September 4, 2006 at 9:29 PMTomorrow my vacation ends, and with it so does my ability to take in much of Indianapolis Violin Competition. I think, that I will somehow cope though, I've seen the players perform already have interested me the most out of the preliminary round and there's only so much Paganini one can digest in a days time and I can catch the highlights on Thursday and Friday evenings as well as weekends. My friend, fellow v.commie, Emily Liz and I were questioning my eligibility for the blog contest that Laurie and Robert Niles have set up in conjunction with this competition. Do I have to actually be there in person or can I watch it over the internet since Indianapolis is a little bit of a hike away from my hometown? That was the biggest question that my friend and I came up with. I decided that eligible or not I was still going to write about the players I've heard so far and my "competition" experiences both as a performer and in regards to watching the Indy aka the Father of violin competitions.
First off, I was a very misinformed individual when I began listening to the competitors yesterday. I thought that the grand prize was $25,000 and that was it. I was wrong. There's a Strad, a Tourte, a CD recording and a Carnegie hall recital all in the 1st prize. *sits back a moment and tries to wrap head around it all* So basically, I'd be happy with the $25,000 bucks but you mean to tell me I'd get a Stradivarius AND a pretty cool bow AND a cd recording (I personally hate recording myself....... ) AND a recital in NY? Hmm.... This changes things all together.
Now it's time for the part where I get to judge all these players who got and put all their hard work out in front of the world and I probably cannot play as good as any of them or ever will play as good as they will yet I am still judging them. This seems wrong but I will now share my honest opinions of the competitors I have heard thus far.
Yesterday (*sings* all my troubles seemed so far away....*glances around embarrassed*), I saw 4 competitors perform. Daniel Khalikov, Liana Gourdja, Dan Zhu and Hye-Jin Kim. Khalikov had a nice sound and generally he seems a decent player but I was left wanting more. He seemed to be kind of closed in and there were some inconsistencies in his sound production which distracted from his playing. To his credit, and the other three who I saw yesterday, it's got to take a lot of guts playing on the opening day of competition especially a competition that is discussed year round by violinists and violin enthusiasts alike. Next to play for me was Gourdja. I felt she was extremely nervous and tense and this unfortunately was very evident in her sound. Perhaps it wasn't her day to shine, but her tone was quite squeaky which was amplified further by a bad balance on the video feed which seems to have it's treble turned up quite high. Dan Zhu was the person who particularly interested me yesterday and I wasn't let down. He was the most solid and all around consistent of the four performers I observed yesterday. His Bach was well played, it didn't move me to tears but it also didn't make me want to scratch my ears out. His Paganini however was quite impressive. When he launched into Pag 5 the hair on the back of my neck went up on end. There were some really interesting pauses and dramatic effects but more than that, the speed and precision, my golly, it's insane to think that anyone can play so fast and so clean and maintain it through an entire work such as that. Well done Dan! Hye-Jin Kim also proved she could be clean and quick and articulate but she displayed this prowess in the Bach E major Preludio. I'm still trying to recover, it was so fast. It went by in a blur and my jaw was hanging very much open, you could have fit a baseball in it. She looked extremely tense but still played beautifully. My only major criticism is that I found the Preludio a little overwhelming in the speed that it was hard to gear down and bring my heart rate down and settle in for the Largo but she played the Bach quite beautifully and overall had a very solid performance.
Today, I was excited to hear Jinjoo Cho play. Despite the huge debate about the outcome of the Montreal Competition, I felt she deserved to win. She's a great player with a huge sound and passion like I've seen in few competitors and she's still very young. But before I get to her...the other people I saw first... I should mention, I wasn't initially going to get up early enough to hear some of the performers seeing as it's my last day of holidays today and I up until 2am watching movies with a friend, but I did wake up and so I decided to get up and see what was happening. An aside for a moment - I live in Western Canada so if the competition starts at 9 in Indianapolis it begins at 6am for me - End of aside. The first person I saw was David Coucheron. I was pleased to start my day off with such a performer. He didn't seem to be plagued by the same tension and nerves that afflicted yesterday's performers and his tone was centered, full and controlled. I felt he shined in the Bach Fugue, being quite successful with the voicings and clean execution of all the chords and some great moments of intensity, I just wish the last chord's intensity had been maintained rather than die off. More than the Bach though, his Paganini Caprice No. 1 made me smile. It had flare and clarity and left me satisfied. One forgets just how hard these caprices really can be until you hear so many people play them close together and you see the difficulties that they come up against. After getting my violin fix from Coucheron, I went about my morning - had a shower, practiced, did some laundry, ate breakfast etc. I made sure I was back in time to hear Jinjoo Cho at noon my time though. I wasn't disappointed. I heard the very end of the performer before her and when she came out and began to play it was like a whole new level of playing. Her tone was huge, even, controlled and warm. She, like Coucheron looked relaxed and at ease with the stage. They both know how to draw an audience in and make them feel at ease even if deep down they are a nervous wreck. People underestimate how much acting musicians have to do and how much it can impact a performance. Even if someone plays very well, if they look tense and nervous the whole time the audience can never relax and it's very hard to take in and get the full impact of the performance, so Bravo to Coucheron and Cho for being very successful in that department! Cho, like Coucheron showed that she was versatile and able in all the genres that are required in the preliminary round. She's thoughtful and skilled in Bach, with musicality and passion to boot and she's a true virtuoso displaying her own voice in the Paganini while still at ease with a pianist in the romantic repertoire. The last performer I heard today in their entirety was Katalin Kokas (what a cool name!) who's exquisite dress and very small frame made me like her instantly. Her Bach wasn't disappointing. She picked the A minor sonata, one of the lesser played Bach selections for this competition and she played it beautifully. It's a difficult sonata to carry off and keep your listener engaged and I was one of those sitting there enjoying it from beginning to end. She picked a Ravel work for her encore piece which was also played beautifully though I think she was much more comfortable in the Bach repertoire. It's hard to stay focused in such a high stress environment as the Indy competition and I think it started to show when Kokas reached her Paganini Caprices. Her clarity and control were gone and some of the technical tricks that she proved she could do in the Bach weren't working as well for her in the Paganini and in the 2nd of the two Caprices she played there was a sense of blurring of notes and the full impact of the Caprice, for me at least was lost. Still a worthy performer with lots of potential though.
And with that, there is my recap of all the performers I have seen so far. Now aren't you all glad I didn't see everyone? Can you imagine how long my blog would be then! Before I close off though, I think it is important to emphasize that all these players who get into this competition and go and play deserve an award. It's a huge feat to pull off the repertoire they are being asked to play in any situation but especially in this type of an environment where there are so many other individuals playing and you are all playing the same things. So Kudos to all the performers! And Kudos to all the judges, they've got a gruelling couple of weeks ahead of them judging this competition and I wouldn't be paid to be in their shoes.
Thanks for a great entry!
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