June 3, 2009 11:38
Ray Chen has won the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in Belgium. Second prize is Lorenzo Gatto and third prize Ilian Garnet. (Go to the laureates' page to find out more: http://www.cmireb.be/en/p/2/10/105/109/laureates.html)
Furthermore, Ray Chen has been awarded the Klara-Canvasprijs (prize of the public of the VRT) and Lorenzo Gatto the Prix Musiq'3-Jacques Stehman (prize of the public of the RTBF).
Ray Chen, who is originally from Brisbane, Australia, is a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studies with Aaron Rosand. In 2008 he won first prize at the Yehudi Menuhin Competition. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us:
Who is your current violin teacher? Are you currently in school, and if so, where? Who have been your most influential teachers, and in what way?
I currently study with Aaron Rosand at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I have also had many other influential teachers and supporters in my life such as David Cerone and Maxim Vengerov.
Is this your first competition? and Have you played/placed in or won any other competitions?
I have have attended many competitions some I have not been so fortunate in others more so, (like the 2008 International Menuhin Competition and more recently the 2009 International Young Concert Artists Management Auditions) however regardless of winning or losing they have all been great learning experiences in which have helped me become a better musician.
What made you decide to enter the Queen Elisabeth Competition?
I think it is safe to say that this is the biggest violin competition in the world and so around a year ago (May 2008), I decided I wanted to give it a shot, not knowing or expecting anything of course.
What was unique about this competition?
This competition is probably the most unique as well in the part where the 12 finalists are moved into isolation for a week with no outside communication (say goodbye to your cellphones, laptops, and radios) for a peaceful environment to learn a completely new piece of music that has never been seen by the public.
How did you prepare for this competition? Is it any different from preparing for a regular performance? Did you do anything special to prepare? What part of your preparation helped you the most in the end?
In preparing for this competition I was helped by my management and friends who gave me many opportunities for run-out recitals. I think it is important not to treat it differently from any "regular" performance (which should be treated with just the same amount of preparation and dedication!) because you don't want to create more pressure than you need. There is enough of that already here!
What were you thinking when you were in solitary confinement? How did you keep your focus?
At first I was quite unnerved by the thought of spending a week in solitude but as soon as I stepped into the hallway of the Chappelle all feelings of unease vanished as I was warmly greeted by my fellow competitors. We had so much fun over the weekend and it was very sad as the days went on where 2 more people left every day.
For example, what was the most challenging thing about the new piece? Technique? Musicality? (CHO Eun-Hwa: "Agens" - work for Violin and Orchestra (Grand Prize Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition for Composition 2008 - Sabam Prize)
I will talk about the new piece that was given to us in the final round:
My first impression of "Agens" was that it was impossible. How could somebody write such technically difficult music and expect one to learn it in a week? Perhaps due to a combination of determination and fear of making a fool of myself on the stage I hurriedly set to work on the piece and for 3-4 days did not practice anything else. By day 5 I had finally completed learning the notes and was ready to add some personal interpretation to the piece. Day 6 was the rehearsal with orchestra and though the first time through was a bit shakey, I was able to do much better the 2nd time through (with much encouragement from the composer!)
Did you learn anything from the other contestants?
The other contestants were really friendly and helpful. We worked together in groups for "Agens" which was the new comissioned piece we needed to learn during the week. Although we worked on the piece together it was great to see 12 different interpretations of the piece in the performances.
What was your favorite and most memorable part of the competition?
My favorite memory of the competition was definitely the week at the Chappelle. It was a very special time, full of fun and games such as ping-pong, badminton, and soccer. More importantly it was the people that made it so enjoyable.
Now that the competition is over: if you could play any piece you wanted to, at this point, just for fun and the love of the violin, what would you play? Why?
There are still many pieces I would like to add to my repertoire such as Shostakovich Violin Concerto. I also would love to get into a few more Edgar Meyer duos!
What are your ambitions for the future? Has being in, and winning, this competition, influenced the way you are thinking about what you want to do in the future?
I want to continue working hard to attain even higher levels because I believe that as long as you have the mentality to find the "best way possible" to do everything then you will always improve. That isn't to say that you shouldn't be happy however! Heifetz was never satisfied with a single one of his performances, yet he is as close to perfection as there ever was.
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