Hae-Sue Lee Wins First Prize in the 2018 Primrose International Viola Competition

June 16, 2018, 10:07 PM · LOS ANGELES - Hae-Sue Lee was named first-prize winner in the 2018 Primrose International Viola Competition, which were announced Saturday at the Colburn School. Here are all the prizewinners:

2018 Primrose prize winners
L-R: Primrose competition prizewinners Hae-Sue Lee, Zoë Martin-Doike and Leonid Plashinov-Johnson

One of the youngest violists in the competition, Hae-Sue Lee has studied with Roberto Díaz and Hsin-Yun Huang at the Curtis Institute since she was 13. For this competition, she played a 1793 Camillus Camilli viola, on loan from Díaz. Previously, Lee won first prize in the 2015 Johansen International Competition and in the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2014 Albert M. Greenfield Competition. She was also a prizewinner at the Stulberg International Competition and the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition. She has also participated in festivals including the Verbier Festival Academy, Banff Music Festival, Great Mountains Music Festival and Summit Music Festival. As first prize winner in the Primrose, she also will be invited to perform at a winner’s concert at Brigham Young University, presented in conjunction with the Primrose International Viola Archive, and will receive the CodaBow Marquise, by CodaBow.

Jury members for 2018 include Lynn Harrell (Chairman), Roland Glassl, Kazuhide Isomura, Jon Nakamatsu, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Xidi Shen, Lars Anders Tomter.

For the Finals, each of the three violists performed Brahms Trio in A minor, Op. 114, in a chamber round on Saturday morning with cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Jon Nakamatsu.

For the evening concert, the competitors had a choice between playing the Viola Concerto by Bela Bartok, or the one by William Walton. All of them had chosen the Walton, and as I took my seat in the Colburn School's Zipper Hall I truly wondered if I'd signed up for the Groundhog Day of viola concerts. Three Walton Concertos in a row -- would the audience grow fatigued? And how about the orchestra? Along with rehearsals, the members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra played a total of six Walton Concertos Saturday. And how would the competitors distinguish themselves, all playing the same concerto?

I need not have worried -- each performance was unique and engaging, showing the high level and that made all three of these violists contenders for this top prize.

The evening began with Zoë Martin-Doike, who was performing on a 1999 Stanley Kiernoziak viola, on loan to her from Mimi Zweig. Martin-Doike played with accuracy and assurance -- as well as a lot of kinetic energy. A violist sitting next to me pointed out that Martin-Doike had made a number of unique choices, among them playing the first movement's quadruple stops pizzicato instead of arco.

Next was Hae-Sue Lee, who seemed well-connected to both the orchestra and conductor. Her first movement was well-played, but what caught my attention was the contrast she created, fading out of the first movement and then launching into the second. This was when she seemed to hit her stride, giving a punchy and intense performance that highlighted the rhythmic complexity of this movement. It was downright exciting -- and she knew it, flashing a happy smile after the movement ended. In the third movement, she showed her ability to spin a long phrase, as well as a range of color and vibrato; the ending was captivating.

Next was Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, who played on a 1995 Stefan-Peter Greiner viola, on loan from his teacher, Kim Kashkashian, from which he milked a beautiful tone. An expressive player, his high musical sense was on display throughout, and his stage presence was engaging. The orchestra overwhelmed his sound at times, and he probably lost marks for a few small stumbles. I'd still pay to see him play.

What a treat, to see this accomplished violists show their talents in the Primrose Competition. And if you are still wondering, did those orchestra musicians get tired of the Walton? Afterwards I ran into principal cellist Armen Ksajikian and asked him just that. "Oh, no, I love this piece," he said with genuine sentiment. "I feel like I'm still getting to know it, better and better."

If you'd like to see the evening performances of the Walton Concerto, Click here to watch on the competition's Facebook page.

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June 18, 2018 at 03:23 PM · Miss Lee is an excellent violist and a great musician.

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