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From the Joachim Competition: Final Round Closes

By Heather Kurzbauer
October 9, 2015 17:46

Shion Minami, a lovely apparition in purple took a muscular approach to Korngold’s Hollywood potpourri. An exemplary performer with the ability to project her ample sound to the very last row in the hall, Minami is indeed all about projection and articulation. Every phrase is punctuated and played with a great sense of urgency: the ebb and flow of the oft-saccharine score was missing in action. Relaxation and contemplation especially at the end of long phrases are not part of the accomplished violinist’s musical vocabulary. An artist performing at such an impeccable level will undoubtedly grow to discover the joys of longer phrases and the wit that lies so close to the surface in the emigrant composer’s nostalgic blend of middle European forms with America’s sassy slapstick. The ‘ain't necessarily so’ blues that extinguish the slow movement were impeccable in terms of control yet clueless in terms of musical antecedents. The closing movement was dashed off with great élan.

Just 17, Ayana Tsuji is an artist of consummate taste and persuasive musical power. Her g-string passages burned with inner fire, octaves were freed from the box of pure technical exercise and each and every phrase was treated to a special ending in order to make room for the subsequent musical idea. Tsuji’s second movement could open the gates of a rainbow-infused heaven while the atavism that inspired her third movement brought listeners to the edge of their seats. The great discovery at this year's contest comes in the form of a diminutive phenomenon: Ayana Tsuji.


Richard Lin’s rendition of the Korngold Concerto was the special treat accorded to the audience at the end of an exemplary contest. Clad like a Hollywood lad, the master of silvery tone production introduced a cadre of characters in his convincing performance. Moving the score onwards and upwards to a level where Mahler meets Mickey, Lin deserves a top prize. Wizard of Oz references in the third movement did not escape this intelligent musician and his second movement showed sensitivity to Korngold’s ethereal orchestration.

Thanks to the wonders of streaming, the last two finalists will continue to enchant and motivate.

Competitions are not for racehorses as the frequently cited adage pronounces: torchbearers Tsuji ,Lin and Marquise Gilmore have shown that a superlative event is like a window that opens onto a world of great art.

The audience roared its approval for four favorites: Dogadin, Marquise Gilmore, Tsuji and Lin. The jury awarded the top prize to Dogadin, third prize to Lin and a surprising 4th and 5th prize respectively to Marquise Gilmore and the most astonishing talent, Tsuji. Tomorrow night’s closing will bring word concerning the Special and Audience Prizes while as midnight melts into the wee hours many are still puzzling the second prize awarded to a temperate rather than temperamental player.

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Sergei Dogadin wins first prize in the 2015 Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition Hannover

By Laurie Niles
October 9, 2015 14:13

Winners were announced today in the the 9th Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition in Hannover, Germany. They are:

  • First prize (€50,000): Sergei Dogadin, 27 (Russia)
  • Second prize (€30,000): Shion Minami, 26 (Japan)
  • Third prize (€20,000): Richard Lin, 24 (Taiwan/USA)
  • Fourth prize (€8,000): Benjamin Marquise Gilmore, 27 (Netherlands/USA)
  • Fifth prize (€8,000): Ayana Tsuji, 17 (Japan)
  • Sixth prize (€8,000): Amalia Hall, 26 (New Zealand)

top 3
L-R: Sergei Dogadin, Shion Minami, Richard Lin. Photo by Benjamin Bonouvrier.

Their performances can be viewed on the competition's website: Click here to listen to the latest performances and click here to view archived performances.

Dogadin, who played the Shostakovich Concerto during the final round, studied at St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he was a student of V. Ovcharek, and his father, A. Dogadin. He also took master classes with Boris Kushnir and Zakhar Bron. In 2012 he was accepted to the International Menuhin Music Academy (IMMA) in Gstaad (Switzerland) where he became a student of Maxim Vengerov. A winner of top prizes in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition (2nd), 2005 Paganini Competition (1st), 2002 Andrea Postaccini Competition (grand prize, 1st) and many more, Dogadin plays on a 1758 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin.

Sergei Dogadin
Sergei Dogadin. Photo by Benjamin Bonouvrier.

Jury members for the Joachim competition are: Salvatore Accardo, Boris Kuschnir, Rudolf Koelman, Silvia Marcovici, Lucie Robert, Kaija Saarikettu, Takashi Shimizu, Weidong Tong, and Ingolf Turban. The competition’s artistic director, Krzysztof Wegrzyn, also serves as chair of the jury but does not vote.

* * *

From 2011 Tchaikovsky competition, Sergei Dogadin:

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V.com weekend vote: Have you ever played on a scordatura (cross-tuned) instrument?

