Three Finalists Named in Competition to Play with Ray Chen at Hollywood Bowl

June 20, 2019, 12:56 AM · Three violinists have been named as finalists in the "Play with Ray" competition, the winner of which will perform the Bach Double with Ray Chen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on August 8 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Play with Ray Finalists
L-R: "Play with Ray" finalists Adriana Bec, Laura Kukkonen and Youngji Kim.

They are:

More than 800 student and amateur violinists submitted videos of themselves performing alongside a video of Ray provided by the LA Phil. The applicants represented 73 countries and six continents, with an age range of six to 76.

Ray Chen

The three were selected by a panel of judges that included Chen and members of the LA Phil. All three will be flown to Los Angeles to play in person with Chen, using rare violins provided by Tarisio. Finalists also will attend masterclasses and concerts in the days leading up to the concert. The grand-prize winner will join Chen and the LA Phil, led by Ben Gernon, on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, to perform the first movement of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins (the "Bach Double"). The concert will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Here are the videos that were submitted by the finalists:

Adriana Bec, 13, of San Antonio, TX:

Youngji Kim, 22, of Daegu, South Korea:

Laura Kukkonen, 17, of Helsinki, Finland:

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June 20, 2019 at 06:32 AM · I think they selected a really good mix of contestants!

June 20, 2019 at 07:20 PM · What a delightful way to engage so many folks! The progress was fun to watch. Clever of Ray Chen to do this.

Edit to express disappointment after reading the reveals in following posts.

June 20, 2019 at 10:16 PM · Congratulations to the finalists.

But this is an extremely disappointing result. After this was advertised as an opportunity for non-traditional competitors, all three of the finalists appear to be pre-professional students. The oldest of them has even won competitions and played as a soloist with a professional orchestra before. It now looks like just another violin competition.

June 20, 2019 at 10:55 PM · I agree 100% Andrew, very disappointing. No need to even have the essay part of the competition since the judges just went down a very familiar path...

June 21, 2019 at 12:28 AM · I get that the priority was always going to be for the best performances, with essays likely to be only a tiebreaker. But after a quick Google search for all three finalists, I think one of the finalists definitely should not have been eligible to compete (Kim who has won national competitions, participated in a major international competition, and soloed with a professional orchestra), and a second probably should not have been eligible (Kukkonen took second prize in the junior division of an international competition in 2017).

I would have barred prize winners of professional and pre-professional competitions from competing, and maybe even barred anyone who had participated in such a competition.

June 21, 2019 at 01:13 AM · What if they had chosen someone like an Adult Beginner or the person that was 76 who submitted an entry? Do you realize how much the publicity would increase the interest in the violin if a seemingly mere mortal were to play? Mr. Chen et al had the opportunity to accomplish something new and special. Now, it'll be viewed as just another violin competition.

June 21, 2019 at 02:53 PM · I totally agree. It was a disappointing result. Not to mention, all the contestants match the nationalities that have represented classical music for a long time: European, White and Asian. Did they do any marketing to the adult amateur, African-American, African, South American, and Latin American classical communities? Seeing as the LaPhil has one of the very few famous South American composers, you'd think they would have focused on diversity in every aspect a little more: age, race, nationality, etc..

June 21, 2019 at 08:07 PM · Please note that I am not speaking as an unsuccessful competitor here -- I play viola and am decidedly NOT a violinist.

This was advertised as a showcase for amateurs and non-traditional competitors. Instead, all three finalists are young pre-professionals. I suppose 13 is young enough not to necessarily be on the professional track, but the other two are not what I would call amateur violinists if they have won prizes in conventional pre-professional competitions within the last two years. It defeats the advertised purpose of the competition.

Amateur does not necessarily mean adult beginner, of course. A non-music-major college student is an amateur. Someone who studied to a high level while young and chose a different career is an amateur. And yes, there are adult beginners who play at very high levels. Yes, it would be much more interesting to see a true amateur, even an adult beginner, on stage at the Hollywood Bowl.

June 21, 2019 at 08:36 PM · As I indicated, I don't play violin.

But the advertising WAS misleading. It was explicitly advertised as being for people who would be excluded from other violin competitions. I maintain that someone who is so far along the professional career track to have competed (and won prizes) in international pre-professional competitions in the past two years should not have been eligible to participate.

And there were plenty of amateur competitors who were clearly not beginners. Given the advertised nature of the competition, even someone like a former pro who changed careers ten years ago would have been more appropriate.

June 21, 2019 at 09:27 PM · "It was explicitly advertised as being for people who would be excluded from other violin competitions."

