left judges "breathless" has won King Edward VI pupil Lauren Zhang the title of BBC's Young Musician of the Year - and the chance to perform at the Royal Albert Hall.
The 16-year-old piano prodigy won the prestigious competition - just two days before she starts her GCSEs. She will play at a special BBC Young Musician 40th anniversary concert at this year's BBC Proms in July at the famous venue in London.
Lauren joins the ranks of previous winners Nicola Benedetti and Freddy Kempf, who have gone on to achieve worldwide success. Kerry Andrew, chair of the judging panel, said the performance "left us all breathless".
The King Edward VI High School for Girls student took the title on home turf, playing Prokofiev's challenging Piano Concerto No 2, accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall where she has performed in several school concerts.
Lauren beat cellist Maxim Calver and sax player Rob Burton to win the title and paid tribute to her family, friends and school as she received the prize. "I'm astonished!" she said. "I'm pleasantly surprised and I can't believe it. The journey, right from the start of the competition, has been incredible."
Conductor Mark Wigglesworth praised the young musician, who had been playing with a professional orchestra for the first time.
"When you meet Lauren she seems... I wouldn't say shy, but controlled within herself and very confident about her own personality," he said. “Then you hear her play and you discover this incredible depth and range of thought and imagination. That's an extraordinary combination.”
Lauren said she chose Prokofiev's second piano concerto because it balanced "lyrical, elegant" melodies with moments that are more "grotesque or bizarre". She also explained that it neatly fitted into the final's 30-minute time limit, although it was a demanding piece to learn.
"I really had to practise it quite a few times before I could play without stopping in the middle because it was just so difficult," she said.
Lauren, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and started learning piano aged four. The family came to England while her mother, Hui, a statistician specialising in Econometrics, was taking a sabbatical year at Birmingham University and Lauren was invited to join the Birmingham Junior Conservatoire in 2010.
Although they planned to return to the US, Lauren's experiences at the Conservatoire where she is taught by Dr Robert Markham, himself a former Piano Prize winner in the BBC Young Musician contest, encouraged the family to stay. She has since won a string of major piano and violin classes including the top contest for young pianists worldwide - the Ettlingen International Piano competition in 2016.
One of the few BBC Young Musician finalists not to attend a full-time music college, Lauren enjoys a variety of interests. A talented fencer and biologist, she also excels at Maths and scored full marks in the UK Intermediate Maths Challenge. She was also one of a handful of gifted teenage mathematicians offered a coveted place at a National Maths Camp this summer.
Following her victory, she is fitting media commitments into her GCSE timetable. “King Edward’s has been really encouraging and flexible,” she said, “as I’ve had to juggle GCSE revision with practising for the competition and my other activities. They gave me extra free periods to practise in and time off to compete and perform recitals.
"I also enjoy music for fun, taking part in chamber music with my friends. On a school day I do up to four hours of good-quality practice, thinking about the heart and emotion in the pieces, not just the technical aspects. Dr Markham has taught me that it is extremely important to understand the music.”
As the 2018 title-holder, Lauren will now also perform at BBC Music's Biggest Weekend in Coventry on May 28.