By Laurie Niles
October 9, 2015 12:47

Have you ever played a piece that is "scordatura," that is, a piece that requires the violin (or viola) to be tuned to one or more different notes than the normal E,A,D,G (or A,E,G,C)?

Rachel Barton Pine's efforts on the viola d'amore got me to thinking about how foreign it would feel, to have strings tuned so differently. I have a hard enough time, trying to play anything on the guitar. But a seven-string instrument, that is tuned to D-A-F#-D-A-D-A? It's not something I've ever tired, and I'm guessing that at least initially, I'd be lost!

Which brings me to the fact that there are a number of pieces written for scordatura violin:

One that always comes to mind for me -- just because I like it so much -- is Mahler's Fourth Symphony, where the concertmaster plays a scordatura solo in the second-movement scherzo that requires the violin to be tuned up a whole-step. In the performances I've seen (and played in, never the solo part though!), the concertmaster simply has a spare violin at the ready, for this special part.

Scordatura is nothing new; Heinrich Biber required scordatura violin in his Rosary Sonatas, written in 1676. Mozart did it, too. A number of years ago, Lara St. John talked to me about playing Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with her brother, Scott St. John, who played his viola part as Mozart wrote it: scordatura. That meant that the viola was tuned a half-step high, to Db-Ab-Eb-Bb. Very often, this piece is played without the violist opting for the scordatura tuning.

"Danse macabre" by Saint-Saëns requires the solo violin to tune the E string to an Eb -- not a huge change for the instrument, but certainly still something that requires some bending of mind and ear.

Most recently, I looked at a copy of Roman Kim's new arrangement of Bach's Air, thinking I'd make an attempt to read it -- until I saw that I would have to tune my E-string to a C#! It occurred to me at this point that, if you wish to practice something scordatura, you have to tune your violin that way to do so. An obvious observation, but still a bit of a barrier when you hit the reality of it. And to be honest, I didn't want to mess with my fiddle. It would make sense to tune a spare fiddle, if you have one, if you really want to learn and practice a scordatura piece.

So who has made the effort to do so? Have you ever played a piece that requires scordatura tuning?

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From the Joachim Competition: Final Round Heats up

By Heather Kurzbauer
October 8, 2015 15:14

Is it possible for a group of individuals chosen because of their expertise to adjudicate fairly? How do individual members of a jury listen? Privileged to have served on the Special Jury at the 9th Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition, these questions have been posed numerous times and deserve both careful analysis and full disclosure.

A special jury, the Critics Jury was a feature at two prior sessions of the Joachim contest (2009; 2012). Music critics representing a variety of media cast a separate, independent vote based on reactions to the semifinal and final performance rounds. Aside from the traditional admonitions to adhere to ethical behavior and a ban on early disclosure (no results were permitted to ‘leak’ to the press) the critics were free to decide according to their own rules. The 2009 Critics Jury was well nigh unanimous (one dissenting vote) in their choice of Tobias Feldman as winner, diverging from the mainstream jury’s choices. In 2012, both juries chose the same winner without reverting to any form of consultation: Fumiaki Miura.

This blogger remembers relaxed discussions on music, the ins and outs of competition life and the pros and cons of the competitive arena. German colleagues steeped in classical philosophy and Frankfurt School analysis brought a different form of consideration to the table. My guiding light queries: “does it speak? Would I want to attend a recital given by player x or y?” inspired initial skepticism before my worthy colleagues found a modicum of validity in my non-philosophical view.

The 2015 Special Jury was given the task to compare then twelve performances of David Robert Coleman’s "Cut up" in the semifinals and come to a consensus as to who was most deserving of the 3000 Euro prize. Stay tuned to this website for the info tomorrow!

Armed with copies of the score, four critics and the composer found their own ways to consensus. Without any form of prior consultation, two and only two candidates piqued our interest. The first criteria, the all-important ‘take the score seriously and play what is actually there’ was paramount.

The first night of the final round was opened by Amalia Hall’s chance to shine in the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Perhaps ill at ease with a less than acceptable instrument, Hall tried her best to project over the substantial orchestral sound produced by the NDR orchestra. Unfortunately she often fell into the habit of vibrating on every other note instead of carrying the sound. Her interpretation never rose above the ‘better safe than sorry’ school of playing: secure, neat and tidy but alas, no poetry, fire or storytelling to grace Sibelius’ 150th birth year.

Sergei Dogadin
Sergei Dogadin. Photo by Benjamin Bonouvrier.

That Sergei Dogadin had attained a higher level of technical proficiently than the first candidate cannot be contested. A luscious sound and finely tuned bow arm are but two of the tools of the trade that aided his projection of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. Every iota of Dogadin’s performance smacked of perfection:

Benjamin Marquise Gilmore is simply incapable of playing an ugly note, a false accent or misplaced Blessed with the ability to spin long lines of almost unbearable sweetness, his Beethoven graced the hall with a sinuous elasticity that brought back memories of great performances by Frank Peter Zimmerman. His cadenzas were questionably original in the context of a competition where the jury might be ruffled by too much change.

Two performances worth waiting for: the world is not only watching but listening with the greatest admiration.

If you wish to hear performances from the Joachim Competition: Click here to listen to the livestream and click here to view archived performances.

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Rachel Barton Pine's Love Affair with the Viola d'Amore

By Laurie Niles
October 6, 2015 22:47

Rachel Barton Pine's love affair with the viola d'amore began before she ever heard the instrument's uncommon voice.

Rachel Barton Pine
Rachel Barton Pine with her viola d'amore. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco.

"Reading about the history of the great violinists of the past, going back to the 1700's, I was struck by the fact that the greatest virtuosos of their era were also known as great players of the viola d'amore as well," Rachel said, speaking with me over the phone from her home in Chicago last month. "For example, Johann Georg Pisendel -- he was the foremost violinist in Germany at the time of Bach, and he is thought to have been the only violinist other than Bach to have played the Sonatas and Partitas during Bach's lifetime. And Leopold Mozart, (Wolfgang Amadeus) Mozart's father, of course, wrote about a viola d'amore in his treatise, calling it 'a special violin that sounds especially beautiful in the stillness of the night.' Pietro Locatelli, the greatest Italian virtuoso prior to Paganini, who actually wrote the prototype set of 24 caprices, the shoulders on which Paganini stood -- Locatelli was a great player of the viola d'amore."

Vivaldi d'amore concertosKnowing that these great heroes of violin history played this other instrument that was a kind of violin, Rachel decided that she, too, should take up the viola d'amore. And when Rachel Barton Pine takes up something, she takes it on. She first laid her hands on a viola d'amore in 2007, and by now she's conquered this complicated instrument. This fall she released Vivaldi: The Complete Viola d'Amore Concertos, recorded with Chicago period-instrument group Ars Antigua and guest artist, lutenist Hopkinson Smith.

Of course, it wasn't an easy endeavor; in fact, just finding a viola d'amore to play can be a serious challenge.

"I joined the Viola D'Amore Society, in great hope and anticipation of one day laying my hands on one, but they're few and far between," Rachel said. "If you're curious about Baroque violin, you can generally cross paths with somebody who's got one so you can pick it up and play a few notes and see what it's like. Or you could even splurge and buy yourself a cheap one, to at least give you a general idea. The viola d'amore is such a complicated instrument that there is no such thing as a cheap one that plays decently. So you can't just buy one to be a toy and then decide if you like it or not. You can't just turn to your colleague who has one lying around and try it. Neither of those scenarios really exists."

What exactly is a viola d'amore? Well, there are a number things which it is not:

"The viola d'amore, despite its name, which has 'viola' in it -- is not a kind of viola," Rachel said. "It is not an alto member of the violin family. The viola d'amore is more accurately described as a type of violin. The string length is, in fact, a violin string length, and it's an instrument meant to be played by a violinist, as a supplemental instrument. It's kind of like the English horn; nobody starts lessons on English horn or only plays English horn. You're an oboist, but when a particular movement or moment needs that color, you swap out temporarily for an English horn, and then go back to the oboe. So that is kind of what the viola d'amore is, it's like an extension of the violin."

There are a number of differences between a violin and a viola d'amore -- a major one being that a viola d'amore has 12 to 14 strings!

d'amore strings"Most modern d'amores have 14 strings -- seven playing strings and seven resonating strings," Rachel said. "I have a modern d'amore, a beautiful instrument from the mid-1800s. And then I have my beautiful historic d'amore (pictured above), which has never been altered. In other words, it's still in its original Baroque condition. That is the Gagliano instrument from 1774, which I bought in 2010 at the Tarisio auction, about 10 years after I got my beautiful, never-been-modernized 1770 Gagliano violin, from Charlie Beare's shop. So I bought them 10 years apart, on different continents, both of them in pristine, unaltered condition. After I acquired the d'amore, I took both the Gaglianos to Paul Becker's shop (in Chicago). He took one look at them and said, 'Oh, my gosh -- the tops of both instruments are from the same tree!' I don't necessarily believe in fate, but in this case, I thought, this has got to be fate, the total sibling reunion here! It's unbelievable."

