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Adrian Demian

Queen Elisabeth Finals - disappointing first evening

May 21, 2012 at 10:01 PM

After waiting with much anticipation the Queen Elisabeth finals, the two performances of this first evening were quite disappointing for me.
While Josef Spacek has a big, warm tone, his performance tonight was not memorable in any way: from his Prokofiev sonata in F minor which lacked in color and atmosphere, to his Sibelius concerto which sounded opaque and had some innovative rhythms introduced by Spacek in the leaping octaves passage on the last page.
Emir Abeshi did not give the impression that he really understands what Prokofiev's second violin sonata is all about. The first movement was bland, with none of the flute-like lightness and wittiness that should have been there; the second movement was fast to the point that it seemed to surpass Emir's technical abilities; the third lacked its magic and its ending seemed rather like a mistake than a conclusion while the finale was just loud and forced.
Emir really seemed to come apart in Tchaikovsky's concerto. His first solo intervention was painfully insincere and then intonation, quality of sound, sense of rhythm, all started to collapse all around. I am sure fatigue and stage fright do not help but throughout so many editions, many other competitors struggled with the same vicissitudes with more success.
I am still to understand - maybe helped by other competitors - why Sakai Kenji's concerto won the composition competition. It just seems a struggle between the solo violin and the full blast of the brass section aided by the rest of the orchestra. What's the point?
I hope for a better day tomorrow.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 22, 2012 at 5:29 AM
Adrian, thank you for your review the first day of the finals. Did you watch the Menuhin competition last month in Beijing?
Sometimes it seems that violin genius tend to showe up at a very young age, and we probably shouldn't expect the quality will necessarily get that much better in competitions where the violinists are in an older age group. Yes?
From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 22, 2012 at 7:13 AM
"I am still to understand - maybe helped by other competitors - why Sakai Kenji's concerto won the composition competition. It just seems a struggle between the solo violin and the full blast of the brass section aided by the rest of the orchestra."

That was exactly my impression. It is written, that the full orchestra plays womething like mezzo forte including the horns and some brass and the violin plays fast notes. NOTHING to hear from the solo part... totally misorchestrated.

With Spacek I don't agree in all points. I only listened to the concertos because the homepage was down during sonata for me. I thought his first mvt sib was technically quite impressive. It didn't really get me because of his uniform and slow vibrato, but I was anyways more waiting for emir. The third movement Sib of spacek: its the place where you either are excelling or going down. I don't think he did first thing throughout.
For Emir I felt quite sorry, he seemed very exhausted in the tschaik. In many places it seemed that his hands do not want to play anymore. I also disliked his sound, but at least he didn't collaps. I hope the next will go through it more sovereign.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on May 22, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Yixi, your post reminded me of Tom Lehrer, singing of new mathematics, that it is "so simple, so very simple, that _only_ a child can do it".
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 22, 2012 at 5:30 PM
Bart sorry to be off-topic but I just have to say that even though I'm a chemist and I'm supposed to like Tom Lehrer's Periodic Table song, my favorite of his is "New Math."
From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 22, 2012 at 9:17 PM
Tatsuki Narita just blew everything away...
From Gregory Durozel
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 12:05 AM
I think it’s important to keep in mind just how much playing these fine young musicians are doing. The stress of practicing for the entire week to learn a new concerto and then perform a sonata and 2 concertos in one night is very taxing both physically and emotionally. That is the whole point of the final round. They are intentionally pushing the competitors to their utter most limits. Of course there are going to be mistakes.Consider how much is on the line and how much this competition means to them. I think your comments should be taken with a grain of salt.
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 4:29 AM
Dear Gregory,
1) I think any comments should be taken with a grain of salt. Nobody holds the ultimate truth. Since I wrote the post, I assumed it is self understood that it represents my opinion.
2) I tried to keep the comments general exactly because I understand how taxing this competition is. However...
3) Both candidates of the second day - especially Narita - showed they can deal better with stress and fatigue than Spacek and - especially - Emir. Do you disagree with this?
If my comments seemed harsh to you, it is maybe because these 12 made it into the finals at the expense of some other worthy candidates. Could have Gjezi done better? While we won't know, I can express my frustration over playing that does not come close to what he presented in the semi finals.
It would be more interesting to know what you thought about their playing rather than what you thought about my unworthy thoughts.
From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 7:06 AM
"Could have Gjezi done better? "
Again I thought the same and I am sad not to hear him with an romantic concerto. They somehow all deserve to be in the finals, but actually playing the finals is a different thing.
In Sibelius Competition someone came into the finals and totally deserved it in my opinion. But in the finals she was very underprepared and played a sloppy prokofiev and also not the best sibelius (wich is on youtube strangely enough).
I think some competitors don't believe that they will come into the finals and concentrate more on first and second round. You won't believe it, but winning the finals could therefore be a gamble of what to practice more. If you concentrate too much on the concerto, your semi finals will get less practice time. It would be interesting to talk to a competitor about that.
From Porumb Romana
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 8:49 AM
I am getting more and more worried about the imposed pieces. The winning composition is dedicated to this competition and as center piece to violin/violinist.
I hear so many comments about loud orchestra, small violin sound, maybe wrong instrument, etc..It is so sad to see these wonderfull players "killed" and exhausted before they start with their Concerto performance.
I do not doubt about the skills of the finalists,I doubt about the imposed piece which probably needs more muscle, concentration and power.
I also notice a lot of childish competition behaviour.... a lot of energy loss, not balanced emotional preparation,....seems like all of them go for it 100% from the first note 'till the last. Musicality is just lost behind a lot of temperament and pannic managment.
Untill now am happily surprised by Tatsuki Narita and his performance of the imposed composition.Let's see what the others do!!!
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 12:39 PM
I put in in a different blog but here it is again:

Queen Elisabeth Finals - ups and downs of the second evening

This was Tatsuki Narita's evening! When he started his Brahms I thought it would be a painful experience - and I still resent the fact that he played it so safe - but it turned out to be quite the contrary.
His interpretation of the Kenji concerto was the first one that made any kind of sense. I think even the orchestra members sensed that and played more with Narita as opposed to playing against the other finalists as was the case yesterday and today with Shin Hyun Su. Narita managed to project his sound, unforced, over the clumsily orchestrated piece, and his very exact, wonderfully articulated playing inspired the orchestra.
Narita's Paganini was absolutely brilliant! From the first notes his sound reminded me of Zino Francescatti: warm, sweet and full of solar light. Not only did he zoom with nonchalance and ease through the most fiendishly difficult parts, but he managed to make music and to have fun while doing it. A superb performance.
Shin Hyun Su really needs to learn how to use her vibrato. Her Brahms sonata was destroyed by an undifferentiated, excessive vibrato which blended phrases together like in a badly executed watercolor in the first movement, and segmented the lines in the second. I liked her energy in the third movement but here the vibrato made the sound quality suffer. The last movement of the sonata was an abuse to Brahms and the music. This music is not a virtuosity showcase and playing it as fast, loud and "in your face" as Su did showed only her lack of artistic maturity.
Su redeemed herself in Sibelius which was far more balanced and musical than the one we heard yesterday from Spacek. Maybe the beginning of the first movement was a bit fast, but she kept a steady tempo throughout the first page, which created the impression of strength and secure playing. It seemed it was also easier for the orchestra to follow her throughout the concerto. Su's choice of playing the last D of the second movement as a harmonic convinced me to never play it this way. It simply does not belong there: empty, metallic and cold, against the warm tone of the orchestra (but this is a different matter :D).
All in all, an interesting evening.

From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 12:42 PM
... and Romana, you are so right about the commissioned piece. I wonder two things: is there any violinist involved in picking the piece? What are they looking for? Musicality seems to be of no concern. Is this supposed to test who can find any meaning in a bunch of nonsense? What's the point?
As for wasting energy: this is, indeed, a proof of immaturity. Unfortunately it might also show that they do not believe in the intrinsic value and power of the music to capture and convince. I see this attitude so often here in the States expressed by the way many smaller orchestras build their programs. Desperate to make money (which is understandable) they schedule mostly pop and "crowd pleasing" music. They don't believe in the power of the classical music to attract an audience and, once they stop believing, how can anybody expect their music-making to convince anybody?
But I digress again. Apologies.
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 2:22 PM
@ Simon Streuff
The winning recipe I heard of is playing the first round just well enough to pass, then being better and better prepared, with the finale being the best of them all. This way, in the early rounds you do not seem as a threat for the "political" games and, playing superbly in the finals, when all media keeps a vigilante eye open and when it is hard to not judge on the playing quality, can bring home a prize.
Then again, there is no winning recipe that works all the time and/or for everybody, is there?
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 7:34 PM
What is Bouchkov doing in the finals? Someone, please, help me understand! He has nothing going for him: no intonation, no consistently good sound, no sense of rhythm or phrasing. Was being Belgian enough to get him so far? I was absolutely not impressed with his semifinal performance either. In 2009, Lorenzo Gato was rightfully on the podium. He showed he was an artist. Bouchkov on the other hand... blah!
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 9:21 PM
It’s Nikki’s night! None of the panicky energy waste. Well-schooled and professional. Simon, you have to at least agree with me this much:)
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 8:59 PM
I gave Nikki Chooi the benefit of the doubt for the Ravel sonata because it is - I believe - impossible to play with the pianist Thomas Hoppe whom, an undiscovered Lang Lang, did never adjust his playing to accommodate a string player and kept plowing ahead fast and unconcerned without allowing the violinist any extra time to reach or linger on expressive notes.
On the other hand, Nikki did not show much anything during the two subsequent works. Another disappointing evening.
From Porumb Romana
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 9:41 PM
still....there is going to be a winner.....
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 10:03 PM
@ Romana
So far I liked Narita yesterday, and there are a couple more I really liked: Artiom Shishkov and especially Yu-Chien Tseng. I am also curious about Esther Yoo. Probably Baranov will also get a nice place (I am not at all a fan of his, but we'll see).

