The 300-page collection includes more than two dozen exclusive interviews with top violinists that I've done for Violinist.com over the past six years, including pictures of the artists. Which interviews are included in this book? You can get a magnifying glass and look at the cover art, which includes all the names. Or, you can just look at this list:
Anne Akiko Meyers
Though this is a long list, I still was not able to include everyone that I wanted to include, which is why I've called this book "Volume 1."
As I assembled this collection, I was pleased to find that far from being 27 completely separate stories, there are a great many threads that connect one violinist's story to another's: common teachers, repertoire, experiences, approaches -- even instruments that start in one violinist's hands and end up in another's! At the same time, there is great diversity of thought as well; for example, the story of James Ehnes' arduous search for just the right instrument contrasts completely with Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg's humorous banter on the same topic. What kind of violin do you play, Nadja? "I play a used one," she said, "I found a good instrument and I just stuck with it. There are better instruments out there, certainly there are worse instruments, but I feel fine."
Some of the interviews are several years old, and one can see that the seeds of the future lie in the things that violinists said years ago. For example, Anne Akiko Meyers speaks in 2008 of having to borrow many instruments in her early career, and how returning them was "like having your left arm amputated." She now quite famously has been guaranteed lifetime use of the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesù.
The book also contains a special interview with Ruggiero Ricci, which I did with him in 2007, just five years before his death.
Each interview has an introduction, written especially for the book, that makes some of these connections and brings the reader up-to-date with a developments that occurred with the artist after the interview.
So I invite you to buy our book! If you buy a paperback copy of the book through Amazon, you soon will be able to add a Kindle version for just $2.95, under Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program.
We're planning a book launch party in Pasadena, as well as some other promotions for the book. In the meantime, we appreciate all the support from our friends and readers in buying the book and rating it highly on Amazon.com. Your purchases and recommendations encourage Amazon to suggest the book to other customers, helping expose it to more potential readers. (And if you'd like to "like" the book on Facebook, the official page is at facebook.com/violininterviews.)
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This business of publishing a book brought me to another question, one that I'm making into this week's "Weekend Vote": Do you prefer to read paper books, or e-books?
I feel like this difference has less to do with age that it does with personal preference. For example, my teenage daughter, certainly a member of the "digital native" generation, prefers paper-and-print books to her Kindle. In fact, her tech-savvy grandfather has pushed two separate Kindles her way over the years, and she's completely rejected both. She just prefers the feel and the look of a "real" book and loves visiting used book stores, where she can scoop up of a pile of old paperbacks.
That said, her grandfather -- who is of a generation that grew up with print books -- fully believes that "there will be no print books" in the future and that the e-book is the best and only way to go.
I can see both points. I have a Kindle (the easy-on-your-eyes older model), and I love to read the New York Times on it, instead of reading the paper either on newsprint or on the Internet. I enjoy taking it on the plane because it is so compact and lightweight, yet can carry dozens of "books" in it.
At the same time, I don't feel I can flip through the Kindle in the way that I can flip through a paper book. Yesterday, I showed my book to a long-time student, one that has never taken a huge interest in the larger world of violinists. As she leafed through it, she said, "I think I just want to look at the pictures." But as she was examining each picture, she started asking, "Who is this? What is her story? What is his story?" Even as libraries go digital and the world goes digital, I still don't ever want to give up the experience of going to the book store or an old-fashioned library: the smell, the feel, the real-world feeling of a book. It feels like a connection to the past, too: Who held this book before I did, who wrote that note in the margin?
So which is your preference these days, when reading a book? Do you prefer it as a paper book, or in e-book form?
At one point during his technically astonishing performance of Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy" during the Junior Finals of the 2014 Menuhin Competition in Austin, the 14-year-old Japanese violinist Rennosuke Fukuda seemed to completely take over as leader of the orchestra. The tempo was his tempo, the music was his music, the spirit was his spirit.
Thus I wasn't surprised to learn, when interviewing him backstage after he was named the First-Prize winner, that beyond his violin studies, Rennosuke aspires to be a conductor.
Rennosuke does not speak English, so I interviewed him with the help of Tomoko Kashiwagi, who served as both his piano accompanist and his translator throughout the Menuhin Competition.
