September 25, 2010 at 4:41 PM
Friday was the first night of the Indianapolis Competition that I was able to watch in real-time. It was something I’ll never forget; I felt as if I was watching a little bit of violin history unfold. Three cheers to the technical team that made this Internet live stream happen!
As of this writing, last night’s performances have not been archived, so I am going to have to rely purely on memory. Tonight I have obligations away from the computer, so I won’t be able to watch the last three performances live, or the results. I will try to sequester myself tomorrow morning so I can watch the last three contestants before deciding who I think should win the prize. That way I won't be biased toward who actually did win. That's the plan anyway. I may very well go to the Indy archive and see the winner's name emblazoned there in a giant font, but I'm going to try to keep the secret for as long as possible.
Once more, a disclaimer. I am an amateur violinist with limited training, so take my comments with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that I stand in awe of each and every competitor this year. I think they are all extraordinary.
OK, with that out of the way -
The evening started off with a Tchaikovsky concerto by Andrey Baranov. He has a beautiful, sweet, singing tone - as evidenced in his Mozart in the classical round - but for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to carry very often last night. Aside from the legato lines in the first and second movements, many notes just didn’t pierce through the orchestral texture, especially in the double-stops in the first movement. There weren’t many expressive slides or tempo fluctuations or little touches like that, either, and I missed them. I felt as if it was just a read-through of the score, contrasting sharply with his Mozart performance. The orchestra didn't help matters, either; I felt the tempos were plodding and rather dull throughout. But, as I said, those legato lines carried beautifully and were a real joy to listen to. Perhaps it came across totally differently in the hall… All in all, a very good performance, but in a finals with great performances, I don’t know if very good will net you first prize.
Second was Antal Szalai in the Bartok second concerto. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was very much looking forward to this performance, despite my lukewarm feelings about his Mozart. I was not disappointed. Szalai came onstage cool as a cucumber and played the Bartok through with intelligence, commitment, and charm. He understands Bartok’s musical idiom very, very well - whether this is because he has studied Bartok for many years, or because he was born and raised in Hungary, or both, I don’t know. But it was a brilliant choice of repertoire for him; I can’t imagine him choosing any other concerto for this evening. There was a standing ovation after his performance, which was very rightly deserved. I want to mention, too, that the orchestra sounded like a totally different group in the Bartok. You'd think, given the difficulty of the Bartok, it would have been the other way around! The plodding tempos of the Tchaikovsky immediately gave way to fluidity and grace. The inconsistency of the orchestra has been a bit of a mystery to me throughout the competition... Hopefully some of the muddiness can be ascribed to a poor Internet connection, or misplaced mikes, or something.
The finale of the evening was Clara-Jumi Kang in the an emotional performance of the Beethoven concerto. It was transcendent, elegant, and in-tune (not such a small feat with Beethoven). She cut down a bit on the wide vibrato that she had employed in earlier rounds, and the result was a clear piercing tone that cut through absolutely everything in a really gorgeous way. She began to lose a bit of clarity toward the end of the final movement, and she looked very sad and worried. I thought she was upset with herself, but after she finished she looked as if she was about to cry, so that explains her expression. I hope they were tears of joy. What a major accomplishment to play the Beethoven concerto - the Beethoven concerto! - so beautifully in such an unbelievably highess environment. I was very moved by her performance. I wanted to give her a big hug afterward. I really felt as if she made herself vulnerable in a way we haven't seen from any of the competitors yet, really putting her heart and her soul out there on stage.
So. I hope I remembered what I wanted to without re-listening. Based solely on this performance tonight, here is my verdict -
First or second - Antal Szalai, Clara-Jumi Kang (can't choose! how do you choose between a rollicking Bartok and a divine Beethoven? it's impossible)
Third - Andrey Baranov
But this isn't taking into account their classical round performances. And I have a feeling tonight will bring two magnificent Sibelius concertos, not to mention a dark horse contestant in the Tchaikovsky... So stay tuned. It's still, three-quarters of the way through the finals, anybody's game.
A dark horse who will play Tchaikovsky? I agree that any competition has a bit of the race horse notion in it... Agility, strategy, speed, elegence, strengh and power + full of curious people who follow the competition very pationately and make predictions (sure, when one doesn't play, it's fun and exciting game...)
But they definitivly will deserve better than carrots and apples for everything they acheived ; )
Seriously, thanks for the nice review and as a fellow amateur, before reading your blog, I also felt very similar to your impressions towards these three friday performances! Perhaps you don't predict that wrong or we are both totally wrong ; )
Thank you so much for your comment, Anne Marie! It is good to know that someone shares my opinions, or at least understands my reasons for having them, especially in such a subjective competition. I think we share a similar taste in violinists, from what I've read on the board. (I'm a huge fan of Oistrakh's work.)
Happy to know that we have common interests!!!!!!!!!!!! (sorry for my enthousiasm ; )
Seriously, as amateurs, it's fun to know that we're not always completely off track! As for beeing completely "Oistrakh" this is totally acceptable as long as we remain objective and open to all the wonderful violinist's contributions!
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