d'amore scroll"My particular Gagliano is unusual among d'amores in that it has a violin-type scroll (see above). The vast majority of d'amores have scrolls in the shape of a blind cupid's head, (see right)" she said. "The origin of the name 'd'amore" is uncertain. In the Grove Dictionary, which usually knows everything about everything, it very helpfully says, 'Its origins are obscure.' There are two competing theories that have equal validity: one is that it's the 'viola of the Moors' because the idea of sympathetic strings is a very Middle Eastern device, and of course it always has the Islamic flame f-holes. On the other hand, the two sets of strings trembling in unison and the blind cupid's head scroll gives the theory that it's the 'viola of love.' So who knows what its name even means? Apparently musicologists don't!"

sound holeThe viola d'amore is played on the shoulder, as a violin would be. Like a viola da gamba, it has sloped shoulders and a flat back. "Its sound holes are neither that of violins nor viols -- the viols have c-shaped sound holes, the violins have f-shaped sound holes, and the viola d-amore sound holes are always in the shape of an Islamic flame," Rachel said. "It makes it very attractive-looking, that's for sure. It does not have frets; it has six or seven playing strings and an equal number of resonating strings."

In the Baroque era, there were more than 24 different documented tunings for the viola d'amore. "Basically, whatever key you were playing in, you would tune the instrument to those notes, and tune the sympathetic strings, the resonating strings, to those same notes," Rachel said. "If you were playing in the key of D, then you have D's and A's and F#'s and all those extra resonating D's and A's and F#'s. It would just ring and ring and ring, kind of like built-in reverb. Then if you wanted to play in Bb major, you'd have to not only re-tune, but you'd also have to swap out for different thicknesses of gut strings -- you can only tune down a string so far before it starts to become a flubby rubber band, you can only tune a string up so far before it breaks! So you couldn't necessarily play a lot of viola d'amore pieces on the same concert, unless they were all in the same key. As I said, it was a supplemental instrument -- you really wouldn't play a whole concert on d'amore."

It wasn't until the late 1700s, the Classical Period, that the tuning became codified to the "D tuning" as follows: starting from the top string, the top string is "D," one whole-step lower than the open E of a violin; "A" which is the same as an open A on the violin; "F#" or "F natural" depending on if it's minor or major; "D" which is the same as an open D string of a violin; "A" which is one whole step above a violin G string; and then "D" which is one whole step above a viola C string. If you have that lowest string, "A," it would be one third lower than the lowest string of a viola.

"The D tuning has remained constant until the present day," Rachel said. And where does one find a set of d'amore strings in the modern world? "Dominant makes a set of strings for modern viola d'amore. If you want to string it up a modern viola d'amore, you can buy yourself a set of Dominants and you're good to go!"

And how do those resonating strings work? They are tuned to the same notes as the playing strings. "Basically they hook onto more or less where the button is, where the tailgut of the tailpiece goes. Then they run underneath the tailpiece; there are little tiny holes in the bottom part of the bridge that they run through. They continue their journey through the neck, the neck of a d'amore is hollow...this is why you can't get a cheap one, it's very complicated to build! They then continue up through the back of the peg box and then hook into pegs that are higher up towards the scroll than the pegs of the playing strings. That's why I think people look at it and think it's a kind of viola; the peg box is so long, it's an optical illusion. The string length is violin string length, but then its peg box goes on forever, which also makes it a heavy instrument."

With a system that complex, how does one install those resonating strings? "For most of the resonating strings, you have to have a shop do it," Rachel said. "The good news is that they rarely ever break and they certainly never have to be changed because they've worn out -- as long as they haven't broken they can stay on there for many years. So that's a good thing, it certainly cuts down on the costs."

How does one actually play such an instrument?

"First of all, it's a brain-twister," Rachel said, and it's not just because there are six or seven strings to play. "There are certainly six-string instruments out there, in the electric violin world. Leila Josefowicz plays an electric six-string for John Adams' Violin Concerto, and in the non-classical world everybody is playing five-string, six-string, even seven-string instruments. But those are a bit easier to wrap your mind around because they are tuned in fifths: E-A-D-G, then the C string of a viola, then an F string, and if you go really extreme you've got a Bb seventh string, which is one whole step lower than the C string of a cello. Because they're always electric, you don't have acoustical issues the same way as with an instrument with its natural sound box. The curve of the bridge can actually be steeper, which allows you to more easily isolate the strings with your bow. Because it's going through an amp, you don't have to worry about the ribs being in a certain place."

Playing the viola d'amore, with its unusual tuning, is a little like playing on a "scordatura" violin -- that is, a violin that is cross-tuned for pieces such as Rosary Sonatas by Biber, or the second movement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony, or Appalachian fiddle music. "But that's only four strings," Rachel said. "So to have cross-tuning, and six or seven strings -- now that's a big brain-twister!"