"A conductor has the job of bringing everybody together, and to do that makes everybody happy," he said. "I want that kind of job." He has tried his hand at it, conducting for his public high school in Japan on occasion. What pieces would he most like to conduct? Without hesitation, he said he'd like to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Beyond that, perhaps Beethoven's Fifth -- these are simply great pieces, he said.
What was his favorite thing about the Menuhin Competition? "Playing the Carmen Fantasy by Waxman," he said -- the performance he had just given. It's a piece that he'd been preparing for two to three years, he said, and he loves it because of the way it feels: grand, tumultuous, full of tension.
Rennosuke started playing the violin at age three, and he won his first violin award at age four. Even before he was born, "my mom already had the idea that if I was a boy, I would play the violin," he said. He studies violin with Machie Oguri, and most recently he won first prize and the "Virtuos" prize at the September 2013 15th Kloster Schöntal International Violin Competition in Germany. He also performed at the 2013 UNESCO charity concert in Paris for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
What does he like best about the violin? "I'm happy when everybody claps for me," he said. (It must have been a happy week -- he enjoyed many ovations, for his performances that occurred over the 10-day Menuhin Competition!)
Photo courtesy The Menuhin Competition
Those happiest moments are the result of a great deal of hard work. When I asked, "How long do you practice?" he needed no translation to understand that question; he's heard it before. Rennosuke said that he practices three or four hours on weekdays, and six to seven hours on the weekend, if he's feeling good. (Just four if he doesn't.)
Do you like to practice? "I hate it!" he said, laughing. But the performing is another matter: "I try to enjoy the performance; I try not to think too much about it (as a competition)," he said.
Some of his favorite violin pieces are the Bruch and the Tchaikovsky Concertos, he said. He looks up to a number of violinists, including Japanese violinists Mayuko Kamio and Daishin Kashimoto. He also likes to listen to the recordings of Perlman and Heifetz, and he likes recordings by Olivier Charlier, one of the judges for the competition.
He said that he made a lot of friends at the Menuhin Competition. "Everybody is so good, I was really surprised," he said. He thought a lot about how to make his own unique character come forward and to enjoy the performance, he said, so he had fun with it. He also learned a lot from the other competitors; he particularly admired the sound of fellow finalist Daniel Lozakovitj, who placed second. "His sound is just so pretty," he said. He thought that some of the competitors that didn't advance from the first round were also technically very sound. Seeing the other competitors play gave him a lot to think about, he said.
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In case you missed them, here are some videos of Rennosuke's performances at the Menuhin Competition.
Junior Final Round: Rennosuke Fukuda played Franz Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy" with the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerhardt Zimmerman.
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Junior Final Round: Rennosuke Fukuda played Beethoven Sonata No. 1 in D major with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi, Op. 12; Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, with cellist Bion Tsang
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Junior First Round: Rennosuki Fukuda played the following, with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi:
Menuhin Competition 2014: Jurors Brian Lewis, Ilya Gringolts and Olivier Charlier Give Master ClassesMarch 5, 2014 17:50
Having a master class with a jury member is one way to get an idea of what details they are seeking in a competitor's playing. At the Menuhin Competition, all of the jurists gave master classes. We already visited the master classes given by Pamela Frank, Joji Hattori and David Kim; on the final day of the competition were three more sets of master classes by Brian Lewis of the Butler School of Music, Ilya Gringolts of the Hochschule Basel, and Olivier Charlier of the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris.
Unfortunately, many of these classes were happening simultaneously, so I regret I could not attend them all. Particularly, I was unable to see the master class of the French violinist Olivier Charlier, about whom many students were raving with gratitude afterwards. I saw mostly the master class by Brian Lewis, with a little peek into the class given by Ilya Gringolts.
The first student who played for Brian Lewis was Ari Boutris, 13, with Wieniawski's "Polonaise."
After Ari played, Brian started by describing the composer, Henryk Wieniawski: "He was a very wild man with big appetites," he said, adding that he liked to gamble (even losing his del Gesù in a bet once) and to drink a little too much, er, milk.
"When you play this, you have to be very wild and find each character of each section," Brian said. "Each gesture means something."
