Violin rivalry: IVCI brings the world's best young players to Indy 

INFOBOX:

Eighth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis
Indiana History Center, Christel DeHaan Center,
Hilbert Circle Theatre, Scottish Rite Cathedral
Sept. 10-26
For more info: www.violin.org or 637-4574

Tickets: 639-4300

For those of us enraptured listening to a stream of highly talented fiddlers coming on stage, playing well-rehearsed, mostly familiar repertoire — assisted either by a pianist, an orchestra or no one, this September is much anticipated. The International Violin Competition of Indianapolis is the one event which every four years makes our fair city an arts destination, the one event-series which puts Indy on the world's cultural map.

Since 2000, Glen Kwok has been executive director of the competition. "After a lengthy international search, I was fortunate to be offered the position of executive director of the IVCI, less than two years before my first competition in 2002," Kwok said. "Needless to say, the learning curve upon my arrival in Indianapolis was steep due to the short amount of time between my hire and the 2002 event."

Speaking of this upcoming 2010 event, Kwok added: "In many respects, running my third competition is far easier than my first; however, since we try to always introduce new major components, it is far from routine. The vast array of activities that surrounds the competition is what creates a festival-like atmosphere. We have also taken full advantage of advances in technology, allowing audiences worldwide to experience the competition in a very personal and meaningful way via regular Internet streaming, Internet2 and even through our newly launched iPhone App."

Subhead: The Indianapolis

"The Indianapolis," as it is commonly called, vies with the Queen Elisabeth Competition of Brussels and the Sibelius Competition of Finland as the largest, for violin, in the world. Which of these offers the most in total prizes?

Kwok said, "While total prize monies awarded are comparable — Queen Elisabeth and Sibelius competitions offer 20,000 Euros to the winner. 'The Indianapolis' offers $30,000, which is slightly more, but the most important part of the prize is the four years of post-competition career management worth additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in concerts."

Those able to attend most of the Preliminaries - Sept. 12-15, Semifinals - Sept. 17-20, Classical Finals - Sept. 22-23, Finals (Romantic and Modern repertoire) - Sept. 24-25 and the Gala Awards - Sept. 26 feel that sense of excitement, the anticipation in experiencing treasured music. At the level of these participants, it is played with typically top-flight virtuosity but with subtly varying tonal qualities and musicality. In the process of listening and comparing, these attending faithfuls become cognoscenti: ersatz judges — armchair quarterbacks — who agree or disagree with the nine jury members, presided over for the fifth straight time by famed violinist and teacher Jaime Laredo.

While the jurors vote independently and in private, their choices are computer assembled, with program algorithms taking juror bias into account as far as is possible and eliminating the pecking-order influence plaguing earlier competitions. Though these awards and the jurors' choices have the greatest bearing on the award winning player benefits in the short term, one observes — in following the ensuing careers of the 42 past laureates (i.e. six finalists each) from all past competitions — that the cognoscenti may have been as much on-target as the jurors, since the IVCI's 1982 inaugural. This speaks to the subjectivity that runs rampant in assessing artistic excellence.

Subhead: Forty participants

For the first time, the Eighth has limited the number of participants to 40 (in 2006 it was 47), which allows for longer recitals in the preliminaries to continue to run within its customary four days. They range in age from 17 to 29 and come from all areas of the globe, especially China and the U.S. Of course Europe and the rest of Asia are well represented. For the first time, two of this year's entrants are Indy born and raised: Robin Scott, 24, and Eric Silberger, 21 [see sidebar], the latter returning from 2006, wherein he showed amazing virtuosic and tonal prowess and promise. Also returning from four years ago are Eunice Keem – 26 – U.S., Valentina Svyatovskaya – 27 – Russia and Stephanie Jeong – 23 – U.S., the latter, in my view, a potential medalist.

These 40 will all play in the preliminary rounds, held in the Indiana History Center's Basile Theater. From these, the jurors will pick 16 to advance to the semi-finals, also held at the IHC. Both rounds draw from the violin-piano or unaccompanied-violin repertoire. These 16 will be winnowed down to six finalists — i.e. laureates — for the Classical concerto finals, held at UIndy's Christel DeHaan Center with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and the Romantic/Modern concerto finals at the Hilbert Circle Theatre with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Samuel Wong returns to conduct both orchestral events.