The instrument is also a challenge ergonomically, with its rather flat bridge. "When you think you're crossing over one string, you might in fact accidentally be crossing over two strings," she said. "The strings are simply closer together. So to know exactly where each one is, and know where you're going when you're going from string two to string five and then back to string three and over to string four and then string one....I'm not ashamed to say, the first few months of trying my hand at the instrument, I was still getting all mixed up, where my finger would be on string five and my bow would be on string six -- I was completely discombobulated!"

There aren't really any teachers of the d'amore; Rachel taught herself to play the instrument. "If you know how to play the violin, it's just a question of letting your muscles sort themselves out," Rachel said. "There are no shortcuts, you've just got to try it and drill it and eventually be able to do it. For me, it was just a question of finding a few easy pieces and working on them. It was like going back to Suzuki Book 1 because every single finger had a number over it! You can't just look at the note and know where that note is! You're almost reading tablature. And even now that I've been playing it for years, and I think this is true of most d'amore players, we still have an awful lot of finger numbers and Roman numerals for string numbers in our music. It's certainly not an instrument where you could sit down and sight-read chamber music! Every piece you want to play, you've got to work it out. Especially because there are some pitches that could be played on any one of four strings. So you have to decide, in terms of pattern, which one makes the most sense? It's just so tricky."

"But the voice is so unusual, that's what makes it worth it," she said. "It's not just about having these unusual tunings and being able to do chords that just don't even exist on an instrument tuned in fifths. More importantly, it's about the tone of the instrument. It has its own unique voice and it's absolutely mesmerizing. In fact, one of the best descriptions of d'amore that I ever heard was from a girl who was taking some coachings with me. She picked up the d'amore and played a few open strings and said, 'That's just so refreshing!' I thought that 'refreshing' was a great adjective. There are many adjectives that one could use: It's silvery, it's delicate."

"What Vivaldi did with the viola d'amore is absolutely fascinating," Rachel said. "Vivaldi was inspired by Pisendel's playing, and it's thought that he might have even written some of the concerti for Pisendel. Certainly Pisendel had copies of a lot of the concerti in his library in Dresden. But one of my favorite things about Vivaldi's story with the d'amore is that he also wrote for his talented female students at the Pietá, the orphanage where he worked. There was one particular young violinist -- one of the best of the bunch -- named Anna. She is known to also have been a virtuoso of the d'amore and to have played Vivaldi's concertos, some of which may have been specifically written for her. So I love knowing that there was a woman in the Baroque period who definitely played these concertos. That's another reason why I was inspired to put a woman on the cover."

"Actually there's a book I should mention, which has the unnecessarily racy but memorably alliterative title, Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick. It's very well-researched, and the descriptions of the general aspects of life in that time and how the Pietá functioned are very accurate. Obviously the backstories of the particular young ladies in the plot are fictionalized, even when she is writing about young ladies like Anna, who were real people. But I think it's fun that the book describes Anna, playing the d'amore!

"Another book about the Vivaldi era in Venice, if you can deal with the sex scenes, is Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice. I still to this day think is one of the most vivid descriptions of vocal lessons of the Vivaldi era that anybody has ever written. She did her homework well, and she's a good writer. It really does bring the musical scene of the times to life, focusing more on the phenomenon of the castrati. But instrumental and vocal studies were not so far apart back then as they are these days, and I found that as a violinist, I gained a lot reading that particular book."

Though viola d'amore is an instrument of the Baroque era, it did not become frozen in that time period. Composers have continued to write for d'amore, even into the modern era.

"Other instruments from the Baroque era -- the Lirone or the viola da Gamba -- a lot of those early instruments have remained instruments of early music," Rachel said. "The viola d'amore is different. Great composers have written for this instrument. During the Romantic era it went a little bit underground, but then coming out into the 20th century it started to pick back up. More than half its repertoire is from the 20th and now 21st centuries. Hindemith wrote a concerto for it; Casadesus wrote chamber music for it, Janacek wrote for the instrument."

As for makers, "every great Baroque maker -- Gagliano, Testore, you just name a maker and they made a d'amore," Rachel said. "Stradivari left a pattern for a d'amore; it's not known whether he never got around to making it, or whether he made one or more and they didn't survive. Absolutely every other great Italian maker that you can name, made d'amores." And like the violin, the viola d'amore has been modernized. "A lot of violas d'amore made in the 1700s, just like violins made in that era, have been renecked with longer fingerboards, different bridges, different tailpieces -- like you do with violins to make them modern violins, even if they started life as Baroque violins. And of course any violas d'amore made these days, for the most part, are made as modern d'amores. So there is such a thing, to that same degree."