The music is also full of "appoggiaturas," a great word that literally means "to lean," he said. Musically, "we're going to lean on the note that doesn't belong. Mozart is full of these," and they create musical tension.
He asked Ari to name three things in his playing that he was already doing well (and there were more than that!) When Ari hesitated a little, Brian explained, "All my students can easily list what they what to improve, but you have to be able to let the things that you do well, also, and be very specific in your analysis." They came up with a list of three things he did well already, and another list of three things to improve, one of which was intonation. On the subject of that, Brian quoted his own late teacher from Juilliard, Dorothy DeLay; "Intonation is the thing you'll be doing your whole life," he quoted, adding, "you won't ever get done with intonation work!"
Brian emphasized that one must relax the body, as "physical tension is the enemy of music." He then asked everyone in the room to stand up, so we could all learn some exercises to do, before playing the violin. Brian said that he does these exercises every morning, starting with a pretty simple swing of the arms, coordinated with knee bends:
Unfortunately my phone-video did not capture the entire demonstration, so here is a description of the other warm-up exercises Brian recommended:
Next was Esther, a student from the Butler School, who played part of the Elgar Violin Sonata. When she finished, Brian said that "I would love for you to live in a bigger box." For example, Elgar write "fff" at one particular spot; "he wants volume of sound." Brian had her play about three places in the sonata that were similar in terms of notes, but different in terms of dynamics, just to illustrate the range of dynamics needed.
He also wanted more character, and one way to do that is to be more demonstrative about when the bow stroke changes in the music.
Brian talked about "zero-gravity playing," playing in a position where the bow slides neither toward the bridge nor toward the fingerboard, but just rests where it is because the violin is held flat, not sloping down. Such a position allows for maximum projection; "Take your sound and bring it to everyone in the audience -- fill the space."
Another exercise for opening the elbow and adding speed to the bow stroke is to do scales with a tiny down-bow at the frog, then travel in the air to the tip for a tiny up bow, then continue: frog, tip, frog, tip. Then double the speed! Here's a short example:
He said that when you perform something, really go for the "wow" factor, try to find "what makes you special with your voice." Performing is your chance to really say something; "when you are standing up performing, it's the only time people aren't going to interrupt you!"
Brian answered questions at the end of his class, for example: How do you stay inspired to practice? He said he is inspired by going to concerts, and also by learning new music. "You don't have to learn the whole thing at once, start with just one phrase," he said.
To make practicing more appealing: The first thing he does when practicing is to spend 10 minutes playing anything he wants, anything at all. It helps him open the violin case -- because "the hardest thing about practicing is opening the case." He said he also likes to read and learn the history behind the composers and pieces he is playing.
Listening also is important. If you listen to a number of versions of the piece you are playing, "there is a history in your ear about how the piece goes." And that doesn't mean that you will wind up trying to clone the pieces you've listened to; instead it simply gives you a point of departure. Because, of course, you are going to…"study the score -- the full score," he said.
One way to approach a new piece is to simply read through the whole thing and put brackets around the places you can't play. Then go straight to those places and practice them. As a student at Juilliard, he once took a challenge to learn the Sibelius Concerto in three days, with the help of his teacher, Dorothy DeLay. They canceled all his classes and went to work; he practiced eight hours a day; two and a half of those with piano. "On the third day, I had to play the whole concerto in master class!"
But it taught him an important lesson: "By knowing how to organize your practice time, you can learn more and more." Keeping a practice journal can help with that, as can keeping consistent practice. He said that at one point when he was younger, he went for seven years without missing a day of practice!
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I peeked in for a few minutes for a master class given by Ilya Gringolts, who was helping a student with phrasing.
The student was holding every fourth beat, without really being conscious of doing so. "It's predictable and harmful to the melody," Ilya said. "You have to think over the bar line, think longer phrases." He asked her, what is it in music that moves people? "I'm thinking of two things, he said, "rhythm and harmony. Those are the two things that move us the most in music."Tweet
AUSTIN, Texas — Yehudi Menuhin said that two things make for a fine violinist: First, being a master of the instrument and a servant to the music; and second, accepting a social responsibility, to use music to bring people together and give them hope.