I don't think that's true, though? A lot of the posts on various sites about it said "non-professionals" but I don't know if that was explicitly stated on the competition website itself - I remember looking when the competition was first posted out of curiosity and noticing that it didn't say no professionals on there, despite being reported that way by various sites and figured it was probably a discrepancy with the press release. Beyond that there was nothing about it being aimed toward people who would be excluded from other competitions - you could argue that most of the violinists who do competitions are technically non-professionals.

June 22, 2019 at 01:14 AM · I had in mind something akin to the "amateur Van Cliburn" competition, in which one of my colleagues competed in the inaugural event. She was the oldest competitor and her participation was warmly recorded in media accounts. But then, she was not among the finalists.

In the end, there are amateurs, and then there are amateurs.

I enjoyed all three performances. Kukkonen has the best "stage presence" of the three but I was disappointed she did not play along with Ray's tape. I would have thought part of the contest should be the player's ability to play cohesively with Ray.

I hope Adriana wins. I'm impressed that she's so much younger than the other two and I thought her style matched Ray's the best.

June 22, 2019 at 05:36 AM · I did not enter, although I've been watching this with interest in hopes for a diverse set of winners. Adriana, the 13-year-old, had a very enjoyable performance. And she's young enough to fit Ray's description of what he was hoping to discover. I'd love to have seen, say, an older music educator win. Especially someone who represents some greater racial diversity. It would also have been nice to see an amateur among the finalists. Clearly since they had the essay, and the emphasis on social media promotion, this was supposedly not about picking the finalists based on playing alone. At the moment, I feel, somewhat cynically, that they cast a broad net to maximize the promotion and publicity for Ray and the LA Phil, but essentially this was a traditional violin competition, and no one that was in the group that was encouraged to enter to maximize the competition's halo actually ever had a prayer of winning.

June 22, 2019 at 02:23 PM · I agree with Lydia and I think they could still redeem that part of the competition's "halo" if they go back through the applicants to find some honorable mentions -- the most compelling recording by a disabled person, or the tiniest child that can actually manage the notes, or octogenarians, for example. Even more, maybe the next time Ray is in their neck of the woods, they could run through it together in a venue such as a high school auditorium with a pianist.

June 22, 2019 at 04:09 PM · If you read the LA Phil's Terms and Conditions-it is a "skills based competition" which is how they can get around the amateur part. Initially, they did portray it to be an amateur competition, but once the question of students was answered, they did scale back on how they advertised (especially on IG). However, the best people won so huge congratulations to the winners!!! I did get a lot out of the competition (more regular practicing and meeting/finding more people on IG) which was great for my amateur playing.

I don't know if another orchestra/group could do a competition like this though, given the comments and response to the winners. If it is a blind audition based off of skill, then obviously those who are studying/training for a career in music will have a better shot (but not necessarily!). If they are looking for a motivator to have more people who would not be involved in music, then they would need to adjust the contest dramatically. But since the performance would be a paid concert, I have to agree (sadly) that not many people would pay for a lackluster performance (like we wouldn't pay for defective product on Amazon). However, I did get a lot out of trying, so in my blind optimism, I could see other groups/soloists doing something like this in the future.

June 22, 2019 at 05:44 PM · Allthough Im proud that a Finn is the one representing Europe, I do also have mixed feelings because the promotion is not how the results look like.

I also think they should have included one real amateur in the selection, not only pre-professionals. I dont mean an adult beginner who plays poorly but someone who plays well enough but is not a couple of years from being a professional.

Laura Kukkonen has been in the pre-college program in the best (and the only one in the country) of the music university and been there for some years allready, surely going to be a professional.

But when the competition opened I had mixed feelings allready because it must be really hard to decide and the level is high. On what grounds should the decision be made? But including a perhaps older amateur in the selection would have made this more interesting, not just another competition. Maybe some over 65 for example and one young? I do love Pauls idea of honorable mentions because without something like that the pomo does feel a bit of cheating.

June 22, 2019 at 08:17 PM · The 13-year old little girl clearly deserves to win. She plays beautifully and she's not a pre-college prodigy or a seasoned competition player. And she bothered playing with the Ray tape. And producing a good quality video. Go Adriana!

June 22, 2019 at 08:50 PM · From the website FAQ:

“This competition is open to violinists of all skill levels.”

They have the essay requirement, so it doesn’t have to be a straight beauty contest, But I think it is crazy to think that the winner was going to be anything other than someone who plays at a very high level

June 22, 2019 at 09:36 PM · Paul - Ray Chen did a "reaction" video on his youtube channel a couple weeks ago to some of the recordings like that - definitely more diversity of levels and ages than the finalists.

June 22, 2019 at 11:53 PM · Have you guys seen the "thank you" video to all participants on the Play With Ray webpage ( is really nice!!

