Q Elisabeth Comp Finalist countries

May 19, 2009 at 12:23 AM ·

Probably I do not need to talk much.  Here is the number of finalists from each country of the Queen Elisabeth Competition.


Recent successful performance of Korea violinists is remarkable.  Could anybody explain why?  Does the success owe their special education system?  Or does violin music chime into their culture, with their preference in ethnologically melancholic songs?  Or Sarah Cheng inspired them?  Or anybody take a position that it is just an accident that many Korean violinists made to the final this time?  I am curious.



Probably I do not need to talk much.  Here is the finalist of Queen Elisabeth Competition:


Replies (28)

May 19, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·

I was going to post on this, too.  South Korea has less than 1% of the world's population as well.  We have had some spectacularly talented Korean musicians here at Illinois.

May 19, 2009 at 03:02 AM ·

Please.. No Korean has last name "Cheng." Please get it right. And the trailblazer would be Kyung-Wha Chung, not Sarah Chang. Not just for Koreans but for all Asians.

May 19, 2009 at 04:05 AM ·

Just some maths :)

If (South) Korea had as many in the final, per capita as Latvia, they would have 24 in the final. Or if the ratio would be the same as Belgium the number would be 5, or compared to Moldavia they would have 12 in the final.

I agree that there are many very skilled violinists from SK, but their population is quite big compared to some other countries as well.

To this date 3 from Korea has won any prices at all at QE (no first places),  and the last was 24 years ago, So it is definitly time for a win now!

May 19, 2009 at 06:01 AM ·

I noted a statistical anomaly a few months back: nineteen of the twenty Korean competitors admitted to the QE (almost a quarter of the field) were female.

May 19, 2009 at 10:12 AM ·

And don't forget Ray Chen, Australia. And the youngest competitor in the finalists.

Also a member here. 

May 19, 2009 at 11:54 AM ·

it was already unique to see that in the semifinals there were 7 from Korea, and it's evident that, like in many asian countries and similar to the former SU states and east-european nations, music education from early childhood on has priority in those lands. Sad to say this is different here in western Europe, maybe also in the Americas.

On the other hand, quite many asian students benefit from high level training outside their home country. A case in point is the Corean Suyoen Kim, to me one of the favorites for First Prize. She has been born in Münster, Germany, grew up there and studied in the highly reputed Detmold Music Academy, and presently she studies in Munich with Ana Chumachenco. She may have two passports, since some count her as German. See http://www.suyoenkim.com/

Anyway, there's going to be a very exciting finale. And all the 12 have good chances to make it.


May 19, 2009 at 12:49 PM ·

from this link, you may appreciate the striking similarities discussed...

comparing with the "usual" western approaches, it is night and day.


May 19, 2009 at 02:12 PM ·

Al, I appreciated very much the insightful column about PGA-LPGA and Corean female invasion there, even though, as many of the commentators have pointed out, "pushy" parenting can't be everything or explain the huge successes of female golfers from SC.

One commentator brought up the matter of 2 years compulsory service for men in S-Corea, another the matter of expectations: girls there are not traditionally expected to be the breadwinners, still - there is outstanding singlemindedness and determination to reach a goal...Similarities in the violin training field? Many questions are being left open there...

Anyway, I found it to be good reading, thank you.




May 19, 2009 at 03:13 PM ·


Some discussion of the role of classical music in Asian countries can be found in:
Yoshihara, Mari. Musicians from a Different Shore: Asians and Asian Americans in Classical Music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.
The book has been criticized for lumping all kinds of people together who only have in common that they look Asian, but then that often IS a visible characteristic for their audience.
Anyway, I can only speak for Japan and event then, I have no definite answers. An important reason is the enormous prestige Western art music had right from the start when Japan embarked on its course of modernization according to the Western model in the mid-nineteenth century. People who marvel at Japan’s presence in Western music do not always realize that Japan had already completely assimilated Western music by WW1 and Western observers were expressing admiration for its musical life well before WW2. The violin already enjoyed a first “boom” in the early twentieth century. I believe the two main reasons for this were 1) its use in schools to teach singing (before all schools could afford keyboards) and 2) the availability of relatively cheap violins, especially those produced by Suzuki Masakichi (father of Suzuki Shin’ichi).  I am currently working on a book about the history of the violin in Japan and will say more on the subject there.
As for Korea, I hate to say this, given the touchy subject of Japanese colonialism, but in the early twentieth century at least some Koreans may well have seen their first violin in the hands of a Japanese school teacher. This is suggested to me by the memoirs of the Chang Heryern Jin, a prizewinning Korean-born luthier who lives and works in Japan. Be that as it may, and perhaps despite the Japanese, Western music may well have carried similar associations with Western-style modernity as in Japan, and after WW2 similar social processes may have been at work as in Japan.
Concerning the predominance of women, many Japanese today don’t realize that the violin was actually pioneered by women in Japan. I wrote a bit about this in my article on the Kôda sisters in the Strad (May 2007). Many early professors at what is now the Tokyo University of the Arts were women. An important reason for this was that music was not considered a suitable occupation for a man - certainly not for a man of the samurai class, and the former samurai class dominated politics and the education system through most of the nineteenth century. I suspect that even today it is considered more acceptable for a woman to devote all her time to music than for a man because a career is perceived as less important for her, so it matters less if she doesn’t make it. That does not fit with present-day reality in Japan where many women do seriously aspire to a career, but then people’s ideas in any country are often slow to adjust to what is actually happening.
Anyway, I believe that looking at specific historical events is more useful than vague allusions to “culture” in explaining the strong presence of Asian violinists (but then as a historian I would).

Margaret Mehl

May 19, 2009 at 04:26 PM ·

Margaret, Interesting. Japanese saw their first violin in western hands and learn to play to beat them in their own game. Koreans saw their first violin in Japanese hands and learn to play it to beat them in their game! I hope you are right that there were some decent Japanese teachers in occupied Korea to share their love of violin and music with Koreans. According to my father, Japan was highly protective of their advances in technology and other matter. He loved to tell a story about a light bulb factory. After Japan left Korea, the factory was filled with glass bulbs with no filaments. No one knew how to make filaments. Maybe Koreans got to see their first violin in Japanese hands and got to finally touch one after Americans came?

May 19, 2009 at 09:55 PM ·

I always thought because asians usually have a stronger discipline.

But thats such a fascinating history attached.

May 20, 2009 at 12:23 AM ·

I often wonder if it is  physionomy reasons.  But I do not want to start this "sport" analysis and make a fight!  Everyone who happens to play the violin should be respected and  talking about physionomy sounds like talking of dogs conformation in a dogs show lol.  Not really politically correct in an artistic field!  But I personally think that maybe physionomy has a role.

Yes Koreans are so great players!


May 20, 2009 at 03:38 AM ·

...Actually many of them represent russian school... I just checked their teachers.

Choi Ye-Eun studied with Ana Chumachenco; Lorenzo Gatto - with Boris Kushnir; Mayu Kishima has among teachers Zahar Bron; Ray Chen studied with Aaron Rosand; Nikita Borisoglebsky (from Russia) studied with Eduard Grach.

May 20, 2009 at 05:22 AM ·

Chen Jiafeng is studying with Jan Repko at the Royal College of Music in London.  Ji-Yoon Park is studying with Roland Daugareil in Paris.

May 20, 2009 at 12:38 PM ·


I suspect that physical characteristics do play a role, and that some are more favourable than others.
But Akiko Suwanai appears to think the very slender fingers of many Japanese are more of a disadvantage than not, if I remember her book rightly (I’m not near my library just now), and I think I’ve read similar remarks by other Japanese.
I don’t think physical characteristics can be more than a small part of the explanation at best. My edition of the ‘Oxford Companion to Music’ has plates of famous pianists’ hands, Chopin, Rubinstein and a few others. What always strikes me is how differently they are shaped. And yet they obviously all served their owners well.

Margaret Mehl

May 20, 2009 at 05:13 PM ·

 Wow, putting charts of famous pianists hands in a book!?!?  We can call this a real scientific study lol.  Of course, Japanese are different form Koreans and Koreans from americans etc etc etc.  And it is maybe a combination of this + environment + culture that can be an explanation.  Of course, when I say maybe it is physionomy issues, it can only be 5 or 10% Perhaps less or more. Who knows?



May 20, 2009 at 08:39 PM ·

Hard work. That is the answer. If  you have a hard day work they will double it and so on.

Nothing more than hard work.

May 21, 2009 at 01:35 AM ·

I don't think the pictures were meant as a scientific study. I'm not quite sure what the editors meant to convey.

Hard work certainly helps!  And in Japan it's perfectly OK to admit that you work hard, or even to positively boast about it and emphatically deny that you have any natural ability. I sometimes get the impression that in many Western countries we are still quite wrapped up in nineteenth-century notions of genius - hard work is for those who haven't got it. It seems to me that in Japan there is a much stronger belief than in the other countries I've lived in that you can achieve anything if you work hard enough.

But who knows how long it will continue. Maybe here's something for a weekend vote: where do you think the prizewinners will be coming from in 20 years from now? (Or have we already had that one?)