From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 10:36 PM
I didn't listen to nikki choi, I really cant stand his playing. i don't even know why, maybe its more something for the women...?
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 1:45 AM
Simon, you are just jealous:)
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 1:56 AM
I am watching again Dami Kim's recital in the semifinals. Tomorrow should be a really interesting day! Dami might break ranks and rise to the top if she can be as composed as she was during the semi finals. This will be an evening to really watch!
From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 8:45 AM
Yixi :) ... thats maybe possible. But I would never say I would like to play like him. technically of course, but the expression I don't understand. I just listened to his rezital, so that I know what I am talking about. His Ysaye wasn't very impressive musically to me and also technically many others were better.
If you can tell me what excact piece he plays so good, I will listen to it and trie to be unbiased!
Itry to stay respectful in my critics and hope that it is clear, that I compare at the high level of the competition. But if someones playstyle doesn't suit you, why pretend?
But I understand that you like him since you are a woman :P
I think he plays good, but with too much Schmaltz in some places. You must not always slide into an high note...
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM
Simon, joking aside, I have a lot of respect for you and your expertise, and I like straight talker. To be honest, I normally prefer more emotional and edgy players (such as Shishikov) and Nikki is not one of them. It would be disingenuous for me not to disclose the fact that Nikki (and his younger brother Timothy Chooi, another fine young violinist currently at Curits) is our hometown(Victoria, BC, Canada)boy, although this is not the only reason for liking him. Whatever bias and ignorance I’ve got, I believe Nikki’s solid technique and mental-physical power show his maturity as a musician and longevity in his career.
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 9:58 PM
Andrey Baranov made some real music today. His Prokofiev was mostly solid (less some bow control issues in the second movement) and he seemed in command during the Kenji piece.
His first movement of the Shostakovitch was also very musical. I liked the way he listened and played with and from the sound of the orchestra. Something I heard for the first time in these finals. On the other hand I would have liked better tuning for the double stops.
Unfortunately, the second movement was a disaster waiting to happen at every corner. Andrey pushed the tempo in the first measures but it was obvious the initial tempo chosen by maestro Varga was the correct one when Andrey started struggling with the theme a few measures later. At times, it was quite hard to recognize what was going on.
The Passacaille showed again Andrey's musicality but also the results of fatigue. Again, playing at, or even beyond his own tempo limits in the Burlesque, while it did bring the standing ovations of the audience, I am not sure scored him high points with the jury. At least I hope not.
Dami Kim's Bartok sonata didn't do anything for me. Her well practiced, extremely exact way of playing did not go together with Bartok's passionate music. There was none of the emotion, earthiness and relentless passion one would expect to hear in such a piece.
In Kenji's concerto, Kim's only concern seemed to be to play all the notes and the signs. I could hear none of Baranov's colors or Narita's drive, clarity and sense of articulation. Quite a bland performance in which the orchestra almost ate her alive.
With Narita's brilliant Paganini from Tuesday on one side, and Andrey's passionate playing earlier today on the other side, Kim's Paganini had the flavor of a school performance: a brilliant school mind you, but a school level performance nevertheless.Well rehearsed, her performance lacked originality and the few attempts she made to bring a musical aspect to the music seemed pasted on and unconvincing. She, as others before her, fell victim to fatigue. Being such a victim while playing Paganini did not help at all. I felt quite sorry for her tonight.
From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Yixi, I think Nikki Choi is an amazing violinist, just not as interesting as others in the competition, so I don't have much time and maybe I am hard when I hear something I dislike and cut it off to safe my time.
Adrian, Thanks very much for the summary. Since I was in a real concerto of two great young musicians: Sini-Maria Simonen and Kana Sugimura played the sinfonia concertante with the university orchestra of the Musikhochschule Hannover. I know Sini personal, we had the same teacher at times, she has such an deep musical feeling and beautiful sound and solid technique. She played also in Sibelius competition until second round in 2010. I was very sad not to hear her finale.
Baranov is a great player, but if what he does is right for the jury we'll see. If he struggled technically due to tempo choice he will most likely be out of the first three places.
I am looking forward to Shishkovs performance! Is it tomorrow?
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Simon, Shishkov starts tomorrow, followed by Nancy Zhou. I also played Sinfonia Concertante a couple of times. Both times the violist (first time a fellow professor at the National University of Music Bucharest, second time my wife) tuned a semitone higher so as to play in D major. How did the violist tune at your concert?
From Simon Streuff
Posted on May 25, 2012 at 7:44 AM
Yes, I also used that trick once I played it with a kollegue for fun. It makes it so much easier and the sound is much better. I am not sure how she tuned, I tried to figure it out, but I lack absolute pitch and she playes so good, that you wouldn't notice the difference. In fact I think she tuned normal, because the encore she didn't change the tuning. They came on stage already tuned...
From Adrian Demian
Posted on May 25, 2012 at 8:35 PM
Artiom was so tired today! I am still to listen to his sonata - due to computer problems - but the rest of his program was not brilliant by all means. The Kenji was a forced jumble and the Tchaikovsky, while full of very musical moments, was also full of little blemishes (especially in the first movement) which seemed to annoy even Artiom himself. His playing was uncomfortable during the second movement (which he chose to play muted). The orchestra tried its best not to cover him but he still had to apply quite a bit of pressure with negative effect on his sound quality. His third movement was a bit too fast to be musical. Such a pity.
Nancy Zhou delivered the second good Kenji in the finals. I could understand the rhythm, the structure of the music and I could make out some of its formal features even. Her sound had no issue soaring over the orchestra, and the ensemble felt comfortable playing with her.
Nancy's Prokofiev shined the most in the second and last movements. Her huge sound and relentless energy were quite suited for these two movements, and Mr. Vitaud, the pianist, was a fantastic partner. The first and third movement showed that Nancy still has some growing up to do. She lacked the subtlety and sound palette needed for these two jewels.
What a pity that maestro Varga was not more in control of the winds in the coda of the first movement of Sibelius! Nancy caught up with the rushing clarinets and flutes like a well seasoned soloist though. As in Prokofiev, in Sibelius she shined most on on very energetic passages, but her playing fell short on anything that required soulful involvement.
Nancy is a great competitor. She is solid, mentally strong and hard to beat. Is she an artist yet? Does she have in her that something that will attract audiences outside of the competition world? I think it is too early to know this. How does one judge her playing? How to decide to start her on a career without knowing whether she will grow to be a true artist or not? Right now I see a great violinist with huge potential, but not an artist.

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