Finals Day 2; Jury's Out in the Montreal International Violin Competition 2016

May 31, 2016, 11:17 PM · Who will win the Montreal International Violin Competition 2016? The jury is out, literally, and finalists will have to endure the anticipation until results are revealed right before Thursday night's Gala Concert.

On Tuesday night, three of six finalists performed at Maison Symphonique de Montréal with the Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal, conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. Two of the three candidates, Ayana Tsuji and Petteri Iivonen, played the Sibelius Violin Concerto, which Minami Yoshida also played Monday. Bomsori Kim played the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1.

Listening to Japanese violinist Ayana Tsuji, 18, performing the work, I started thinking about why the Sibelius has so much appeal as a competition piece.

Ayana Tsuji
Ayana Tsuji. Photo by Tam Lan Truong, courtesy of CMIM.

First, the Sibelius has drama and cinematic sweep. It takes itself seriously; it's not a fluffy show-vehicle. It also seems to grow from the ground like a giant sequoia, rooted deep but stretching to blinding heights. It also allows the violinist to wield so much power, a lone Atlas bearing the weight of an entire orchestra.

Tsugi, playing on a c. 1850 Vuillaume, took care to showcase the dynamic shape of the music, both in short phrases and in longer sequences. In the second movement she played with passion and pathos, creating moments both larger-than life and intimate. The third movement, which violinists sometimes play as a humorous dance, was a more serious and arduous endeavor in her hands, well-executed throughout.

From the cold Nordic landscape of Jean Sibelius, we turned to the Cold War Soviet world of Dmitri Shostakovich's four-movement violin concerto, played with fearless intensity by New York-based South Korean violinist Bomsori Kim, 26.

Bomsori Kim
Bomsori Kim. Photo by Tam Lan Truong, courtesy of CMIM.

The concerto begins with a spooky, aching first movement, full of harmonic tension. Kim was the steadfast violinist, trudging through this gloomy and haunted orchestra-scape, which does little to bolster the violinist along, unlike a piece such as the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which moves more in sympathy with the soloist.

The second movement, which Shostakovich characterized as "demonic," sounded like a dance through a mine field, possibly populated by evil clowns. It's wonderfully odd and off-kilter music, but you have to be sure of your footing if you're going to whirl through a mine field. Kim held nothing back, directing tremendous power into her playing and nailing any high-altitude intonation while she was at it. She was playing a 1774 Guadagnini. In the third movement Kim made perfectly-in-tune octave sequences seem like something that violinists do on a normal basis.

But the highlight of her performance (and perhaps of the night) was the third-movement cadenza. It's already a miracle of composition, but Kim made it come alive, creating the quiet and then creating the unrelenting storm, stretching the tension like a rubber band and keeping her live audience rapt and wound tight. People gasped aloud when she finished, and it had the feeling of a performance to remember.

Finishing the concert and this final round was New York-based Finnish violinist Petteri Iivonen, 28, who played the Sibelius Concerto on his 1755 Guadagnini.

Petteri Iivonen
Petteri Iivonen. Photo by Tam Lan Truong, courtesy of CMIM.

Iivonen played with a sense of gesture and a fluency in the ebb and flow of this constantly undulating music. He played the cadenza with direction and a streamlined sense of the musical line. His vibrato was nicely varied throughout. The last movement had both a sense of humor and sense of dance, and he played it as if most of the technical passages were simply thrown in for fun.

Overall, the violinists in the Montreal competition's final round this year all show tremendous accomplishment, poise and commitment. Prize winners will be named right before the Gala Concert at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday. The Gala concert will also be streamed and archived on this page.

Below is the video for the entire Day 2 Finals Concert that is reviewed above. (Bomsori Kim's Shostakovich cadenza is at 1:24:20). (See the Day 1 review and video here.) Please feel free to add your comments below.

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June 1, 2016 at 09:30 AM · I saw Bomsori Kim in Brussels last year at the Queen Elisabeth Competition, yes she is amazing. Such technical accuracy, and such musical power coming out of such a petite figure!

June 2, 2016 at 12:49 AM · Agree, she is amazing!

June 3, 2016 at 11:06 PM · Speaking with Bomsori after the Gala Concert, I learned that she just started learning the Shostakovich in April! A month and a half to learn it.

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