"I think any violinist would have fun, trying his or her hand at the d'amore," Rachel said. "For those of us who love the sound of the violin, it's just another kind of sound that is so incredibly satisfying and intriguing. If you're willing to put in a bit of the effort necessary to figure out where your fingers go, the rewards are definitely worth it, and the repertoire is so beautiful."

But where to find one to try?

"Well I am always most delighted to let people try mine," she said. "You need never hesitate to ask."

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Six Finalists announced in the 9th Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition in Hannover

By Laurie Niles
October 6, 2015 14:55

Finalists were announced late Tuesday in the 9th Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition in Hannover, Germany. They are:

  • Amalia Hall (New Zealand)
  • Sergei Dogadin (Russia)
  • Benjamin Marquise Gilmore (Netherlands/USA)
  • Shion Minami (Japan)
  • Ayana Tsuji(Japan)
  • Richard Lin (Taiwan/USA)

finalists JJV

The finalists were chosen from 12 semifinalists. Those had been narrowed down from 35 competitors in the preliminary rounds.

Their performances can be viewed on the competition's website: Click here to listen to the livestream and lastest performances and click here to view archived performances.

Jury members for the Joachim competition are: Salvatore Accardo, Boris Kuschnir, Rudolf Koelman, Silvia Marcovici, Lucie Robert, Kaija Saarikettu, Takashi Shimizu, Weidong Tong, and Ingolf Turban. The competition’s artistic director, Krzysztof Wegrzyn, also serves as chair of the jury but does not vote.

Finals will take place in the Großer Sendesaal of the NDR Landesfunkhaus in Hannover on Thursday and Friday. Each of the six Finalists will perform a concerto, such as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Sibelius, with NDR Radiophilharmonie, conducted by Hendrik Vestman. The Jury will announce Prize Winners late Friday. Members of the audience who have attended both the Finals may vote on who should be awarded the Audience Prize of €5,000. In addition, a "JJV Community Award" of €2,000 will be awarded to the violinist who receives the highest number of Internet votes (voting begins Wednesday at www.jjv-hannover.de) among those watching via livestream.

The first prize is valued at €50,000 and includes a CD production with Naxos as well as debut recitals and concerts with internationally renowned orchestras and ensembles.

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From the Joseph Joachim International Competition: Hannover semifinals marathon IV

By Heather Kurzbauer
October 6, 2015 13:36

“It is just the individuality of interpretative rules, which slips through the grasp of technical rules. According to the temperament of the performer, a passage which I had conceived for example as flowing in calm serenity, will receive perhaps a sentimental rendering; while another, which I had felt to be humorous, may be given as fiery.”

Words of wisdom taken from Joseph Joachim and Andreas Moser’s three-volume Violin School give precious advice to listeners at the competition that bears Joachim’s name. After all, who but the master himself should have a say as to which of the talented semifinalists should advance to the last round?

Along with the all-important recitals, the chosen twelve were required to perform a Mozart concerto of their choice. Interesting to note, the D major concerto was studiously avoided with the majority opting for the A major concerto. To continue in the statistical vein, the two most memorable candidates presented Mozart’s G major concerto.

The famed Munich Chamber Orchestra, a conductor-less gem of an ensemble was engaged to accompany the young soloists and did so with alacrity and ease. Undoubtedly the reader should download snippets of performances to form an opinion and add to the conversation on interpretation that is endemic to any discussion on Mozart. (Click here to listen to the livestream and click here to view archived performances.)

Should emphasis be placed on the free and childlike side of a composer who dashed off these concerti well before the age of twenty? Should traditional or ingenious cadenzas be presented? Should a contestant attempt to please the jury, second-guessing their stylistic approaches to Mozart? Should the performer use a healthy modicum of vibrato or tip his/her hat to the concerns of aficionados of historically informed performance?

Joachim was certainly clever enough to know his Mozart, after all his cadenzas are without a doubt the industry leaders for several of Mozart’s concerti. Scrutinizing the first sentence quoted above, I am willing to go out on a limb to wager that Joachim would vote for individuality, imagination and poetry.

Benjamin Marquise Gilmore’s prowess as an interpreter proven by his Janacek and Schumann recital selections segued seamlessly to his Mozart G major performance.

Benjamin Marquise Gilmore

Words fail the loquacious: this is a performance that must be heard to fathom its greatness! Orchestral players moved to the edge of their seats to match Gilmore’s organic sense of melodic ebb and flow: the second movement turned into one long breath infused with beauty. Magical!