That's what Aaron Menuhin told the young artists who participated last week in the competition founded by and named for his grandfather.
The Menuhin Competition concluded on Sunday with the announcement of special prizes and a sold-out Gala Concert at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin. The concert featured first-prize winners Rennosuke Fukuda and Stephen Waarts performing with the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as a performance by jury member Arabella Steinbacher.
At an awards ceremony preceding the concert, Butler School of Music Interim Director Glenn Richter said that the competition had brought a certain excitement about classical music to Austin, where the competition rounds and performances drew increasing crowds over the 10-day event. A children's concert that was given Saturday by the Cleveland Orchestra for local youth also put a spotlight on the special events going on as part of the Menuhin Competition.
"The buzz comes from the talent of all the competitors," Richter said. "I think that Austin gets it."
Aaron Menuhin gives Junior Competitor Alex Zhou his award. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Here is a run-down of the winners and the prizes they received, including the additional prizes:
Seniors additional prizes:
Juniors additional prize:
All unplaced Junior finalists receive US$500.
After the ceremony I spoke to one alumnus of the competition, and also a Junior participant in this year's competition.
"It is like a family -- all these guys will keep coming back," said Juilliard student Ariel Horowitz of the participants in the competition. An alumnus of the 2012 Junior Division Menuhin Competition, she had come from New York to help with the "Passing of the Bow" ceremony. She said that though she did not place in the 2012 competition, "it didn't matter at all. It changed my life and opened so many doors for me."
"It definitely makes you practice more, seeing all these competitors," said Ari Boutris, 13, a Junior competitor this year. I asked him how he prepared for the competition, and he said that he had to work in his practice time between regular school and baseball, but it's a challenge. "A thirty-hour day would be helpful!" added his mother, Mika.
"This is my first competition, so I'm learning so much, just being here," Ari said. "Hearing the judges play and the competitors play was so inspiring." During the competition, he stayed with a family in Austin, and a Senior competitor also stayed at the same house. "It was so inspiring, just hearing him practice." He also enjoyed hearing more in detail what judges thought, when they gave master classes.
The Gala Concert took place in the evening, and it began with the aforementioned "Passing of the Bow" ceremony.
Passing of the bow ceremony. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
The 2016 Menuhin Competition will take place in London, so American competitor Claire Wells of Texas walked on stage, wearing her cowboy hat and playing some Texas fiddle music. She then passed the bow to competitor Daniel Lozakovitj (of Sweden, as there were no competitors from U.K.!), who walked off stage, playing Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance."
The Cleveland Orchestra started with "Carnival Overture," followed by Junior First Prize winter Rennosuke Fukuda playing "Praeludium and Allegro" by Kreisler.
Rennosuke Fukuda plays with the Cleveland Orchestra. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Senior First Prize winner Stephen Waarts then played the first movement from Prokofiev Concerto No. 2.
Stephen Waarts plays with the Cleveland Orchestra. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Next, Arabella Steinbacher, dressed in flashy hot pink, played Ravel's Tzigane with great flourish. One hears that piece played with piano so often, I enjoyed hearing the color of the orchestra part.
Arabella Steinbacher. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Last on the program, the Cleveland Orchestra played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. It's frequently played, but what a treat, to hear it played so well. When the Cleveland Orchestra lets loose, they do so through such a focused channel; it's so powerful! I hadn't seen Giancarlo Guerrero conduct before now (in fact I haven't seen Franz Welser-Möst either, at first I thought it was him!), and I enjoyed watching him. Whatever his gestures do for the orchestra, they serve as a great audience surrogate, as if one could simply conjure these kinds of sounds with those sweeping gestures.
Cleveland's magnificent sound reminded me of the power of hearing music unfold live. It washes over the listener, the energy given off by the gestures of every single musician, the intelligence and intent behind each individual. It all culminates in a whole, in one live moment in time. This was full hall contained more than 2,000 people, on stage, in the audience. They all shared one experience: a wash of sound waves that vibrates the walls, the chairs, the program in my hand, the bones in my body. That's power. Big, Texas-style power. It can't happen through computer speakers; it can't happen alone in a room -- that's just not the same experience.
