It's all in the sound 

Seventh Quadrennial IVCI Wrap-up
Indiana History Center, Christel DeHaan Center, Hilbert Circle Theatre, Scottish Rite Cathedral
Sept. 1 – 17

Augustin Hadelich wins gold

And the winner is…  That’s what International Violin Competition of Indianapolis jury president Jaime Laredo effectively proclaimed last Saturday at 11:15 p.m. in the Hilbert Circle Theatre when he announced the 2nd-place silver medalist as Simone Lamsma, 20, of the Netherlands. Because then — like the rapidly waning Miss America beauty pageant — there was only one left unannounced: not only the only male player of the six finalists, but the sole man among 16 semifinalists (we saw a plethora of strikingly colored off-the-shoulder gowns this time around — one with daringly revealing cleavage): 22-year-old Augustin Hadelich of Germany, who deservedly won the gold.

The remaining four laureates are bronze medalist Celeste Golden (U.S.), 4th-place laureate Yura Lee (Korea), 5th-place laureate Ye-Eun Choi (Korea) and 6th-place laureate Bella Hristova (Bulgaria). For a list of the participants’ many ancillary awards, visit (Hadelich got most of them.)

Hadelich didn’t win from sympathy votes for his being a severe burn victim at age 19. He didn’t win because six of the eight jurors were men: male chauvinists. And, for me, he didn’t win because of most outstanding technique, best interpretive skills, most nuanced playing, greatest overall “musicality” — none of which he necessarily possessed. He got the gold because he played more beautifully than the other finalists. At the IVCI’s current participant level, sound counts for everything: bowing and the precise manner in which the players wave their left fingers on the fingerboard. However, and to give just due, I thought there were two or three others not making the finalist cut who made similarly beautiful sounds. Why did they fall out of contention?

First, there is the matter of loudness and dynamics: Stephanie Jeong of the U.S. was my gold-medal choice last week after hearing only her preliminary round. Perhaps playing a “weaker” instrument, she was all-too-often covered by her accompanist Rohan de Silva. As in 2002, de Silva’s penchant for overplaying his “accompanee” led, this time, to his own decision to drop the piano lid from its otherwise full-open position only when he accompanied. (Akira Aguchi and Nelson Padgett, the two other assigned accompanists, never interfered with our ability to judge the participants who had chosen them — both pianists using a fully opened lid). For Jeong, even that act was insufficient in the semis; her playing was just too soft. On the other hand, Italy’s Anna Tifu, who directly followed Jeong, had no problem competing with de Silva for attention . . . and playing beautifully also. Did these factors impinge  — even subliminally — on the jurors’ ratings? Evidently not in Tifu’s case; she was gone after the semis as well.

Celeste Golden’s ample sound easily carried over any accompaniment; she was my choice for silver medalist. Yura Lee, also easily heard, presented the most variable tone of any violinist I’ve ever heard at her playing level, from white (vibratoless) to multipitched wobbliness. Though many liked her, I thought her sound was more attention-getting than satisfying. Still, with the Bartók Concerto, Lee did “make a statement.”

The Classical finals at U of I’s Christel Dehaan Center with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and our own Hidetaro Suzuki returning to the podium saw the first IVCI performance of a Haydn Concerto, his No. 1 in C (1769), chosen by Hristova. Scored for strings and a harpsichord continuo, Hristova’s Haydn did little to enhance her standing as a finalist. Whereas Mozart’s tried and true 3rd, 4th and 5th concertos all flattered the playing of Lamsma, Lee, Choi and Golden. And Hadelich made a strong case for Mozart’s weaker 2nd concerto.

As it turned out, the “Romantic” finals, held at the Circle Theatre with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Samuel Wong, was a nearly complete misnomer. Of the six violin-concerto choices the finalists had previously made, only the Dvorak Concerto in A Minor, played by Golden, could be termed Romantic. The remainder were comprised of two hearings of the Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 (1955) and three of Bartók’s Concerto No. 2 (1938) — clearly both Modern works by any standard. I heard many critical comments regarding this phase’s lack of Romantic standards — plus overhearing one person proclaiming distress over the Dvorak selection. You just can’t please everybody. Perhaps Post-Classical or Romantic/Modern Finals would be a more apt naming of this round.

Special kudos go to the (only) four permanent IVCI staff members: executive director Glen Kwok, director of operations Mindy Miller, director of development JoEllen Bendall and director of public relations Cathy Strauss. These four presided over some 400 volunteers who worked in front of and behind the scenes to give us a splendidly run competition throughout the fortnight. We — perhaps more than they — look forward to 2010.

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