Michael Hill Violin Competition Round 2


The Michael Hill Violin Competition, the most prestigious New Zealand violin competition, started its second round on Sunday, June 5. On the ground is Miranda Adams, the associate concertmaster of the Auckland Symphony Orchestra, who was willing to give us her report on the competition.

“There are no duds here, and everybody deserves to be here,” says Adams. The 18 semi-finalists competing represent a wide range of countries and ages. The youngest, Canadian Maia Cabeza (18 years old) is a lovely and relaxed performer, very welcoming to the audience. Her mellow sound is almost… “too relaxed,” Adams admits, but still says that she has a lot going for her in this competition.

One of the Americans, Stefani Collins, had the (mis)fortune of being the first player in this round. And yet, she turned that pressure into passion, playing a sweeping two movements from Prokofiev’s Sonata no. 1 in D Major. Adams commented that the “music flowed out of her in such an intense fashion that everyone loved that performance.”

Michael Hill Violin Competition, Round 2: Stefani Collins plays the first two movements of the Prokofiev first violin sonata

Adams says it is difficult to really say that who you like over another. Michael Hill Violin Competition always attracts top-notch musicians; this year is certainly no exception. And yet, in any pool there are those who will excel.

“Certainly there are a few people who have stood out…” Adams remarks.

Luke Hsu, originally from China but now studying in the US, has a great personal style. He has a very friendly presence on stage. Moreover, he has a lot of his own ideas and is not afraid to take risks musically. In addition, Martha Cohen of Germany is blooming in the second round. She played the John Psathas work Gyftiko (required of all competitors) for memory. Adams noted that “she really got into it in a way that others didn’t; her interpretation was very powerful.”

Michael Hill Violin Competition, Round 2: Two different interpretations of John Psathas’ Gyftiko (Martha Cohen and Luke Hsu)

What Miranda Adams is looking for, and likely what the judges are searching for in their top finalists, is not simply technical precision and skill, but also the ability of someone to play their music in their own fashion. Those  who stand out are demonstrating that sophisticated and mature understanding of their music.

In Michael Hill Violin Competition, however, everyone seems to be bringing their own unique style to the stage. With such a diverse group of players, there really is a little bit of everything. For example, in round 1 Russian Sergey Malov performed his Bach in a traditionally authentic manner, taking into account many of the quintessential characteristics of Baroque-era music. He even came on stage with two bows.

Contrast this to the Korean quartet that has assembled in New Zealand. All four Korean competitors study with the same teacher, and all four of them tend towards a more “Romantic” take on Bach and Mozart, very strong on the string. Yet, Adams notes that even though you can tell they have the same teacher, they all also have a little bit of individuality. Adams herself has been convinced by several different interpretations of what she’s heard, even ones that differ from her own sense of how the music should be played.

That diversity of ideas is one of the signs of a truly great competition. And that variety seems to be matched by the diversity in the judges panel:

We’ve got Lara St. John, a groundbreaking violinist from Canada with her own individual style. We’ve got Tasmin Little from the UK and of course with her work with the Naked Violin she’s proven to be a real personality. Then we’ve got the great Cho Liang-Lin, a legend… and the list goes on… I don’t need to list everybody, but my point is that it is great to have such a diverse range of personalities judging a competition like this. It empowers the competitors to be individuals. It doesn’t focus on the “Russian” style, or the “German” style, or the “New American” style. (For example) we’ve heard so many different types of Bach it’s fantastic.

Indeed in the first round, which tested the participants on their Bach and Mozart, the audience and the judges heard multiple renditions of the same Bach pieces (particularly the ciaconna from the second partita).

The second round of the Michael Hill Violin Competition has a different set of standards, including a requirement for the Psathas’ Gyftiko and Paganini’s Caprices. Beyond that there is some flexibility. The semi-finalists must play selections from a “Romantic” period sonata, as well as a virtuosic work. The term “Romantic” seems to be used somewhat loosely here, including composers such as Beethoven, Debussy and, Prokofiev (as we saw above).

The competition featured some of the hallmark virtuoso pieces such as La Campanella (Paganini), Tzigane (Ravel), and Intro & Rondo Capriccioso (Saint-Saens), although China’s Luosha Fang chose Hubay’s edition of the Carmen Fantasy over the more-common Sarasate version.

Miranda Adams is quite lucky to be witness to all of the action in the front row, sitting next to no less than Michael Hill himself! Neither one of them are missing a beat, and Adams is aware of how fortunate she is to know that she will be playing with the three finalists next week.

I don’t think anybody has left the hall once for any competitor so far. And we’re talking about 200 people in the audience, which for a competition with many, many rounds is actually really good.

The second round concludes Monday June 6, at which point there will remain only 6 competitors.

Check back later today when we announce the six semi-finalists who will advance to round III of the Michael Hill Violin Competition

UPDATE: Winners Announced!

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