Immediately following the Sept. 25 concert, the jurors cast their final individual votes, and the computer crunches out the rankings of the six laureates. By midnight or earlier, we learn who received the gold, silver and bronze medals and the fourth-through-sixth laureate rankings. In addition to cash, the top three get concert engagements and many other perks which decrease in order. The bottom three get fewer awards, being designated fourth, fifth and sixth-place laureates respectively, all ceremoniously granted the next afternoon in the Scottish Rite Auditorium.We then also learn of the special awards, hear each laureate in an excerpt, experience the accolades from various speakers and join in the general euphoria attendant to such events — with perhaps more than a few disappointments scattered here and there.

Subhead: A little bit o' history

Though the late Josef Gingold, world renowned violinist and teacher from IU, is usually credited as The Indianapolis's founder, the event was actually conceived and put together (with volunteer assistance) around 1980 by Thomas J. Beczkiewicz, then executive director of Cathedral Arts. Gingold acted as head juror in the '82, '86 and '90 competitions, ceding the position to Laredo in '94. Beczkiewicz served as the competition's executive director until 2000, when Kwok took the reins, Cathedral Arts as usable moniker having previously been "absorbed" by the IVCI.

Each of the previous seven gold and silver medalists have had successful careers, but with clear variations in career outcomes. Indeed it is impossible to distinguish between the relative success of the past seven first and second-place laureates based on their subsequent careers. They all have enjoyed initial tours — both competition sponsored and not — of the world's major orchestras, some more U. S. centered, others primarily in Europe, with Asian appearances for all.

Many eventually hold principal and associate-principal chairs in those major orchestras in which they earlier appeared as soloists. Others tend toward playing in chamber groups — but most end up on music-school faculties, with ample performing on the side. Very few spend an entire career making their primary living as marquee-level touring soloists. Those exalted (and perhaps taxing) positions cannot be predicted or prompted by a single competition over a single fortnight in a particular year, even, in our case, among each group of six laureates. But the IVCI as a world-class event is its own raison d'etre, as artistically meaningful to myriad live and electronic viewers as to the players.

For complete info on the other special events/exhibits, the participants, the jury and Joan Tower's new composition for the semi-finalists, visit www.violin.org. For specific competition information call 637-4574; for tickets call 639-4300.

Editors note: Tom Aldridge will be following the competition – in print and on nuvo.net.

SIDEBAR1: Participants

Here are our Indianapolis-based participants, Scott and Silberger, along with information about our cover subject, Yoon.

Robin Scott

24, United States

Winner of Second Prizes at the Menuhin International Violin Competition and both the Klein and Stulberg International String Competitions, Robin Scott has performed as soloist with esteemed orchestras like the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lille, in venues ranging from Carnegie's Weill Hall to the Kennedy Center. Having studied at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, Scott now attends the New England Conservatory; he plays on a violin generously loaned by Richard Hendrix.

Eric Silberger

21, United States

As an accomplished soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, Eric Silberger has performed alongside the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra among others, and has been featured on several international television and radio broadcasts. He is currently an honorary scholarship student in the Columbia University and The Julliard School Join Program. Majoring in economics and political science, Silberger also serves as president to Espresto Entertainment LLC, a member of Columbia Classical Performers and organizer of the BCJ concert series at Miller Theatre in New York.

Soyoung Yoon

25, South Korea

Sparking a successful musical career in which she would win prizes at both the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels and the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Soyoung Yoon received her first violin lesson at the age of five in her native South Korea. She has since toured as a soloist and chamber musician throughout Asia and Europe, receiving Grand Prize at the Odessa International David Oistrakh Violin Competition and First Prize at the Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2002. Currently enrolled at Switzerland's Zurich University of Arts, she has also received formal training from Musikhochschule Köln.