Ayana Tsuji’s Mozart G major showed more gusto and projection and yes, a tad more conservatism than Gilmore’s creative adventure. Rumor has it that she is a decade younger than Gilmore which might lead to infer that she will certainly ‘grow’ in terms of risk-taking. Turning to the orchestra to set tempi at the outset of the outer movements and subsequently blending her sound with the collective provided a masterful bridge between tutti and solo parts. Tsuji’s energy and tonal clarity shed light on a different side of Mozart’s genius.

Keeping close to Joachim’s advice, my choice for the final round shows a marked preference for musical personality, ingenuity and verve:

Benjamin Marquise Gilmore and Ayana Tsuji lead my way at the 9th Joachim International Violin Competition with Serge Dogadin, Diana Tishchenko, Nancy Zhou and Richard Lin joining my preferred list.

Looking forward to serenity and fury: onwards and upwards to the final round!

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 101: Philippe Quint, Anne Akiko Meyers, Kenneth Renshaw

By Laurie Niles
October 6, 2015 13:21

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Philippe Quint performed the Sibelius with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Republican: "Mind-boggling technique, passionate interpretation, and relaxed demeanor combined to render Quint's performance exciting, engaging, and amazing."

Philippe Quint
Philippe Quint. Photo Credit: Benjamin Brolet

Anne Akiko Meyers performed Bernstein's Serenade with the Vancouver Symphony.

  • Northwest Reverb: "Wielding immaculate technique, artistic finesse, and a deep understanding of the music, Meyers wonderfully conveyed Bernstein’s somewhat esoteric music in a personal, tangible way."

Kenneth Renshaw performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Oakland Symphony.

  • San Jose Mercury News: "Renshaw impressed with intelligent phrasing, crisp intonation and straightforward eloquence. In the concerto's outer movements, the violinist combined incisive articulation with dramatic expressiveness; his playing in the slow movement was both rapturous and clear-eyed, a secure blend of warmth and eloquence."

Vilde Frang performed the Korngold with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

  • Montreal Gazette: "She found treasures in this swashbuckling, overblown effort from the father of Hollywood film music. The cadenza in the first movement was aggressive — a message to Tortelier, head buried in the score? — and magnificent. Frang found quiet darting lines throughout, like a figure skater, and when the orchestra lumbered back in, it was like a lovesick whale bursting through the ice."

Jack Liebeck performed the Dvorak with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Sydney Morning Herald: "Here is a talent with an individual voice, confident in articulation, capable of vehemence without stridency and a lilting elegance of phrasing, best heard in the concerto's eloquent adagio: a memorable highpoint in this exemplary concert."

Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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From the Joseph Joachim International Competition: Hannover semifinals marathon III

By Heather Kurzbauer
October 5, 2015 23:33

The last day of semifinal recitals at the 9th edition of the Joachim International Violin Competition Hannover showed great deference to Prokofiev: the first sonata was chosen by a pair of candidates and the second sonata closed the recital rounds.

(Note: If you wish to hear these performance, click here to listen to the livestream and click here to view archived performances.)

Shion Minami (Japan) seemed to operate in a world separated from both the enchanting pianism of Thomas Hoppe and Ravel’s rich metaphorical musical kingdom in her interpretation of the a gem of the 20th century literature, the Ravel Sonata. As expected from a semifinalist at a major competition, the young violinist possesses a well-groomed technician capable to project exceptional fast passage. However, the connection between impressive execution and communicated musical intention has a long way to go: Ravel’s blues lacked swing. The high point of her presentation was the atavistic second movement of Prokofiev’s f minor sonata, which crackled with fiery determination. The slow movement suffered from a lack of vibrato warmth and a reliance on portato to replace true legato playing.

Although one of the youngest amongst the semifinalists, the Japanese violinist Ayana Tsuji is blessed with a pronounced musical personality and a vibrant stage-filling presence. Performing from memory, the Stravinsky Duo Concertante was a perfect vehicle to communicate her outstanding command of both score and instrument. One of a handful of contestants who was at one with the piano score, one can only hope that her partnership with Thomas Hoppe will continue to delight audiences worldwide. Tsuji was able to move us away from a contest by opening the door to a wide and wonderful musical world. Cut up moved from a compulsory work subtitled ‘study’ to a worthy concert piece at the hands of a musical master who memorized the demanding score as well. Hoppe and Tsuji in Prokofiev’s f minor rivaled legendary performances from bygone days in their ability to change character, spin endless lines of dramatic text within the context of the composer’s intention. Welcome to the major league of great artists!