June 23, 2019 at 12:14 AM · Oh, God, when the "anti-racists" are the raciest persons ever. "I wish there were blacks instead of whites, I wish there were latins instead of chinese..."

Their quest/competition, their rules.

Wanna create a competition with a fixed set of finalist? OK, go for it.

Would you be proud to present a set of 10 finalists, one gay, another lesbian, another gender fluid, another black, another white african, another pilipino, another black octogenarian japanese, another that identifies as a cat, another trans black lebanese and one white straight european/american demon?

Good luck with your racist and sexist filters, meanwhile let professionals select who they want based on skills, posture, sound and other things that nothing have to do with sex or race.

I nevertheless agree that if the competition was not skill oriented since all could participate, but the finalists are all kind of professional violinists (I honestly didn't like 2 of those girl's performances and interpretations of Bach), than why say "all can participate"?

It would be nice if they had said that only amateurs that don't play for a living could participate. Of course you should have to be good to play, I don't think the public would be fine listening to a mediocre violinist messing up the piece, so I understand skills are fundamental.

June 23, 2019 at 12:19 AM · "Audiences, especially those at the Hollywood Bowl, paying to hear a performance, want to hear music played well, not by a beginner."

"But since the performance would be a paid concert, I have to agree (sadly) that not many people would pay for a lackluster performance (like we wouldn't pay for defective product on Amazon)."

"But I think it is crazy to think that the winner was going to be anything other than someone who plays at a very high level"

I'm extremely bothered by multiple commenters here implying that everyone who isn't pre-professional is necessarily bad or even a beginner. There are amateurs who have performance degrees or are even ex-pros. There are amateurs who were serious students and could have gone to a major conservatory but chose a different career path. There are thousands, or even tens of thousands, of Bruch-level amateurs whose performance would be anything but lackluster. I don't think it's necessary to have players at a lower level as finalists, but a greater diversity of ages and inclusion of true amateurs could easily have been accomplished while still guaranteeing an excellent performance.

June 23, 2019 at 06:07 AM · I totally agree with the comments saying that people who won competitions before should have been excluded, and give others a chance to shine. I loved the youngest girl's Adriana's performance the best, because she seemed pure and authentic, and her own unpretentious interpretation of Bach was clearly coming from her heart. Her skill level was more than adequate, and with a bit of coaching from Ray, she could complement him amazingly on stage. The second young woman used way too much vibrato, and the third was so perfect, that she does not need to win this competition to shine, she shines on her own. Oh yeah....and not using Ray's recording to play to should have been excluded too. Hope that ADRIANA wins! She clearly deserves it.

June 23, 2019 at 02:28 PM · I wonder what Nathan Cole thinks about all of this? Was he on the jury? I think the L.A. Phil missed an opportunity here. They could have really done something different for their industry, but instead just did the same ol, same ol. Yawn. I could care less now who wins. I mean, we're talking about the Bach double. Not the Brahms. They could've been more diverse, they just didn't want to.

June 23, 2019 at 09:33 PM · Congratulations to the three finalists who all are truly wonderful violinists and I wish them all the best! Like the majority here, I nevertheless had hoped for a bit more diverse selection of finalists, not necessarily for myself. As a seasoned full-time neurologist, I submitted an entry and wrote in my essay that I would like to encourage those young people who are struggling whether they should become a professional musician or not to choose a non-professional musical path. This was the same tough question I once had to answer myself after a year at the conservatory with a lot of self-made pressure and I have never regretted my decision. Despite very limited time for the violin, playing the instrument - alone or with fellows - has not become less meaningful or enjoyable for me. The opposite is true. Long live the freedom of amateur music. :-))

June 23, 2019 at 11:25 PM · Mathias - Well stated! As an adult amateur, I took lessons growing up, but never really enjoyed playing as a child. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was in my 40’s that I found my passion for violin. The 3 finalists are no doubt well deserving, but I was also hoping for a result different from the traditional violin competition. I think it would have been very interesting to see someone like Mathias playing on stage with Ray.

June 24, 2019 at 11:58 AM · Gorgeous playing, Mathias!

June 25, 2019 at 11:20 PM · "But I think it is crazy to think that the winner was going to be anything other than someone who plays at a very high level"

I'm extremely bothered by multiple commenters here implying that everyone who isn't pre-professional is necessarily bad or even a beginner.

As I made the original comment, I'll reply to your reply :-)

My comment does not imply anything of the sort. I just said they [the finalists] will be of a very high level, without any specification of how they might have achieved that level, and I certainly didn't suggest that everyone who isn't pre-professional (whatever that means) is bad or a beginner. You don't have to listen to many episodes of From The Top to realize that there are plenty of fine young players who have an interesting story, and thus it is not at all a stretch to expect that the finalists in this event will be the same.

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