May 21, 2009 at 02:32 AM ·

Hi, I agree for very hard work but I just think that it is impossible that appliants at this level could have possibly 0 talent and that everything was taught.  As you said, some must deny their natural ability because they are too humble or live in a "working" culture rather than "genius" one. But. they have to have a bit of a sort of guenine talent mixed with hard work.  Someone with no talent at all, even with 15 hours of efficient practice a day could not achieve this (the Queen Elizabeth)  IMHO.  But their natural talent doesn't cancel all the honours they deserve for their hard work because they surely work their head off!

Congratulations to them!  The Winner? I vote for Moldavia or Korea.  (maybe things will turn out totally different!!!)


May 21, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·

Theres a difference between talent and learning to.

You should not solely rely on 1 source a.k.a your teacher (That said, you have to trust your teacher in order to learn efficiently, they still know best). Alot of the times if you put some time aside to experiment and explore your violin you'll learn new things, and with the internet now we have alot of information and power at our hands.

For example, I learnt 70% from a teacher, 30% from the internet + experimenting. The internet gave me plenty of ideas of how to practice in various different shapes and forms - instead of just taking it from one person.  The teacher provides the framework of how to learn, and they give you their ideas of how they did it.

I never saw a rule stating that we weren't allowed to use our own ideas. Though I consult my teacher with what I do, what I practice, how I practice etc etc The most important thing is keeping them in the loop.

I don't believe in a thing called talent, its more so to do with how people learn, their approach to things, how willing they are to keep up a strict regime AND how open they are to the whole experience. Discipline plays a strong role in many things. Of course sometimes theres no such things as discipline when it comes to weekends :)

May 21, 2009 at 04:46 AM ·


you are right Dimitri. However,  the things you describe are a very large compnet of talent.   Talent is not just some kind of spiritual perfume that speaks through someone. It is also the thinsg you mention.  Perhaps because oyu are talented yourself you have not yet sene that many studnets are incapable of isolatinga problem,  focusing on it and creaitng effectibve solutions thata re applied consistently.  Talent indeed



May 21, 2009 at 04:58 AM ·

Y'all might be interested in this article in the New York Times from May 2006. (If you recognize the names Levitt and Dubner, you've probably read Freakonomics; they're the authors.)

May 21, 2009 at 05:04 AM ·

I was always told to work smart, not hard.

May 21, 2009 at 05:56 AM ·

Isn't smart work just another type of hard work? Work smart means you have to keep thinking and exploring.  To me, mindless repetition is a kind of laziness, no matter how many hours one puts in; it’s busy-laziness but not hard work.

May 21, 2009 at 06:34 AM ·


you are quite right Yixi.    If one is really focusing evryting intoones pracitce then ten minutes shoudl be really hard work.   Thats why Auer suggested a maximumo forty minutes  and then breaks.    I think most people ahve decided on some kind of arbitrary practice unt of one hour but I have rarely found anyone who can honestly do that effectively (at leats until they get to a very high level.)   Mst of what goes into thes elong kind of sessions is a coctail of improvement and error.  teh errod comes outin the cocnert....or in my typing which I have an explanation for now.  Wait with baited breath for the next blog.



May 21, 2009 at 03:41 PM ·


I’m pretty sure there’s such a thing as talent. However the research on the effectiveness of quality practice is much more conclusive. See (for example):
Williamson, Aaron, ed. Musical Excellence: Strategies and Techniques to Enhance Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
I believe talent is much harder to pin down, because is not a single entity, but rather a bundle of relevant aptitudes, including good hearing, physical dexterity, analytical skills, and, yes, the capacity to work hard and to do it intelligently; no doubt you could add a lot more to this list.
Add to that the right environment of expert teachers and supporting parents and other circumstances, and it becomes clear that there are a lot of variables that go into the development of a competition winner.
Also, we tend to forget that for each Japanese (or Korean or any other person for that matter) who gets are attention there are hundreds who slave away unsuccessfully. Many prizewinning violinists may be from certain countries, but what about all the violinists in those same countries who don’t make it?
Best wishes, 

May 21, 2009 at 04:00 PM ·

A super violin teacher in this area said that she has found over and over that the Asian students she works with seem to have more dexterity in their hands that we in the USA do.

May 21, 2009 at 06:38 PM ·

I think some people really have "talent".  But what Dimitri said is also very true.  I think a student should always "participate".  I love my teacher and respect her and listen to all her advice but I also suggest things sometimes.  The craziest thing I did was to declare one day unexpectedly that I was not using a rest anymore... Fourtunately she knew this technique and said it was ok.  But it was surprising because the students generally just assume that they have to use a rest because the teacher said so... She also asks my advice when we have to choose studies and pieces.  I can arrive with a fingering idea and we can discuss about it.  The terrible thing is the teachers who say.  Don't dare ask questions or suggest things because only me is right...   But of course, a teacher has 100 x more experiences but he/she is not in your body and you can sometimes have a good idea and it costs nothing to ask it!



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