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Penultimate scrutiny: who might win the First Prize at the Queen Elisabeth?

Heather Kurzbauer

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Published: May 29, 2015 at 4:42 PM [UTC]

There is a tangible sense of reaching the finish line, moving fast forward towards the jury proclamation during the wee hours of the last night at the Queen Elisabeth that permeates the atmosphere of the penultimate evening in Brussels. As the last four contestants prepare to give their closing performances Friday and Saturday nights, aficionados from all corners of the world voice their opinions with increasing passion mounting arguments as to why ‘their’ favorite finalist should be granted the First Prize.

Looking and listening back to the eight contestants who have crossed the floorboards of the Bozar’s stage, following in the footsteps of such illustrious predecessors as Oistrakh, Kogan, Laredo and Znaider leads to more questions than answers. After all, experience teaches us that juries often make compromises, audience favorites are more apt ‘not’ to win than sweep the prize (the Queen Elisabeth does not award an Audience Prize as such) and history shows that many a third or fourth prize winner has gone on to change musical history (think Gideon Kremer) while first prize winners have languished in oblivion. Such are the facts and fictions of the rarified world of music contests.

Question time: will the jury look beyond Tobias Feldmann’s memory slip in Bartok’s Second Concerto just prior to the e string break that took him briefly offstage at the end of the first movement cadenza and favor his strong interpretation and positive energy? Will Kim Bomsori’s phenomenal interpretation of the compulsory work, a performance that brought the work to its full glory outweigh her Brahms Concerto, admirable in terms of execution but weighty enough in terms of artistic originality? Will Wang Xiao garner a top prize for beautifully-spun legato in a Sibelius’ Adagio di Molto that soared to the heavens? Will Kenneth Renshaw’s impressive execution of the Heifetz cadenza in the Brahms Concerto procure extra points for panache?

My personal favorite is William Hagen, touted in the Belgian press as the all-American hero who reputedly chose the violin over professional baseball. A physical player who takes obvious delight in the act of violin-playing, Hagen stole my heart with a breathtakingly delicate opening in his emotionally charged rendition of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Impeccable timing, an intellectual command of line and score and just the right amount of power to push his cadenzas to the fore brought the audience to its feat: Hagen wore his heart on his sleeve and took many of us along to rejoice with him. Like the crowds at the Bozar, I can hardly wait for this evening to unfold.

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