As I left Austin Monday, waiting for a much-delayed flight back to Los Angeles, I picked up a T-shirt in the gift store. It says, "Austin, Texas: Live Music Capital of the World!" Of course, the words appear over an electric guitar, with a swirl of stylized piano keys and horn bells, and wings for special effect. Austin is a town with a proud tradition of live music, with singing on the street and a band in every pub. But as host to an international violin competition, Austin proved fertile ground for live classical music as well. May it grow!
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For those of you who were curious about what kind of violins the competitors were playing, I compiled a partial list. (Email me if you'd like to add information to it!)
Stephen Waarts: Vuillaume, 1868; self-owned
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One more note: We're not yet finished with our coverage of the Menuhin Competition! I have a post from Brian Lewis' master class, as well as interviews with first-prize winners Rennosuke Fukuda and Stephen Waarts still to share with you. Watch for those later this week on Violinist.com.Tweet
AUSTIN, Texas — By any standard, the music-making was exceptional at the Senior Finals concert for the Menuhin Competition, in which each of four finalists performed a full concerto with the Austin Symphony Orchestra for a full crowd of more than 2,000 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas on Saturday.
We know how it all came out, but I will do my best to bring you there with words. Unfortunately, the Competition was unable to obtain permission to live-stream or record this concert. However, Sunday's evening Gala Concert will indeed be live-streamed at this link. It will feature the Junior and Senior first prize winners, the Cleveland Orchestra, and jury member, violinist Arabella Steinbacher.
On Saturday, our performers for the evening were the Senior Finalists: American Stephen Kim, 18; American/Korean Christine Seohyun Lim, 19; American /Dutch Stephen Waarts, 17; and Korean In Mo Yang, 18. Every performer was younger than 20, but each played with professional polish, reliability and presence. To hear any one of them at a symphony concert would be a pleasure, to hear all four in one night -- what a treat!
The evening opened with a performance by Christine Seohyun Lim, who played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
Ah, the opening of the Mendelssohn Concerto -- so pleasing to the ear and so awkward for the fingers! Not for Christine. Her opening was absolutely solid, with dead-center intonation and a beautiful musical line. Throughout the piece, she coordinated well with the orchestra, and her first movement had some exquisite moments of silence, particularly in the cadenza. She really kicked out the triplets that often get lost, for an intense and effective accelerando at the end of the first movement. The second movement opens with a singing melody, and hers was so vocal, I could almost hear the lump in the singer's voice from being on the verge of tears. Best of all was the last movement. As I listened to the dizzying 16ths, I suddenly understood her (awesome) swirly mermaid dress and how it related to this piece! Beyond dizzy, it was smiling, playful, and a wash of notes, like a back-and-forth conversation with the orchestra, or maybe a playful chase. What invigorating playing.
American Stephen Kim, 18, played Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19. This concerto opens with a haunting and continuous line, which he played with a lovely tone. Eventually the music maxes out at the top and breaks into kind of a flurry. Here, orchestra and soloist were not together (and this happened a second time with In Mo Yang's performance of the same piece, so we can't blame the soloist entirely). Stephen's high filigree at the end of the first movement was accurate and other-worldly -- this movement seems to end in outer space and fly off on an alien ship. Stephen's playing brought forth some vivid images for me. Prokofiev is hardly cream-puff music; especially in the second movement "Scherzo vivacissimo," which sounds brutal and spooked out, like running through a kaleidoscope of distorted and unpleasant images. The end of the last movement sounded to me like a warbling bird that loses its balance and falls from the sky, then returns and makes it to the top. The audience fell silent for a long time, then much applause.
After an intermission, Stephen Waarts performed the other Prokofiev Violin Concerto, No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, which begins low and spins out a line that seems quite melodic until it breaks into spikiness. The first movement is full of interruptions and nonsequiturs: fast playing that sounds out-of-breath and hurried. Stephen was pulling off broken bow hair already by the first orchestral interlude. I have to note that conductor Peter Bay, excellent partner that he was, kept smiling at the soloist, and this seemed so incongruous to me in this piece!
The way Prokofiev set up this piece, every time the movement seems to get going with a gorgeous melody, it trails off into choppy waters. At those times, when the music presented a thick texture of busy string crossings, angular double stops, big leaps and notes, Stephen was always able to find the musical line through it all. The second movement has a clear melody and statement, and Stephen made it with gorgeous tone and well-suited vibrato. Stephen also had no trouble landing the sudden and extreme leaps up the fingerboard to catch very high notes. In fact, this movement has some of the highest notes in the violin repertoire, and they sounded just gorgeous in his hands. The last movement was a wild, rollicking, evil dance with lots of double stops. The music fits together like a complex and intricate clock made by a madman genius. There's a great deal of fast-paced asymmetry and offsetting things by just a few notes. It sounds wrong when it's right, and so how does one know if it's right? On this night, I finally knew. In fact, I heard a few things I hadn't heard before because they meshed just right; I saw how they fit. The movement ends in relentless and rather repetitive passagework, but Stephen had us hanging on every note.
Korean violinist In Mo Yang, 18, gave the last performance of the evening, Prokofiev Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (the same piece that Stephen Kim played).
As I mentioned, the orchestra and soloist had some ensemble problems toward the beginning, after which all went well in terms of collaboration. In Mo also was able to take a thicket of notes and give it meaning; in this case, a certain jazzy and syncopated feeling. His moments of stillness were very effective, and his high filigree at the end of the moment really rode the flute (piccolo?) solo. The second movement was indeed "vivacissimo" -- so fast! There is a series of fast glissandi up the fingerboard, and he nailed the harmonic at the top of each one every time. The end was so fast it sounded like a bee buzzing around the room -- a very in-tune bee. The last movement sounds like a series of attempts to climb up the side of a mountain, each climb a little different. His pacing and dynamics really helped build the tension, until it goes back to the the simple theme from the first movement, set to trills. In Mo's trills are really, really fast. Beautiful playing, and he got a standing ovation.
And speaking of a standing ovation, take note of these young artists and all those who participated this week in the Menuhin Competition: They are the future of music!
AUSTIN, Texas — The Senior Division laureates for the Menuhin Competition were announced Saturday night, after a concert in which all four finalists performed with the Austin Symphony to a sold-out crowd of more than 2,000 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin.
"If (Yehudi Menuhin) were here tonight, he would be absolutely thrilled as to what happened to this competition," said competition Artistic Director Gordon Back. "Tonight you have witnessed some of the best playing you'll hear in any competition, in any city, of any age."
Announcing the winners, jury chairman Pamela Frank said, "I would like to thank these young players. Tonight was a culmination not only of a celebration of the violin, but also a celebration of music in general. Tonight, this was one of the greatest concerts I've ever heard, period. We have four fantastic artists in our midst, and we will hear more from them. The big winner is the music world, to have you all in it."
The winners are:
First Prize: Stephen Waarts, 17, (American-Dutch) - Studies at Curtis Institute with Aaron Rosand
Left to right: Stephen Kim, Stephen Waarts, In Mo Yang and Christine Seohyun Lim
Seven young violinists, ranging in age from 12 to 14, played in the Junior Finals Friday in the Menuhin Competition at the Butler School of Music in Austin. Those finalists were: Ilana Zaks 13, (American); Rennosuke Fukuda, 14, (Japanese); Elvina Sung-Eun Auh, 14, (Korean/American); Jaewon Wee, 14, (South Korean); Alex Zhou, 12, (American); Daniel Lozakovitj, 12, (Swedish) and Ludvig Gudim, 14, (Norwegian). (For a list of the Junior laureates from this round, please see this story.)
The Junior Finals had two components: one in the afternoon, and another in the evening. Overall, the varied repertoire and requirements allowed for each young violinist to showcase a wide range of capabilities.
During the afternoon, each competitor was required to play the first movement from a specified Beethoven, Schubert or Brahms Sonata. Also, each performed the Handel-Halvorsen "Passacaglia," with cellist Bion Tsang. Incidentally, Bion Tsang should also receive an award for giving seven performances of this not-exactly-easy-to-play duet all in one afternoon, and with kids who had the chops to ride the piece like a speed demon. He did it with sensitivity and fantastic technique, all with a supportive smile and reassuring demeanor for each contestant.
