(with material contributed by Cathy Strauss) For the arts world, "the Indianapolis" is almost the equal of the "500" in the sports world. A plethora of performances, big prizes and a festival atmosphere characterize the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) every fourth September. "The ultimate violin contest Ö" writes the Chicago Tribune. Many laureates of "the Indianapolis" have emerged as outstanding artists in concert halls around the world. Though possibly a bit ironic, it is also predictable that the greatest successes have not always gone to the gold medalists - anymore than the "500" winners have always proven the best racers.
Judith Ingolfsson, 1998 Gold Medalist if the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. (Photo By Christian Steiner)
During this Sept. 6-22, Indianapolis is the most important place to be for those who consider themselves rising violin talents. Forty-five of these people are coming here to perform before enthusiastic audiences, mostly playing concert/recital standards. The IVCI agenda provides a broad survey of the violin repertoire in performances using several venues, including the Indiana Historical Society, the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center and the Hilbert Circle Theatre, where finalists perform with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the top three finalists usually get to perform again at the Gala Awards Ceremony, this time on Sept. 22, and always at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Auditorium. "Violin fever" describes this "truly remarkable violin experience," according to the London-based magazine The Strad. Following the IVCI"s debut in 1982, the World Federation of International Music Competitions - the international sanctioning body headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland - officially recognized it. It is the only violin competition so recognized in North America. Under the guidance of founding director Thomas J. Beczkiewicz and the late Josef Gingold, who had served on the juries of every major violin competition in the world, the IVCI became known by the musical and media communities as one of the world"s most compelling competitions. In 1994, the competition"s leadership passed from Gingold to one of his most famous pupils, Jaime Laredo, an internationally celebrated violinist. And this year its direction has been transferred from the retired Beczkiewicz to Glen Kwok, who recently took over all IVCI activities (see Kwok"s accompanying bio, Pg. 8). It has continued to attract distinguished jurors and talented applicants from all continents and includes some unique prize packages. Perhaps the most valued of these for an aspiring concert artist is the loan of the 1683 Stradivari violin and Tourte bow previously owned by Gingold to the gold medalist or one of his/her fellow laureates for the four years following the competition. "The Indianapolis" was designed with greater-than-usual emphasis on the non-competitive elements of the event. It focuses on opportunities available to all participants: the chance to perform before large audiences, to measure one"s musical progress against the standards of a distinguished jury, the artistry of his/her fellow participants and the benefit of career seminars held during the event. Since 1982, Indianapolis has hosted five competitions. During each of them, musicians and music lovers from all parts of the world have focused their attention on Indianapolis. It stands as a unique local showcase for the world"s most gifted young violinists, and as a demonstration of Hoosier hospitality and pride in the spirit of American volunteerism. Each competition generates significant national and international media coverage for the artists and the area. The financial support of individuals, corporations, foundations and local government, as well as the physical support of hundreds of volunteers, has enabled the event"s success. The influence of the competition continues through the performances of its winners, in many cases for years afterward, in cities around the globe. Those who win will hopefully uphold the tradition of quality and excellence that has made the IVCI among the most prestigious music competitions in the world. A number of interesting IVCI highlights over the past 20 years have shown the all-too-human elements that invade social and cultural activities. For example: Who, among these people, can ever forget the infamous Blumita Singer, a 1990 participant from Brazil? Evidently having been accepted from an alledged bogus tape of her playing, Singer appeared during the first-day preliminaries and "sawed" her way through Bach"s D Minor Chaconne with more misses than hits, more scratches than tones, and provided a distinct reminder of the late Jack Benny when he was deliberately trying to play badly. After her only appearance, Singer was summarily ejected and erased from the participant list by the jury and competition directors, who were naturally embarrassed at their faux pas, and apparently wished to make her a non-person. Yet her appearance became the talk of that competition, with many media personalities who hadn"t actually heard her weighing in on her playing. More effective screening has reportedly precluded that kind of incident from happening again. Then there was Yuval Yaron"s appearance at the 1982 awards ceremony as the bronze medalist. The young Israeli sauntered out wearing a plaid shirt and faded jeans while chewing gum as obviously as he could; he was expressing strong displeasure at not being chosen the top player. Since then Yaron has matured and vindicated his high self-estimate in a career including a goodly mix of teaching and performing (including a lengthy stint on the IU music faculty). Ida Kavafian, the 1982 silver medalist, has had the most stellar career of the first set of IVCI finalists, primarily as a chamber player - serving for a time as violinist for the world-famed Beaux Arts Trio. Despite the hoopla at the time, these were minor events which certainly had no real negative impact on the competition"s highly held esteem. In fact, the last (1998) IVCI had players with the highest-average caliber of any held so far, and, in my opinion, the finest gold medalist in Judith Ingolfsson, who has continued to impress in each of her subsequent local appearances. One looks forward to a similar caliber in the 45 participants scheduled to appear during the sixth IVCI, the schedule of events for which is given below.