Anna Malesza (Poland) started her program with an extroverted take on Cut up before proceeding to Grieg’s Third Sonata (c minor) op. 45. An artist with a commanding presence, Malesza has a tendency to overplay in the heat of the moment, perhaps effective in concert audience but questionable when under jury scrutiny. Grieg was all Sturm und Drang with too many lapses in terms of intonation and phrase endings. Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy was delivered with enormous passion but once again, intonation lapses took their toll.

The honor of closing the semifinal recital round was accorded to the Taiwanese-American violinist, Richard Lin.

Richard Lin
Richard Lin

A musician of great charm with an expansive sense of style, his Prokofiev d major presented was delivered with panache. Back in the 20th century, a famed US advertisement proclaimed, ‘you don't have to be Jewish to love Levy’s’ and you certainly don't have to be Jewish to deliver Heifetz’ beloved encore, Achron’s Hebrew Melody with just the right amount of schmalz. Cut up was given an intelligent reading and Wieniawski’s Polonaise Brilliant on Faust was projected with a Technicolor palette of sound and shimmering acrobatics.

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From the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition: Hannover semifinals marathon II

By Heather Kurzbauer
October 4, 2015 14:56

On the second day of semi-final performances at the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition Hannover, Sergei Dogadin (Russia) brought the compulsory piece, "Cut Up" to the fore as a prelude to his chosen recital program. A muscular player with a penchant for dramatic gesture, Dogadin added a touch of sweetness to the first movement of Stravinsky’s Divertimento. The composition afforded him with an excellent choice to show off his wonderful bow control and partiality towards the jagged, jazzy rhythms that lie so close to the surface in Stravinsky’s score.

(Note: If you wish to hear these performance, click here to listen to the livestream and click here to view archived performances.)

With such a sumptuous bow arm one would have expected more feeling for tonal beauty. As if wishes were meant to come true, Dogadin dared to deliver a pianissimo opening enhanced by fast, shimmering vibrato in a tersely effective rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Meditation. Paganini’s Nel cor non piu mi sento out earned high marks for perfect execution but less kudos in terms of imagination. If bloggers predictions are worth the weight of the paper they are written on, Sergei Dogadin will lead a major orchestra in the not-too-distant future.

Sergei Dogadin
Sergei Dogadin

The American Nancy Zhou opted for a sizeable program, perhaps overly varied for a competitive setting. Her take on Schubert’s Grand Duo (with repeats) suffered from a lack of imagination in terms of color: all phrases were created equal in the first movement with the same amount of bow, vibrato and all-too-often bow speed. Zhou gave the most convincing performance of Cut up to date and delivered a top-notch Waxman Carmen Fantasy. Reputedly a young woman of multiple talents who combines scientific studies with violin performance, Zhou is a young artist at a crossroads. With so much technique at her disposal, she should be tempted to delve further into the richness of the repertoire she plays so wonderfully.

Nancy Zhou
Nancy Zhou

The artistic top-of-the bill, the UK trained, Dutch-US national, Benjamin Marquise Gilmore opted for an intellectually satisfying program framed by two sonatas: Schumann’s probing a minor Sonata and the richly scored Janacek, Sonata. As his choice of program readily evidenced, Gilmore is a thinking-person’s musician: a true artist of consummate good taste and intensity. Hats off to the Joachim Competition for giving a wide berth to a variegated repertoire in the recital round. His Schumann provided the listener with a delightful respite from the usual technical focus that dominates the competitive world.
Gilmore gave a performance of a lifetime as he took the listener through a kaleidoscope of emotions, moods and sound colors in his sonata explorations. Supported to the maximum by the thoughtful Natsumi Ohno, Janacek’s consonant -rich vernacular permeated the hall.

In a nightmarish moment, his Wieniawski’s Polonaise in A major was sadly interrupted by a memory slip. A chorus of bravos rewarded the most interesting musician amongst a strong field of contestants as he repeated the Wieniawski with renewed vigor and charm. Hopefully the jury will muster the courage to grant this unusually fine musician a place in the final round.

The contrast between Gilmore and the second day’s last candidate, the diminutive Ririko Takagi (Japan) could not have been more pronounced. One of the youngest (19) performers at this year’s contest, one may wonder why her mentors did not encourage her to wait for a few years before taking on the challenges of a major competition. Her Saint-Saens d minor Sonata op. 75 showed evidence of impeccable schooling but little sense of personal input or musical communion with the remarkable pianist, Rohan da Silva. A penchant for portato cut long phrases into short segments while the closing moto perpetuo raced by at top speed. Speed alone doth not music make, to continue the blogger’s Shakespeare allusions. A young performer with the ability to toss off Ravel’s Tzigane deserves heaps of praise. Let’s hope Takagi grows as a musician, time is on her side.

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