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From the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition: Hannover Semifinals Marathon I

Heather Kurzbauer

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Published: October 4, 2015 at 7:58 PM [UTC]

To the uninitiated, Hannover, Germany’s Saxon trade fair capital might seem to be an unlikely location for a major violin competition. A short trip down memory lane instructs that no less a light than Joseph Joachim, founding father of the Berlin Conservatory and a fervent champion of all things Brahms, spent his formative musical years as concertmaster of George V’s Hannover orchestra.

JoachimJoachim’s diplomatic skills changed the face of accepted repertoire: he insisted on showcasing Wagner, a leap of faith for the Jewish-born Joachim and patiently taught the benevolent monarch the ins and outs of listening to ‘modern’ music.

The Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition, under way right now through Oct. 10, pays much more than lip service to its illustrious forefather: its commitment to musical development echoes Joachim’s emphasis on education and his devotion to building a musical tradition where a solid technique is the foundation upon which creativity and artistic freedom rests.

The semifinals at the 9th Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition started off with a level-setting recital program given by the diminutive Christine Lim (US/Korea). Looks as we have all learned can be deceiving. (If you wish to hear these performance, click here to listen to the livestream and click here to view archived performances.) A powerful player with an impressively loaded toolbox of violinistic skills, Lim’s performances were remarkably even. Like many a young competitor, she erred on the side of caution: instead of opening her program within her musical comfort zone, Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne or Kreisler’s La Gitana, she started with Brahms G major Sonata, op. 78. Although the imaginative Thomas Hoppe did all he could to gird her on to greater flights of fancy, her rendition was conservative both in terms of palette and interpretation. Coming into her own in the Stravinsky, Lim showed a deep affinity to the Baroque idiom and Stravinsky’s wit.

2015 Semi-Finalists in the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition. Photo by Ole Spata

To experience the piano artistry of the Sri Lankan-born Rohan da Silva as he encouraged the second candidate, Russian violinist Marina Graumann to come to the fore reminded the audience of the universality of music even as projected in the competitive arena. It goes without saying that contemporary contests showcase numerous nationalities and diverse schools of technique and interpretation. To witness this diversity in its highest musical form is a delight unto itself. Graumann took the plunge by opening her program with Ravel’s Tzigane a risky choice in the competitive sphere. After all, the pianist literally sits and waits as the violin soloist spins tales of gypsy lore putting the pressure squarely on the violinist’s shoulders. For a competitor whose temperament was larger than her ability to control both nerves and sound production, this challenge was decisive.

The Joachim competition chooses not to list the instruments played by semifinalists: after all, the proof of a meritorious performance lies in the playing not in the instrument’s pedigree. However, the third recitalist, Amalia Hall (New Zealand) was clearly at a disadvantage with an instrument that balked rather than blessed. Like the two violinists who preceded her, she also took too much of a risk in terms of recital order. To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘a competition is a competition’ and calls for astuteness in terms of programming and program order.

For the first three semifinalists, the best of their renditions were not presented at the outset. Hall’s Prokofiev Sonata no. 1 in f minor lacked true grit and staying power. The stark first movement demands pathos and managed musical aggression that lay far beyond Hall’s power. Her ability to spin a breathtaking line as evidenced by the initial phrases in Schubert’s Grand Duo would have given the audience a much worthier introduction to this young artist’s gifts. Hall’s Wieniawski Polonaise showed panache and drive; indeed, a pity that memories of Prokofiev lingered.

Last but certainly not least, the Ukrainian violinist Diana Tishchenko brought the house down with an artfully constructed program that opened with Bartok’s Solo Sonata Sz 117. The great Gyorgy Sebok opined, ‘What is night music? Bartok’s night music does not refer to a person who sings in the night, it is that magical moment when the night sings to you.” Tishchenko was not only artful in her riveting command of Bartok’s fiendish score; she brought night in all its mystery to a rapt concert hall. Sharing the stage with fiance and fine pianist Joachim Carr, Tishchenko wove a fantasy of changing colors through her mature interpretation of Brahms' d minor Sonata op. 108.

The compulsory composition, Cut-up by the Berlin-based British composer David Robert Coleman was treated to no less than four world premieres in one day! A composer of great aptitude and modesty, Coleman writes, “I wish to claim the violinist for my composition like an actor, who has already studied many roles and is interested in taking his art to the next level.” One of the joys of contests that cultivate contemporary pieces is the chance to experience so many successive interpretations. Whereas Hall seemed to flounder in her understanding of the score, both Graumann and Tishchenko reveled in their discoveries of a new vernacular.

To cap off the Hannover musical marathon day 1, the public was invited to an evening program featuring the 2003 First Prize Winner, Nemanja Radulovic as soloist in Samuel Barber’s violin concerto.

Nemanja Radulovic
Namanja Radulovic

The Deutsche Grammophon artist whose album, Journey East, boasts a heady mix of Balkan and classical offerings, brings back memories of the British progressive rockers who formed the band Jethro Tull in the late 1960s. Radulovic’s ripped clothes, onstage swagger, head banging and wide repertoire of grimaces could detract from his fiery musicianship, yet the artist does command the stage and his chosen repertoire. Unfortunately, conductor Karen Kemensek could not keep the Lower Saxony State Orchestra from blasting the Barber score at ear-splitting volume. As Radulovic was running around the stage, the orchestra took its chance to cover his playing. Fortunately, the audience darling was able to show his prodigious technical prowess in an encore that took high speed Paganini to the Balkans on a raucous, thrilling ride.

Who knows what the future will hold for the 2015 competition winner?

Posted on October 5, 2015 at 9:42 AM
Thank you for your summary work, its nice to read! Do you know if the Concert of Nemanja Radulovic was recorded aswell? I heard him in an Gala Concert at the competition some years ago with Khachaturian and it was amazing! About the current competition I am very curious about the Japanese Ayana Tsuji, her Bach was beautiful in sound and cultivated. Her intonation was the best from all in the competition I heard so far. She seems to me like she could manage the crucial Mozart rounds and give a nice final concerto.

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