01403 878 026
01903 892 899

Percussionist Toril Azzalini-Machecler

Published on 1st January 2020

Toril Azzalini-Machecler’s bold and inventive programme was one of the highlights of the BBC Young Musician of the Year percussion final in 2020.Having reached the final of the competition twice, the Horsham musician now hopes to become a professional musician. Here, the multi-instrumentalist talks about his achievements and ambitions in his own words...


I was born in France, although my family moved to the UK from Paris when I was only five. Even as a child, I had an interest in hitting things! I have bongo drums that I’ve had most of my life and occasionally still use in recitals. 

Music was ingrained in me from a young age. My parents would take me and my sister to the Fête de la Musique in Paris, an annual festival where people would play on street corners and at venues across the city. I started playing a drum pads and glockenspiel, which set me on the road to being a percussionist. Gradually, the range of instruments I liked to play expanded to include the xylophone and marimba. It seems that the more you develop your technique and repertoire, the bigger the instrument you need to play. So, the marimba is huge, although it’s the one I enjoy most. 

When I was in Year 9 at Forest, I was in a rock band, Nox. I played bass guitar as we already had a drummer! We formed for a Halloween Showcase and played Nothing Else Matters by Metallica, continuing down that route until we disbanded as we all went to college. 

I wanted to pursue Music in further education. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I did well at academic lessons too. I also had to pick between composition and percussion, as I enjoy writing music too. I’ve had one-to-one composition lessons for several years. 

Briefly, I considered returning to France, because education fees are much less there. But the idea seemed daunting, as I don’t know technical terms in French that every percussionist should know. So, I went to the Royal College of Music (RCM) to study Percussion. My second study is Composition, under the tutelage of Simon Holt,who is one of my musical idols.


In 2018, I entered BBC Young Musician of the Year. I was one of five to make it to the percussion final, but wasn’t selected for the Grand Final, where the winners from all five categories (Brass, Percussion, Keyboard, Strings, Woodwind) compete. I performed two pieces, including one where I was accompanied by a computerised voice. It required lots of trickery, exploring sounds on a snare drum and performing in synch with a robotic voice repeating an existentialist poem! My second piece was called Parallel Lines, composed by Joe Duddell. 

Early in 2020, I entered once again (the competition is held every two years) and progressed to the Percussion category final for a second time. Covid-19 was looming on the horizon and the final was held only a week before the first lockdown. Although I only reached the same stage as 2018, I thought my performance was better this time around and felt I made a significant impact on the judges and audience. 

My first piece was written by Cameron Sinclair, my teacher at RCM Junior Department. It needed exact timing, so he wrote me a piece called Oreiad, a nod to Ancient Greece, as the Oreiads are nymphs from the mountains. I was accompanied by Alison Sutton on piano. 

The second piece and focal point of my programme was Le Corps à Corps by Greek composer Georges Aperghis. It’s played on the Zarb, a Persian goblet drum. It’s a performance piece, as it involves me acting out a poem. The narrative of the piece is a struggle between the musician and the Zarb. Sometimes, I had to hold my breath, then there would be a sudden burst of words. It took a long time to perfect. 

It was certainly a bold choice. But the reaction showed that the audience were pleasantly surprised by it. With some performances, you can play with your head down and not have that level of interaction, so I felt I was breaking the barrier between audience and performer. I do enjoy playing rarely performed work too. When people see me on stage, I want them to think, “What’s he going to give us this time?”

My third and final piece was an arrangement of The Spruce by Sibelius. It’s a whimsical piano piece arranged for the marimba. We often need to create our own arrangements, as composers always write for string quartets and piano, but not so much for percussion! Doing a competition like BBC Young Musician of the Year can be stressful. The BBC were very good in helping us, even having a psychologist available. I utilised that service and it was very useful, as the nerves were creeping in! 


I’m in my first year at RCM, and what a way to start! Because of Covid-19, it’s been challenging and we had to resort to Microsoft Teams during lockdown. 

I've been lucky with live performances this year. I was involved in two concerts with the Chineke Orchestra as part of the Inside Out project at the Southbank Centre. Chineke is Europe’s first black, Asian and ethnically diverse orchestra. It’s an important step, as when you see most orchestras, you tend to see a lot of white faces. Chineke performs work by some composers whose work has been previously overlooked, including Florence Price. They were among the first live music events in London after the first lockdown. 

In Horsham, I performed two concerts with the Stane Street Sinfonietta, including Stravinsky’s A Soldier's Tale. Stravinsky is a key influence on my work. People are still intimidated by The Rite of Spring, yet it was written before the First World War! It’s been great meeting other musicians in Horsham, which is a hot-bed of talent. 
I’m no longer eligible for the BBC Young Musician competition, but I can compete at other international events. The BBC finals were a great stepping stone, but I need to make an impact elsewhere to succeed as a professional musician. I'm in the real world now! 

This January, I will hopefully be playing at St Luke's Church, a secondary venue for the London Symphony Orchestra. The venue hosts a Baroque at the Edge festival and I’m part of a Young Artists Showcase on 9 January 2021, performing with recorder player Eliza Haskins, also a BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist. 

The marimba is the instrument that I spend the most time on. But what I love about percussion is that there’s an infinite number of combinations. You can incorporate vibraphone, woodblocks, snare drums or xylophones into your compositions and arrangements. There are no limits! That’s why I’m excited about exploring composition in future...





Toril at home on the marimba (©AAH/Toby Phillips Photography)