— NUVO staff

SIDEBAR2: The competition

I've been attending "The Indianapolis" since it began in 1982. Often sitting with my senior critic cohort and mentor, the late Charles Staff of the now defunct Indianapolis News, we shared and compared many views regarding the sometimes astonishing playing-level differences among the young violin participants in the early competitions — differences largely having disappeared as entrant playing caliber has risen precipitously up to the present. We often disagreed with the jurors as to which player deserved the highest accolades — and also often agreed with them. But interestingly, we mostly agreed with each other, and with most of the competition faithful in our ritual opinion sharing.

From these beginnings through 2002, the "silver medalist cult" formed, meaning that in the 1982, '86, '94 and '02 events there appeared a consensus that the second-place laureate was the better player and deserved the gold. This was not only my opinion but that of most others sharing views with me who were well into violin playing.

Almost to a person, the 2002 event was thought to have been won by the 17-year-old Armenian silver medalist, Sergey Khachatyran, to date the most thrilling player of the 42 laureate positions the IVCI has awarded. But Khachatryan, who clearly was piqued and ungrateful, has never returned to Indy, especially after winning the gold medal in the 2005 Brussels Queen Elisabeth.

In 1982 the bronze medalist was Yuval Yaron, who was so pissed at not winning the gold that he appeared at the awards ceremony chewing gum and wearing jeans.

In 1990 appeared the now infamous Blumita Singer from Brazil, who "sawed" her way through the Bach D minor "Chaconne" with myriad screeching, squeaking, pitch-straying and other indications that she didn't belong (to her credit, she did play it through from memory). She was quietly dismissed after the preliminaries.

In my view, the finest IVCI-awarded gold medalist was Augustin Hadelich (Germany) of 2006. Judith Ingolffson (Iceland) from 1998 was a close second. In 1982 and 1990, I felt that Mihaela Martin and Pavel Berman respectively did not deserve their gold-medal awards (in fairness, Berman did have a following among those present); the best players then were Ida Kavafian in '82 (silver) and David Kim (5th-place laureate) in '90. Both of the latter have enjoyed stellar careers.

As a final comment, it would be interesting to see the scoring of each individual juror before the computer melds them together to see the voting ranges. However, in the final analysis, all informed opinions — mine and all the others I've mentioned, have only statistical and not individual validity. They forecast who should be laureates and who shouldn't be. But audiences, local and worldwide always seem to need a winner, a runner-up, etc. "The Indianapolis" gives them more worthy choices than most others. — TA

Sidebar 3: IVCI Laureates

(Laureates are listed in order of placement)

2006 Competition

* Augustin Hadelich, Germany

* Simone Lamsma, The Netherlands

* Celeste Golden, United States

* Yura Lee, South Korea

* Ye-Eun Choi, South Korea

* Bella Hristova, Bulgaria

2002 Competition

* Barnabás Kelemen, Hungary

* Sergey Khachatryan, Armenia

* Soovin Kim, United States

* Frank Huang, United States

* Susie Park, Australia

* Alina Pogostkin, Germany

1998 Competition

* Judith Ingolfsson, Iceland

* Liviu Prunaru, Romania

* Ju-Young Baek, South Korea

* Svetlin Roussev, Bulgaria

* Andrew Haveron, Great Britain

* Bin Huang, China

1994 Competition

* Juliette Kang, Canada

* Stefan Milenkovich, Yugoslavia

* David Chan, United States

* Jaakko Kuusisto, Finland

* Michiko Kamiya, Japan

* Robin Sharp, United States

1990 Competition

* Pavel Berman, Russia

* Marco Rizzi, Italy

* Ivan Chan, United States

* Virginie Robilliard, France

* David Kim, United States

* Martin Beaver, Canada

1986 Competition

* Kyoko Takezawa, Japan

* Leonidas Kavakos, Greece

* Andrés Cárdenes, United States

* Chin Kim, South Korea

* Sungsic Yang, South Korea

* Annick Roussin, France

1982 Competition

* Mihaela Martin, Romania

* Ida Kavafian, United States

* Yuval Yaron, Israel

* Olivier Charlier, France

* Nai-Yuan Hu, Taiwan

* Yuriko Naganuma, Japan

Speaking of...

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