Playing Beethoven sonatas allowed the young artists to show how cleanly they could play and how well they could interact with piano in these rather pianistic works, which don't leave any room for even a little sloppiness.
Some highlights: Alex Zhou began Beethoven Sonata No. 5 Op. 24 with an outpouring of warm tone and played with maturity and assurance, as well as many degrees of piano and forte. His Handel-Halvorsen was rhythmically clear, with ringing and accurate pizzicato and an exciting accelerando at the end of the movement.
Daniel Lozakovitj immediately grabbed me by the ear with his beautiful vibrato in his Beethoven No. 5, Op. 24. When it was over, he hugged the pianist. He seemed to have a friendly and deferential personality that also showed in his playing; during the Handel-Halvorsen he seemed to be making such a sincere effort to enter into a true musical conversation with the cellist that he actually stepped in his direction, inching his way toward the cellist throughout the piece. When it was over, he insisted that Bion Tsang accompany him for the curtain call.
In his Handel-Halvorsen, Rennosuke Fukuda had us captivated during the slow and chordal variation. In this picture he is playing Beethoven Sonata No. 1 Op. 12.
Rennosuke Fukada plays with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi
Elvina Sung-Eun Auh played an elegant and thoughtful Sonata No 8, Op. 30.
Ludvig Gudim was the only one to play Brahms Sonata in G, which he did from memory and with an exciting ending.
In the evening was a concert at Bates Hall -- which was filled to capacity with audience members of all ages -- in which each contestant played a showpiece with the University of Texas Orchestra, with Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting. Four of the violinists played Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy," and three played Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" -- none of the competitors had chosen the other two options, which were Wieniawski's "Polonaise Brillante" and Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso." It did seem a little unbalanced to put the extraordinarily technically difficult Waxman up against the less-difficult Sarasate!
Ilana Zaks opened the evening with the "Carmen Fantasy," for which she wore a red dress. In fact, there was a lot of red concert wear in honor of the fiery and sensual Carmen! Ilana seemed to thrive on the energy she was getting from the orchestra, and her excellent performance was met with enthusiastic applause.
Alex Zhou played Zigeunerweisen with incredibly good sound -- his fast clip proved just a bit faster than the orchestra's at the end!
Playing "Carmen Fantasy," Rennosuki Fukuda was simply astonishing. Toward the beginning of the piece, he seemed to be fitting himself in with the orchestra; then he simply took over the reins and everything flowed from him, from then on. He knew when to hold a moment, or when to let a double-stop run flow like water. It was very articulate -- notes that don't usually come to the surface in this densely-notated piece rang out clear. There was no chance this thing was going to unravel during the swirling tornado of notes at the end; he just stood steady and victorious.
And yet there was more excellence to come. Daniel Lozakovitz played the introduction of Zigeunerweisen with his heart-breaker vibrato and kept the tension going. The beginning of this piece is full of stops and starts and it can get, let's say it, boring. Not so with Daniel. He can string the audience along, make it feel like he's just about to tell us the punchline, but no, he keeps dodging it, keeps playing peekaboo. As he did with the cellist, Daniel insisted that the conductor stand with him to take the curtain calls.
Elvina Auh's "Carmen Fantasy" would have earned her accolades in any other company; on this night it was a little ragged next to the extraordinary accomplishments of her peers at this competition.
Ludwig Gudim played Zigeunerwiesen with a generous amount of wide and fast vibrato. He has a special kind of presence on stage, moving a great deal with the music.
Jaewon Wee gave the "Carmen Fantasy" a nice, dancing feel, with lilt and bounce where needed. The considerable tricks that Waxman requires were precise and audible, and the very complicated finale of the piece was riveting.
As jury member Pamela Frank said when announcing the prize winners: the accomplishments of these bright and promising young artists bode well for the future of our art. For a list of the prize winners in the finals, please see this page.
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And if you'd like to watch for yourself, here is video of the evening concert:
Here are links to the afternoon round, with Beethoven or Brahms Sonata and Handel-Halvorsen:
Previous entries: February 2014
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles went to Austin, Texas to cover the Menuhin Competition 2014, watching some of the world's top young violinists. Read her ongoing coverage.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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