Eliminated Contestants Meet with Jurors in Shanghai; Finals Begin Tonight

September 1, 2016, 1:21 AM · SHANGHAI -- Tonight the Finals begin in the the inaugural Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition at Shanghai Symphony Hall.

The six finalists will each perform a major concerto and a virtuoso work with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Stern (son of the late violinists Isaac Stern, for whom the competition is named.) Three will play Thursday night (which is actually Thursday morning in America) and another three will play Friday night, with performances being streamed live -- click here to find the feed.

It's been noted that many of the Finalists are current or former students of members of the jury. This is no surprise - that relationship was disclosed in their biographies online and in the programs. It's worth noting that it's also not unusual to have violinists participate in international competitions in which a current or former teacher is judging. If you have members of the jury who are elite-level teachers who are committed to competitions, then chances are that their elite-level students will be among those entering competitions and excelling in them. That relationship doesn't automatically make for a scandal, particularly when the best violinists are indeed put forward, and when jurors are held accountable for their scoring.

In this case, Sergei Dogadin (former student of Boris Kuschnir), Stefan Tarara (assistant to Zakhar Bron) and Mayu Kishima (former student of Bron) had knockout performances in the Semifinals that left me no doubt that they would be among the Finalists. Considering that Zakhar Bron has been teacher to the likes of Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin, Daniel Hope, Vadim Gluzman -- it's not a big surprise his students play well. And Sergei Dogadin, student of jury member Boris Kuschnir, just won Hannover in 2015, and Tchaikovsky in 2011. It's actually nice that the level is so extremely high at this competition.

It is true that jury members were not required to recuse themselves from voting on their own students in this competition, as they are in many competitions. Instead, the Shanghai competition strived for accountability by making all the jurors scores public. (To see those, click on this page.) It won't be possible to see the scores for the Finalists until the competition is over, but those also will be made public.

Which is better, recusing oneself from voting on one's own student, or voting and knowing that your score will be made public for all to see? Certainly it's something worth debating.

It seems to me that making the jurors' scores public would put a great deal of pressure on jury members to be fair and consistent, and not to show favoritism to one's own students. (In fact, potentially it could even make them more harsh on their own students.) Recusing certainly takes that potential conflict-of-interest away completely, but it also has its complications, in the wonky math that it leaves for doing the average scores and in the absence of the kind of unique balance that the teacher who is sitting aside would give. And it also begs the question, where should one draw the line? Should a jury member recuse himself or herself if they once had a competitor in a master class five years ago? It's certainly a complicated issue. Another solution would be to have a jury with no teachers at all on it, but that also has its problems, as elite teachers tend to understand the art most deeply.

Another effort at accountability at Shanghai: yesterday all jury members spent more than two hours meeting with every candidate who did not move on to the Finals (as they also did in the quarter finals). Jurors each sat at separate tables, and violinists could go from table to table to speak with each jury member about his or her score and receive a face-to-face explanation of why that jury member gave them that score.

jury and eliminated contestants
On Wednesday, jury members in the Shanghai competition met for two hours with eliminated contestants to explain their scores.

One thing is for sure: I'm genuinely looking forward to hearing the Finalists tonight and tomorrow night, and so here is a little preview of who they are and what they will play.

Thursday night we will hear Richard Lin of the United States, Stefan Tarara of Germany and Ming Liu of China.

Taiwanese-American violinist Richard Lin, a former Curtis Institute student of Aaron Rosand's, also earned his master's degree last year from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Lewis Kaplan. He has won top prizes in competitions at Hannover, Singapore, Sendai and Michael Hill. Tonight he will play Ernest Chausson's "Poeme," Op. 25 and the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Stefan Tarara of Germany studied in Heidelberg and has masters degrees in performance and pedagogy from the University of Arts in Zurich, where he studied with Zakhar Bron. He has won 27 first-prizes in various competitions. Tonight he'll also play the Chausson "Poeme," as well as the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Ming Liu, a native of Shenyang, China, studies at the Shanghai Conservatory with Vera Tsu Weiling. She will play Ravel's "Tzigane" and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor.

Friday night we'll hear Mayu Kishima of Japan, Sergei Dogadin of Russia and Sirena Huang of the United States; after which the prizewinners will be named.

Japanese violinist Mayu Kishima has studied with many teachers: Dorothy DeLay, Izumi Hayashi, Kazuyo Togami, Toshiya Ito and others. She studied with Zakhar Bron at the Hoschschule für Musik in Cologne. She will play the Chausson "Poeme" and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto.

Sergei Dogadin of Russia , as mentioned above, studies with Kuschnir. He will play "Zigeunerweisen" by Sarasate and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto.

Sirena Huang of the United States studied with Stephen Clapp and Sylvia Rosenberg and she's got an interesting program, "Fantasie brillante on Themse of Gounod's 'Faust,' Op. 20" by Wieniawski, and Bartok's Concerto No. 2.

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September 1, 2016 at 07:21 PM · Thanks Laurie - nothing like a report from someone actually there and that understands the instrument and its pressures. This was particularly timely since others (apparently, less informed) have questioned its fairness. The opportunity to meet with the judges after and get feedback is terrific - this is both open and also very constructive for the violinists. It also puts a bit of pressure on the judges to listen to everyone thoroughly so that they can provide a reasonable and accurate account. I hope its emulated at all competitions.

September 1, 2016 at 10:36 PM · Sorry for all these Bell questions, but is it possible to find out what rosin Joshua Bell currently uses? Also, does he use the full jargar superior set or a different E? Thanks.

September 1, 2016 at 10:38 PM · I've heard he uses the Bernardel rosin?

September 2, 2016 at 03:56 AM · " This was particularly timely since others (apparently, less informed) have questioned its fairness."

This certainly sounds more fair than some of the things that have gone on in the past in some competitions.


"Everybody knows it" is probably true as even a nobody like me has heard appalling stories.

Which makes it difficult for organisers to find ways to create a distance from the past. This is not a perfect system but better.

September 2, 2016 at 07:48 PM · But why not consider a jury without the usual suspects Bron and Kuschnir and without those enormous fees paid to jury members??? Many top violinists avoided Shanghai for good reason. The likes of Hagen, Tsuji and Waarts were nowhere to be found.

September 3, 2016 at 12:42 AM · Thanks, Laurie, for your discussion of both sides of the issue of teachers on the jury evaluating their own students. As you pointed out, this is almost impossible to avoid in competitions such as this one. I believe that making the jurors scores public would do a lot to promote fairness and accountability by the judges. Like Elise Stanley, I like the fact that competitors can meet with their jurors to see and discuss their reviews. This practice would bring out the role of the competition as an educational tool, and I think the competitors could benefit greatly.

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