This month, 34 young violinists from 11 countries will battle it out for a top prize of USD50,000 plus the loan of a rare violin and impressive touring schedule. Clare Wiley speaks to jury chair Qian Zhou about the calibre of an extremely impressive cohort
“Asia’s grand prix for the best emerging violinists”: it’s a bold claim for a competition in only its second year. But the team behind the Singapore International Violin Competition (SIVC) are hard at work to ensure their tagline holds true.
The triennial SIVC, which is hosted by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and holds its next edition in January 2018, will award more than USD110,000 (€9,440) in prize money. But as jury chair Qian Zhou tells me, it’s not just about the cash.
“The inaugural competition in 2015 was a wonderful success, so we definitely want to make this edition just as great,” she says. “There is a strong competition circuit globally, so one of the challenges SIVC faces is to set it apart from the others. SIVC does this by having a strong purpose, not to just reward finalists financially, but to support and nurture emerging talents in a holistic way.
“Of course, the prize money offered at SIVC is appealing; first place will win USD50,000. However, the type of support that SIVC provides is substantial: performance opportunities, and most uniquely, three years of rare and fine violin loans from the Rin Collection for all six winners.”
Competing for this appealing package early next year are 34 young violinists from 11 countries: China, Switzerland, the US, the UK, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Austria, Singapore, New Zealand – and a significant number coming from South Korea and Japan.
Qian Zhou says the standard of applicants this year was exceptionally high. “As in 2015, the first round of the 2018 competition involved candidates learning a repertoire and submitting tapes of their performances,” she explains. “Assessing through listening alone takes away the visual distraction and allows the judges to focus solely on the music for a ‘pure’ review of each performance.”
The first edition of SIVC was won by Tseng Yu-Chien – known as Benny – who has since established himself as a successful soloist and Deutsche Grammophon recording artist.
“The things SIVC judges listened for include a range of colours, musical characterisation, stylistic awareness, sound quality, technical fluency, intonation, accuracy, dynamic range, creativity, and ensemble / textural awareness.”
The 2018 jury features Mauricio Fuks, Kam Ning, Kim Nam Yun, Boris Kuschnir, Silvia Marcovici, Paul Roczek, David Takeno, and Viktor Tretiakov.
This year’s repertoire is wide ranging, with the first round including pieces by Bach, Paganini and Kreisler. The semi-final includes a commissioned work, Clara-Luna, for solo violin, by composer Chen Zhangyi. Zhangyi’s work has been recorded by the London Symphony and Eric Whitacre Singers, and he has previously collaborated with ensembles such as Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and Hong Kong New Music Ensemble.
The finals, conducted by artist-in-residence Shlomo Mintz, will require the competitors to perform Mozart concertos, while the grand final, to be led by maestro Joshua Tan, features concertos by Brahms, Sibelius and Prokofiev.
Certainly, the rewards for winners are plenty. In addition to the cash prizes, the six winners will receive trophies from Tiffany & Co. They’re also eligible for a loan from the violin collection of the late Mr Rin Kei Mei, and his wife, Mrs Rin – thought to be one of the most valuable in the world. The instruments include Guadagnini, Joannes Baptista (1753), Ex-D’annunzio-Baccara Stradivari, Antonio (1680), Pressenda, Francesco (1840), Tononi, Carlo (1719), Montagnana, Domenico (1721), Lorenzo Storioni, Cremona (1793).
Of course ticket sales – and reaching people who wouldn’t usually engage with classical music – are also key to their endeavour. To that end, ticket prices are very affordable, with free entry to the opening rounds at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, followed by starting prices of SGD10 for the semi-finals.
SIVC is partnering with local radio station Kiss FM, rather than a classical music station, in a bid to reach those who might not be familiar with the genre. Younger listeners are, in particular, a target market. The team anticipate that having Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz as art- ist-in-residence will serve as an additional draw for audiences, particularly those who might travel from overseas to watch the competition.
SIVC runs from 28 January to 8 February 2018, at the YST Concert Hall, Victoria Concert Hall and Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore.