Finalists announced in the 2018 Primrose International Viola Competition

June 14, 2018, 11:14 PM · LOS ANGELES - Congratulations to the finalists in the 2018 Primrose International Viola Competition, which were announced Thursday at the Colburn School. They are:

Primrose International Viola Competition Finalists, L-R: Zoë Martin-Koike, Hae-Sue Lee and Leonid Plashinov-Johnson. Photo by

The semi-final rounds took place on Thursday at Colburn, in the midst of dozens of classes, workshops, performances and seminars happening with the American Viola Society Festival. Everyone at Colburn has been carrying a viola case this week! Stay tuned for the articles on those classes, which have included ones about pain-free setup, the brain and memorization, the legacy of William Primrose and double-stop exercises.

I went to the evening round of semi-finals, and what a pleasure to hear all these violists play.

Below is the video from the evening round that I saw, which included violists Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, Sarina Zickgraf, Daniel Orsen and Tobias Reifland. Below it I'll share some of my impressions, and below that is the video from the afternoon round.

For the semi-final round, the competitors were asked to choose their own program, as long as it was not from the concerto repertoire and did not exceed 50 minutes in length. It can't be an easy decision -- what do the judges want to hear? What do you want to play? What shows your strengths? How much risk should you take? Competitors took a variety of options -- for example, some chose short works or sonata movements from many different composers, time periods and categories; others chose just a few works that they played in full.

Leonid Plashinov-Johnson opted for two full pieces, beginning the evening round with a performance of "Quatre Visages for Viola and Piano, Op. 238" by Darius Milhaud, followed by Dmitri Shostakovich's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147. Though I am quite familiar with the violin repertoire, these viola pieces are less familiar to my ears. I thoroughly enjoyed them. The Milhaud showed Plashinov-Johnson's ability to create a smooth and easy tone, particularly in the third movement's sultry melody over bluesy piano chords. I found it to be engaging listening, with just that touch of dissonance to add flavor. The fourth movement, fast, folksy and full of busy bariolage, was well-shaped and paced, with an exciting ending that made me want to clap -- though for some reason the audience was apparently not supposed to clap until the very end of the program! Next came Shostakovich, which for someone who loves the first violin concerto, feels like familiar language. I certainly noticed the last movement's references to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," which sound like an old friend but then take an anguished turn. I had no program notes, so it was sort of wonderful to simply discover a few things with my ears. I learned after the performance that this was Shostakovich's swan song, the last thing he wrote before he died. It suits the viola beautifully.

Sarina Zickgraf chose a program that varied from the dissonant gestures of György Kúrtag's "Signs Games and Messages" to the bombast of Brahm's Sonata No. 1 for Viola and Piano to a technically challenging Primrose transcription of Paganini's "La Campanella." Zickgraf displayed excellent control, especially in the Kúrtag and an overall high level of technique; at times I wished for a little more focus in her sound.

Daniel Orsen opened with Telemann's Fantasia No. 1 for Violin, transcribed for viola. This was delightful, with the buoyancy in his sound and a certain delicacy and nuance in his playing. Nice articulations in a passage with many string crossings, with good sound production and dynamic range in the slower sections. He brought the end down to a small and insistent hush. Orsen also played selections from Kúrtag's "Signs Games and Messages," then turned to Robert Schumann's "Märchenbilder" and ended with a "Fantasy on Themes from (Johann Strauss') Die Fledermaus," which he appeared to transcribe himself, at least in part. The transcription included quite a lot of difficult technique, but the part I enjoyed most was a fleeting moment in which the music builds up to that famous waltz we all know, but then instead of bursting out into something high and loud, it is played in a very low register by the viola, with some piano filigree over top. Such a conspicuous viola move, I liked it!

The evening closed with Tobias Reifland, who played a Primrose transcription of Efrem Zimbalist's "Sarasateana"; Brahms' Sonata No. 2 for Viola and Piano; and Hindemith's Sonata for Solo Viola. Throughout his performance, Reifland showed impressive physical command of this notoriously awkward and difficult instrument. I especially enjoyed Reifland's choice of the Brahms -- the second movement is truly some of Brahms' best writing, in terms of a soaring melody. The Hindemith showed Reifland's smooth technique that flowed without difficulty, but sometimes without adherence to a discernible pulse.

Below is the video from the afternoon round, which included Zoe Martin-Doike, Mathis Rochat, Erika Gray, and Hae-Sue Lee.

The Finals will take place Saturday, when contestants will play with cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Jon Nakamatsu for a Chamber Music Round at 10 a.m.; then they will play with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for the Concerto Round at 7:30 p.m., with the awards ceremony directly following. Go to's Facebook page to see the livestream of the finals.

Jury members for 2018 include Lynn Harrell (Chairman), Roland Glassl, Kazuhide Isomura, Jon Nakamatsu, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Xidi Shen, Lars Anders Tomter. Prizes include a $15,000 First Prize; $10,000 Second Prize; $5,000 Third Prize; and $1,000 Transcriptions Prize.

You might also like:


June 15, 2018 at 10:28 PM · Thank you for this wonderful coverage Laurie!

Admittedly, I've watched very few competitions, but it was interesting to see the pianist and page-turner (who looked like they were twins) swap roles during Leonid Plashinov-Johnson's performance.


June 16, 2018 at 01:28 AM · What was even funnier to me was that, for one piece, the pianist used a tablet with a foot pedal - so I don't think her page turner was actually "turning pages" per se, though she may have been in charge of the pedal!

June 16, 2018 at 05:27 PM · LOL, I didn't notice that.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

The Soraya
The Soraya

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine