Sunniva Skaug wint 2e prijs bij PCC West 1

Afgelopen weekend is de “Regiofinale West-1” van het Prinses Christina Concours (PCC) gehouden in Rotterdam. Uit altviolistisch oogpunt een bijzondere editie, want  onder de 62 deelnemers bevonden zich maar liefst 10 altviolisten, dit is naar ons weten nog nooit voorgekomen!

Als enige onder hen drong Sunniva Skaug (16 jaar, Delft) door tot de finale, waar ze uiteindelijk een mooie 2e Prijs behaalde in Categorie 2 (15-18 jaar).

Haar programma bestond uit het 2e deel uit de altvioolsonate van A. Rubinstein, en het spetterende 3e deel uit het altvioolconcert van Henk Badings, met pianobegeleiding door Gerard Boeters. Sunniva is leerlinge van Julia Dinerstein aan het Hellendaal instituut in Rotterdam..

Behalve het mooie klassement won Sunniva ook een solistisch optreden met Domestica Rotterdam, en voor haar bijzondere vertolking van een hedendaagse Nederlandse compositie (Badings) ontving ze een passe-partout voor de Gaudeamus Muziekweek 2020. 

Gefeliciteerd, Sunniva!

De volledige uitslag van PCC West-1 2020 vindt u hier.

Steffie de Konink wint 1e prijs bij PCC Zuid 2

Afgelopen weekend is de “Regiofinale Zuid-2” van het Prinses Christina Concours (PCC) gehouden in Maastricht.

Steffie de Konink in de finale van PCC Zuid-2 2020 (foto: MajankaFotografie)

De 18-jarige altvioliste Steffie de Konink uit Delfgauw won de 1e Prijs in Categorie 3 (conservatoriumstudenten t/m 19 jaar). Ze speelde bij deze aanleiding een deel uit de altvioolsonate van Rebecca Clarke. Steffie is 1e jaars Bachelor studente altviool bij Julia Dinerstein aan het Conservatorium van Maastricht.

Behalve de eerste plek en de lovende woorden van de jury, ontving Steffie ook een Masterclassprijs (aangeboden door de Stichting Elisabeth en Frans Stump), een muziekbonnenprijs, en een plek in de Nationale Halve Finale van PCC, op zondag 5 april as.

Gefeliciteerd, Steffie!

De volledige uitslag van PCC Zuid-2 2020 vindt u hier.


Elin Haver wint 1e prijs bij PCC West-2

Het Concoursseizoen 2020 is weer volop begonnen. In Zaandam en Haarlem werd afgelopen weekend de Regiofinale West-2 van het Prinses Christina Concours (PCC) gehouden. In deze regio is de competitie (zeker bij de strijkers) heel zwaar, het is dus extra leuk wanneer een altviolist(e) hier met een prijs wordt beloond.

Elin Haver in actie bij de finale. (Foto: MajankaFotografie/PCC)

De 16-jarige altvioliste Elin Haver uit Amstelveen won de 1e Prijs in Categorie 2 (15-19 jaar). Ze speelde in deze finale het 3e deel uit de 1e cellosuite van Bach en het Scherzo uit de F-A-E sonate van Brahms. Elin viel vorig jaar al op bij het Brittenconcours in Zwolle, waar ze een mooie 2e prijs kreeg. Ze is leerlinge van Judith Wijzenbeek bij de jong talentenklas van het Conservatorium van Amsterdam.

Naast de eervolle titel won ze ook een optreden met het Monward Consort, (aangeboden door de Stichting Kamermuziek Warmond), en een plek in de Nationale Halve Finale van PCC, op zondag 5 april as.

Bij deze regiofinale kreeg tevens de 18-jarige altviolist Simon Rosier uit Zoetermeer een eervolle vermelding.

De DVS feliciteert beiden van harte – trots op “onze” altviolisten! 🙂

De volledige uitslag van PCC West-2 2020 vindt u hier.

Report from Amsterdam Viola Festival 2019

The Dutch Viola Society has become a traditional presence and contributor at the bi-annual Amsterdam Viola Festival (AVF) and National Viola Competition. This year’s edition is no exception. Here’s a report from this year’s AVF, which took place this past week at the Conservatory of Amsterdam (CvA).

by Kristofer G. Skaug

Note 1: Expressions of personal opinion are entirely those of the author, and do not represent an official view of the Dutch Viola Society.

Note 2: For layout reasons, most pictures have been scaled down in size. Click on the images to view the full-size versions!

Note 3: This is a long blog post covering multiple days of festival activities. If you are particularly interested in a specific event, use the links below to skip forward:

Thursday, November 14th
Friday, November 15th
Saturday, November 16th: DVS National Viola Gathering
Sunday, November 17th: National Viola Competition Final


Thursday, November 14th

Usually, the DVS aspires to report from the National Viola Competition preliminary rounds, but due to limited resources, we could not consistently attend the 1st and 2nd rounds of this year’s competition. But we did put up our customary information table in the canteen, which this year included a plethora of fun viola merchandize (leftovers from last year’s IVC congress in Rotterdam).

The Thursday evening concert featured CvA Faculty (Francien Schatborn, Marjolein Dispa, Richard Wolfe, Michel Dispa, Peter Brunt) in various ensembles. Among the many highlights, our local reporter was particularly enthusiastic about featured artist Garth Knox‘s performance of his own composition Cinq petites entropies for viola d’amore.


Friday, November 15th

No competition activities today, but lots of masterclasses given by the CvA viola faculty and the festival guest artists, Veit Hertenstein and Garth Knox. One of our local DVS members caught a glimpse into the Garth Knox master class (photo on the left).

The evening concert brought a complete set of new viola transcriptions, such as Beethoven’s Horn sonata op.17 (played by Nobuko Imai and Martijn Willers) and Bartok’s Violin sonata no.2 (again Nobuko Imai, with Rie Tanaka on the piano). One cannot cease to admire Nobuko’s vitality and fantastic playing, it’s as if she has decided to never age. What a privilege for the Conservatory of Amsterdam to have her on the faculty (and for the DVS to have her as honorary member)!

After the break, we heard featured artist Veit Hertenstein, first together with his student Martin Moriarty (a recent graduate of the CvA, and a runner-up in the 2017 National Viola Competition) in the viola-duo transcription of Five pieces for two violins and piano by Shostakovich. He went on to play a selection of Shostakovich’s violin Preludes op. 34 (on the viola of course). But his main title for this evening was a viola transcription of Schumann’s 2nd violin sonata (op.121). It’s quite a lengthy composition, but mr. Hertenstein played it very well. It’s a good thing to broaden the horizons of this obviously viola-centric crowd with some non-viola music, there are many more options out there in the classical repertoire waiting to be explored through viola transcriptions.


Saturday, November 16th: DVS National Viola Gathering

Another competition-free day started out with more masterclasses at the Conservatory. We spent some time visiting the luthier tables in the Mezzanine upstairs. A good opportunity to test-drive some instruments and chat with the viola builders! It struck me that all conservatories should really organize yearly “meet an instrument builder” days for their string students to get properly informed about this hugely important supporting aspect of their future profession. To my knowledge, this is not systematically done today.

But on to this day’s main course: The DVS National Viola Gathering! The performing arts “community house” Splendor Amsterdam is located only some 10 minutes’ walk from the Conservatory, with two beautiful chamber music recital halls and a very nice bar / lounge area. The DVS has already hosted several events here.

This afternoon’s viola gathering started out with a “scratch” viola ensemble/orchestra in the attic room of Splendor, getting together to play under the direction of DVS president Karin Dolman. Even yours truly had brought a viola, and settled in with the 4th viola group :-). We first played “A Modal March” by John Whittaker, the winning composition from last year’s 4Viola Composition Contest (sponsored by DVS and premiered at the IVC2018). It’s a very playable piece (even for amateurs)! Next, we played Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite, arranged for violas-only by P. Taylor, one of the transcription musketeers of the famous AbsoluteZero Viola Quartet. This piece was considerably more challenging, due to the fast paces (renaissance dances) pimped with surprising 20th century harmonies. All in all, this ensemble session was good, clean viola fun 🙂

The ensuing “Talk Show” session convened a large audience in the main recital hall, where three violist-composers shared their experiences: Max Knigge (moderator), Garth Knox and Oene van Geel. The overarching topic was ‘composing for the viola’, but the conversation took many interesting detours, such as the relationship between composing and improvising (quote Garth Knox: “I often improvise when I see something in the score that I can’t figure out how to play“). There was plenty of interaction with questions from the audience, so the allotted hour flew by quickly!

The viola crowd was next treated to a tasty meal, cooked and served by DVS (special thanks to Karin again!), a chicken cassarole with rice (including a vegetarian mushroom sauce option) and a raspberry/yoghurt dessert. It was good to have an hour off from blow-by-blow festival programming and still be together with lots of viola friends.

So next, it was time for the traditional Viola Pitch: an opportunity for every violist to promote his or her pet topic, idea, project etc. I have to apologise at this point for hogging an inordinate amount of speaking time for plugging the DVS, but in the end there was also time for a couple of other speakers.

Shortly after 20:00h, the densely programmed Evening concert started.

A foursome of first-year students (Simon Rosier, Ana Castro, Ida Weidner and Elisa Misas Santos) treated us to a rare performance of Rita Hijman‘s viola quartet from 2006, originally dedicated to Esther Apituley. It is an interesting piece, and should be performed more often! The composer was herself present in the audience, and received an extra well-deserved round of applause. This was followed by a heartwarming rendition of Frank Bridge’s very popular (among violists) Lament for 2 violas, by Carlos Delgado and Sergio Montero del Pozo.

The preliminary rounds of the National Viola Competition customarily prescribe specific solo works. In tonight’s concert, the jury’s favourite interpretations were encored. The programme included a movement (of choice) from Bach’s violin Sonatas and Partitas. Dagmar Korbar had selected the Andante from Sonata no. 2, a beautiful and meditative movement with a very characteristic continuo heartbeat on (mostly) open strings. Dagmar found a way of phrasing and stretching this pulse along with the melody, without sounding artificial or pretentious. Even though her rendition this evening wasn’t technically perfect, and even though I hadn’t heard any of her competitors’ Bach performances, it was clear to me that her interpretation fully deserved the jury’s acclaim.

Another mandatory piece (in the 2nd round) was the well-known Capriccio by Vieuxtemps (dedicated to Paganini). Seamus Hickey‘s interpretation was authentic and free, revealing fresh ways of navigating the many virtuosic turns.

The 2017 National Viola Competition winner, Take Konoye, was given the privilege of performing York Bowen’s Phantasy Quartet with his very own dream team of viola friends: Martin Moriarty, Carlos Delgado and José Nunes. Next to the overall excellence of this performance, I particularly enjoyed Martin Moriarty’s contributions on the 2nd viola, with a lot of deeply vibrant personality.

And then, a true highlight of this evening: Garth Knox performing his own Pocket Concerto – thusly named thanks to the very “affordable” orchestra accompaniment of a single cello, played by Esther ten Kate. Garth and Esther gave us a fantastic performance, rich in textures and colours, with clear folk music inspirations. Afterward, I heard many spontaneous resolves from the violists in the audience to add this piece to their repertoire.

After the break, the CvA Viola Class (and faculty) took the floor, playing a recap of their programme from the IVC in Rotterdam: First, the ensemble piece Cohort, violas only by Maurice Horsthuis. Conductor Max Knigge fused the 20+ violas into a well-tuned and finely synchronized organism, producing striking rhythmic patterns and colourful harmonics. He went on to lead the orchestra in his own composition Achille, Ajax & Moi (op.4, 2008), with Take Konoye as soloist. This piece comes in nine short episodes with varying characters. From the rear of the tutti 1st viola section, Duleen van Gunsteren supplied imaginative special effects, blowing and humming into his viola, and producing eerie scratching and squeaking sounds using extended bowing techniques (no viola joke, this time).

As an encore, the orchestra played (their own 1st-year member) Ida Weidner‘s transcription of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, a highly appreciated and fitting close of this concert.

But it wasn’t over yet! No proper festival can do without a bit of informal late-night music making. Up in the attic, the party continued into the wee hours. The Sister Act of Ursula and Sunniva Skaug kicked things off with Message Ground by Robert Davidson, a canon for 2 violas and tape, based on Message in a Bottle by The Police.

José Nunes played the beautiful miniature Le Soir by Vierne, and Duleen van Gunsteren threw in some solo pieces. Lillian Haug surprised and delighted us by combining virtuosic drumming and viola playing in a one-(wo)man jazz set, and the 1st-year quartet (which played Hijmans earlier this evening) played another Beatles arrangement. And then … Oene van Geel swept up the whole crowd for an extended jam session with drums, piano, treble violin (cool!) and at least 10 violas. We left Splendor at 1 o’clock in the morning, thoroughly and suitably drenched in viola, viola, and viola everything!


Sunday, November 17th: Final of the National Viola Competition

The final (and in this case, beautifully sunny) day of the 2019 Amsterdam Viola Festival is all about the Final round of the National Viola Competition. Remarkably, the three finalists are all undergraduate 2nd- and 1st-year students (in previous years, quite naturally, a majority of the finalists were at least Master students or even post-graduate). There are no native Dutch among the finalists, but two Irishmen and a Croatian. Maybe we should rename the competition “Dutch Open” :-).

This year marked the first time that the competition finalists had a full orchestra at their disposal: the CvA Symphony Orchestra (dubbed Philharmonic Fridays), led by Ed Spanjaard. The mandatory piece in this round was the “Brahms viola concerto“, actually a transcription of Brahms’ clarinet/viola sonata op.120 no.1 by Luciano Berio.

The first finalist is Seamus Hickey. We heard him yesterday in his very free and evocative Vieuxtemps Capriccio, and he needs and takes these freedoms also in Brahms. Unfortunately, this “chamber musical” approach sometimes proves difficult for a big orchestra to follow. Which begs the following question: When a sonata is re-cast as a concerto, should it still be regarded and played like chamber music? His interpretation is lively and heartfelt, and his face shows clear signs of the enormous mental and emotional energy that he invests in his performance. But his sound sometimes lacks volume, and his attempts to compensate results in some texture cracks.

How different is Dagmar Korbar’s appearance! She stands poised and calm in her black dress, almost aloof in her facial expression, unperturbed by the high stakes of the situation. Her tone is polished, clear and powerful, and her technique is impeccable. The performance is very convincing. I do wonder if her remarkable self-control also hides a wilder, less risk-averse musical creature? I’d hope to hear that some day, circumstances allowing … (this is a question that often occurs to me when I attend competitions – which again feeds the suspicion that, in their essence, music and competitions are rather mismatched concepts).

The last finalist is Fiachra de Hora, the only first-year student, and the only one to play the Brahms entirely by heart. He also had the good sense of tuning all strings on stage, rather than relying on a backstage pre-tune (that open C-string betrayed the two others at a few points). While we’re handing out bonus points for non-musical matters, here’s +1 for wearing a purple (viola!) coloured shirt!

Fiachra exhibits a highly matured technique and musicality. His control is remarkable, and he even seems to apply his spare brainwaves for will-powering the orchestra when they threaten to divert from his wishes in tempo or dynamics. With such skills, after a while I forget he is a 1st-year student, and try to summon a more critical observation. Maybe it’s that neck and left shoulder – a bit rigid. And there were perhaps some passages that the competitors managed with more elegance or a more convincing sound output. But in my book, those were the exceptions. In my mind, here’s the next Timothy Ridout! My audience prize vote goes to him, and it eventually turns out that the rest of the audience in majority agreed with me.

The jury, consisting of Ronald Kieft (chair), Jürgen Kussmaul, Veit Hertenstein, Garth Knox and Anna-Magdalena den Herder (the 2011 winner), did not need long to decide on the overall competition results: Dagmar Korbar is our new “National Champ”, with Seamus and Fiachra (in that order) as runners-up. It was clear that the achievements of the preliminary rounds were factoring into this decision, and remembering Dagmar’s Bach from last night, it seems very plausible that she was the best all-round player, even if Fiachra deservedly won today’s audience prize.

Congratulations to all three finalists for their superb performances, and to the Conservatory for attracting and developing such outstanding talents. And endless thanks to Francien Schatborn and Marolein Dispa for organizing once again the Amsterdam Viola Festival. We all hope to be able to return in 2021 for the next exciting edition!

Nedbal Competition blog – 2nd and Final Round

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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Sunday morning – time for the 2nd (and final) round of this competition. The twelve finalists selected yesterday will play in the same relative order as they appeared in the 1st round (which was, by the way, alphabetical by last name).

The 2nd round repertoire consists of:
– Oskar Nedbal: Romantic piece op.18
– A sonata for Viola and Piano: Choice of Martinů, Hindemith (op.11/4), Clarke, Brahms (op.120 either one), Schubert (Arpeggione), Paganini, Feld, Reger, Vieuxtemps, or Kalabis

To remind you what’s at stake here:

1st prize – 20000 Czech Crowns (= €780), a fine bow, viola case and various accessories
2nd prize – 15000 Czech Crowns (= €590), viola case and various accessories
3rd prize – 10000 Czech Crowns (= €390), viola case and various accessories
In addition there are smaller cash prizes for the best interpretation of the Oskar Nedbal piece, the Martinu and Kalabis sonatas, and various other concert and masterclass prizes.

The first candidate is Melissa Datta. She chose the Rebecca Clarke sonata, with which she presents a fiery start. The solo opening sentence of this piece really determines the character of the performance, and tells a lot about the musician. The next challenge is to keep the ensuing impressionistic part interesting, Melissa does that well. The 2nd movement is a scherzo with lots of humour (a familiar trait from Clarke’s other compositions). In the 3rd movement, we should be awash in all the love of the world. I feel that Melissa comes up a bit short in that respect, radiating above all bravura. She seems to be also a bit unfamiliar with the piano accompaniment.

She goes on to provide my first encounter with the Oskar Nedbal piece, which offers a lot of room to provide different interpretations.

The second candidate is Nicolas Garrigues, bringing his Martinu sonata to the Lion’s den, thereby shooting for the special Martinu prize. He starts off passionately on this sonata, which contains a treacherous field of syncopations. But therein lies also the musical power of this piece. However I miss the balance between piano and viola; Nicolas knows the piece well enough, playing large segments by heart, but does not capitalize on this advantage to communicate and connect musically with the pianist, turning instead toward the audience to project even more sound from his viola, which is really already loud enough. I miss also the multitude of colours and moods that are latent in the score of this piece.

The Nedbal piece, too, is performed by heart. The rhythmic figures could have been rendered more clearly, but I trust that is his conscious choice of interpretation, this is only the 2nd time I hear the piece. The recapitulation of the main theme with a muted viola (and a more elaborate piano part): would it work better if shifted one octave up? My imagination starts to work on this.

The South Korean MinGwan Kim starts with Nedbal. His vibrato and playing style is perfect for this piece, including his masterful use of portato. The scherzo segment brings the proper humouristic flair.

And then, what a beautiful Vieuxtemps sonata, romantic and yet precise. Like his predecessor, MinGwan largely stands averted from the pianist, but he manages to communicate through his back and neck. He knows exactly where the pianist is, their togetherness is stunning – although they probably have only had one rehearsal together.

In the beautiful Barcarolle movement, MinGwan tastefully makes use of the potential rubato moments. This movement is so good, and it could easily be performed as a self-standing piece. I could compare it to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, who has taken on a life of her own outside of the original play Hamlet, inspiring artists in many fields. Having a distinctive title (“barcarolle”) helps a bit in this sense. The third movement comes with the indication con molto delicatezza, and transitions into the fiery finale.

On to the fourth candidate, Yizilin Liang, who starts off with a romantic rendition of Nedbal, played by heart. Her interpretation of Hindemith (11.4) however misses the flexibility and contrasts demanded by the composer’s variations – it becomes a bit monotonous. Her communication with the pianist is very good.

Why do I have to think of Woody Allen when I see Amir Liberson on stage? Maybe due to his surprisingly fast and at times funny movements. At times I find this goes at the expense of his playing, such as in the Nedbal (performed by heart). At other times, this body language enhances the character of the music, so it isn’t all bad. And he communicates well with the pianist.

His Brahms sonata is unfortunately tainted by local intonation issues – this challenge is often underestimated in Brahms (not only the viola sonatas), composed in awkward keys with a risk of high intonation.

The lone Czech candidate in the final round, Daniël Macho also plays the Romantic Piece by heart. While he is visibly nervous, nothing catastrophic happens. But in the Martinu sonata, which should be a perfect fit for him, it turns out he’s not sufficiently in sync with the piano score

Polish finalist Julia Palecka plays the Schubert Arpeggione sonata. This piece is in my mind a parade of personalities from an Opera Buffa. But Julia’s personality as I sensed it in the 1st round does not return in full in this 2nd round. Perhaps a mature Schubert needs more time. The last movement leans more on technique, and that works out OK for Julia. She flies elegently through this movement, and perhaps owing to her feeling technical confidence here, I also sense more of the humour between the lines.

In the Nedbal piece, Julia creates much more freedom, playing by heart and communicating with the audience – even getting response back. Nice ending!

The Swedish Alva Rasmussen, studying with one of the jury members in Copenhagen, makes an impressive entree with a high-grade Rebecca Clarke; I’d like to think that the composer very much enjoys this performance from her cloud up there! She runs light-footed like a deer through the scherzo, and lavishes us with a wonderful warm vibrato in the opening of the 3rd movement. I get carried away in her dream. Nice use of poco vibrato in the thin high-octave melody, followed by a return to portamenti and a large warm vibrato in the lower strings. Her love for this sonata really shines through!

Alva seems to have an old soul. You seem to hear a whole lifetime’s worth of loves, joys, and sorrows in her playing. She also plays a marvellous Nedbal.

Evgeny Shchegolev also knows how to play a good and warm Nedbal. Now I can hear his powerful Russian tone. This romantic music is really his domain. In the 1st round, I didn’t mention him in my summary (he played Bach and Henze), but here he is on good terms with the music. In the Brahms sonata he knows how to stretch the bars and to knead the melodies plastically – highly enjoyable!

The 20-year-old Jungahn Shin starts with a marvellous Brahms sonata (in F). I find especially her rendition of the 2nd movement deeply touching, with a beautiful tone. The Waltz too (3rd movement) – wait, wasn’t she the Tabea Zimmermann pupil? Yes – but she still has her very own sound. Compared to this, I’m very curious to hear what our Dutch students will make of the Brahms F-sonata (mandatory piece) at the National Viola Competition next week!

Jungahn concludes her recital with the Nedbal Romantic piece. In this rendition, I miss the broad vibrato which seems to fit this piece so well.

The Japanese Otoha Tabata is a true storyteller. Like the fabled princess Sheherazade, she enchants you and does not let go. She is agile and moves about, but not in a disturbing way. It makes it difficult to draw her, though. If I may complain a little bit, I might like to suggest some fingerings in the higher positions, to allow more variation in colour. Especially in the 2nd movement of Brahms. The jury will have a hard time: Four Brahms renditions, all different and with their own characters.

Although Otoha naturally tends toward a somewhat fast vibrato, she adapts it totally in the Nedbal piece. The tempo is nice and fresh, it sounds almost like an early recording. She makes her performance a feast for ears and eyes, including that beautiful smile when she takes a bow.

The last candidate (yet again – I bet she curses the latin alphabet now and then!) is Yuri Yoon. She, too, plays a very good Nedbal. But the true spectacle comes with the Vieuxtemps sonata: Starting out with a zesty tempo, yet every note precise and pitch perfect. Even going out of her way to keep  the pianist on track, she plays a fantastic 1st movement.

The Barcarolle (2nd mvt.) also holds a relatively fast tempo, whereby the rubato passages stand more out in contrast. But I miss a different sound here, it is rather too sharp, where I’ve come to feel a more “granular” sound would be nicer.

… Well, this concludes my “live” competition coverage – I have to leave to catch my train home, so I will miss the (live) results announcement and the laureates’ concert this evening. But through the internet, I learned that the competition results were as follows:

1st prize: MinGwan Kim (South Korea)

2nd prize: Yuri Yoon (South Korea)

3rd prize: Evgeny Shchegloev (Russia)

Honorary mention:
Yizilin Liang (China), Alva Rasmussen (Sweden) and Otoha Tabata (Japan)

Nedbal Competition 2019 main Prize winners Yoon, Kim, and Shchegolev (photo credits: Zdeněk Chrapek, Oskar Nedbal competition)

Congratulations to all!


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Nedbal Competition blog – 1st Round, day 2

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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After yesterday’s long session, today we hear the remaining 24 candidates for the 1st round of this competition. At the end of the day, 12 out of the total 65 competitors will be selected for the 2nd and final round. Same as for yesterday, I only mention those candidates that I feel are most likely to be picked for the next round.

Here’s the overall composite drawing of the 1st round (all 65 candidates):



Today’s first candidate Riina Piirilä (Finland, age 24) is a known name to me, as she visited our Viola Congress in Rotterdam last year. She played a good Bach 2nd Partita (Allemande and Gigue), very carefully prepared, no nonsense. In the fast passages, the bow seems to fly too fast, at the expense of sound production from the lower strings.

Her ensuing Hidemith op. 25 no.1 (first 2 movements) is perfect. She’s surely a candidate for the 2nd round.

Still a young girl, Yayun Qiu (China, age 17) needs some stage experience – I can only really see her sporadically. She is oriented toward the side wall, and she wears a long vest over a long dress, hiding most of her body movements from my angle. That’s a pity, because this counts too. Her Bach (6th suite Prelude and Sarabande) is perfect, and the Reger (Vivace from the 1st suite) is more than perfect! Good timing, beautiful tone, good instrument. My only want is for a bit more contrasting dynamics. She only has to adjust the clothing strategy and stage positioning, that will make a difference. But even without that, she’s definitely a 2nd round candidate.

Jungahn Shin (South Korea, age 20) plays a beautiful Bach (4th suite, Prelude and Gigue), light, but with flair, and with a very pleasing sound. I like this, and I can tell that she is a pupil of Tabea Zimmermann. Also in Vieuxtemps’ Capriccio you can hear the perfection in choice of bow speed, with accurate positioning between fingerboard and bridge. This is surely another candidate for the 2nd round!

Draped in a gorgeous yellow gala dress, Otoha Tabata (Japan, age 20) enters the stage. She plays a very decent Reger (1st suite, Molto sostenuto and Vivace), with perfect pitch. Dynamically a bit too “wavy” for my taste. A fun invention for the bowing in the 2nd movement, piano notes played in ricochet, conveying a proper Vivace feeling.

Then, a fantastic and very original Hindemith (op. 31 no.4, 1st movement), brought with lots of confidence. No doubt qualified for the 2nd round.

I have to mention as well the only Dutch candidate, Michiel Wittink (age 24). He’s currently pursuing his Master’s at Guildhall in London, but we know him from several past DVS events and masterclasses. He played a very promising Bach 2nd Partita (Sarabande and Gigue), unfortunately he lost his mental footing at one point. His Vieuxtemps Capriccio was very good as well, and he has grown tremendously since we last heard him at the Dutch National Viola Competition in 2017. But I have my doubts about reaching the next round in this highly competitive field.

With Shuo Xu (China, age 17) comes yet another great Bach (6th suite, Prelude and Sarabande), with a lot of character! He uses a dedicated bow for this piece, which produces a nice and clear sound. But his good performance is due to more than just a good bow!

Yuri Yoon (South Korea, age 25) brings Prelude and Gigue from Bach’s 4th suite. A very well-played and beautiful Bach! Again, using a dedicated (baroque) bow. This really has made a difference for a number of candidates. The Vieuxtemps Capriccio is very good too, so she might very well turn up tomorrow for the 2nd round.

That was de last candidate I chose for this review.

At 1700h, the jury announced the names of the 2nd round finalists:

Melissa Dattas, Nicolas Garrigues, MinGwan Kim, Yizilin Liang, Amir Liberson, Daniël Macho, Julia Palecka, Alva Rasmussen, Evgeny Shchegolev, Jungahn Shin, Otoha Tabata and Yuri Yoon.

So I had 8 of the 12 names right (even though I over-guessed for a total of 20 potential finalists). So it just goes to prove that competition was intense, and that views/tastes vary very much.

Check back in tomorrow for our “live” blog coverage of the 2nd round!


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Nedbal Competition blog – 1st Round, day 1

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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Well, it’s late Friday evening Nov 1st, I’ve spent all day listening to 41 candidates in the first round, with another 20+ to be heard tomorrow. I spent more than 12 hours in the recital hall today, for much of that time I was pretty much the only long-stay audience, except for the jury. I’ve been taking notes and making sketch drawings of all the candidates. I’m struggling to summarize my notes, but it’s an easy and fun start to assemble all the drawings into a composite picture:

For the sake of avoiding reader overload, in the following I will discuss only the roughly top-third of the candidates that impressed me the most. But among the other (not-mentioned) candidates, it must be said that the large majority set down very praiseworthy performances. But just like the jury, I simply cannot pick them all. Again, these are purely my personal opinions, but I’m of course curious to know how they match up with the jury’s decisions for the 2nd round. Note: My listing is chronological by playing order, there is no internal “ranking” implied among those mentioned below.

The first candidate to make my list was Karolina Bednarz (Poland, age 22). A rise-and-shine entry at 09:15 in the morning, her programme included the Sarabande and Gigue from Bach’s 4th suite, and Piazzolla’s Etude no. 3, Tango., which she had transcribed herself for the viola (the original is for flute). Karolina starts with Bach. She has a good sound and plays very securely. The Sarabanda has a grave feel to it, the Gigue is played freely. She wisely takes extra time between Bach and Piazzolla to set a different stage and mood. Her persona seems to change with it. A real Piazzolla with a rhythmic beginning and a melodic middle segment. This transcription of hers is definitely worthwhile!

Melissa Dattas (France, age 22) knows how to make an entry! She chooses to stand in front of the stage, instead of climbing it (now that I mention it, some of the candidates before her stood way too far back on the stage!). And then she sets off with a fantastic C major Prelude from the 3rd Bach suite. This prelude and the ensuing Sarabande are meticulously played with interesting musical ideas! She follows with an equally impressive Capriccio by Vieuxtemps. I forget to take notes … I hope to see her again in the 2nd round (when she would play the Rebecca Clarke sonata).

Jacob Dingstad (Norway, age 27) has long since graduated, and currently works as principal violist for the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. His Prelude from 4th Bach suite (E flat) surprisingly starts out spiccato! It works quite well, giving a feeling of free flight, especially when the longer runs begin, later in the movement. Well done, and so free in his stage presence, it seems like he spontaneously creates it all in the moment. I feel like I ought to try playing more like that – very inspiring!

I sense some Norwegian Hardanger-fiddle music in the Sarabande. Perhaps he has some direct experience in this area? And then what a nice idea, transitioning directly from Bach’s final E-flat into the (C minor) Capriccio by Vieuxtemps! I would definitely like to see this Norwegian back in the next round.

Martina Englmaierová (Czech Republic, age 24) starts with Prelude and Allemande from the 5th Bach suite, applying scordatura (the A-string tuned down to a G) to great effect in sound, and even giving a feel of naturally reinforced intonation. Martina has clearly studied the old performance practices, I really enjoy her playing.

Her “solo piece of choice” is the 1st movement from Hindemith’s1937 sonata, one of my personal “bucket list” pieces. Very well played! I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the next round. She’s really good, perhaps not at first sight the most impressive of today’s candidates, but her sound is so clean and pure, with very sparing use of vibrato (which also is a suitable choice for the Hindemith).

It’s time for lunch break, particularly appreciated by my “seat muscles”, the wooden chairs are not so merciful for long sits. We have heard 14 candidates (one-third of today’s programme).

In the programme booklet, Yekun Fang (China, age 21) is depicted with his viola hovering in empty air between his hands (!) … he plays Sarabande and Gigue from the (violin) partita no.2. I’m very glad that he chose to play some repeats (in spite of the strict prohibition in the competition rules), in the Sarabande this is used to add beautiful ornamentations.  And he plays the Gigue with amazing speed (so the repeat is hardly noticeable), with a super light bowing, without incurring “collateral damage” in the form of unwanted noises.

He continues with the Capriccio by Vieuxtemps, beautifully played, as if imagined there-and-then. His stage presence can bear some improvement though, propped into the rear corner of the stage, as if playing mostly for himself (and being incredibly good at it).

Then there’s Nicolas Garrigues (France, age 20), who plays the Molto sostenuto and Molto vivace from Reger’s 1st suite. Like his compatriot Mellissa Dattes, he chooses to stand in front of the stage, improving his contact with the audience, and also sounding better. With the exception of one small glitch in the fast movement, he plays a perfect Reger. His “choice” solo piece is Hindemith’s 25.1, 3rd and 4th movements. He creates great contrasts, he dares to play a real piano, in the slow 3rd movement. This beautiful recital hall allows it. His use of vibrato is carefully adapted to the local context. His rendition of the (in)famous “Tonschönheid ist Nebensache” is impeccable, going full throttle without sacrificing quality. From what I’ve heard so far, I can see this guy winning a prize. But you never know …

Next notable in my book is Clara Holdenried (Germany, age 24), playing the Prelude and Sarabande from Bach’s 4th suite, and the Vieuxtemps Capriccio. It’s a real pity that she loses her footing in the Prelude, because her playing is very beautiful and natural. For chamber music, you really want someone like Clara. I have the impression that she can produce any tone colour she wants. Her tone quality in Vieuxtemps is also very beautiful. She might try to generate more intimacy in her performance. I’m curious if she makes the 2nd round, I would certainly like to hear more of her.


Alexandra Ivanova (Russia, age 25) launches a spectacular Hindemith 1937 sonata (1st mvt), with great ease of playing and lots of bravura.  She has an impressive stage presence. She then re-tunes her viola for the 5th Bach suite (Prelude and both Gavottes), embarking on a very authentic and personal interpretation, with striking ornamentation. The fugue section – so good! She definitely must be a 2nd round choice. A small error towards the end of the movement, I don’t really mind, but it was unexpected. And then some technical issues in the Gavottes, that could hurt her chances.

MinGwan Kim (South Korea, age 28) brings a violin-virtuosic programme. What more can one say when someone plays a perfect and musical Bach Chaconne? All the voices are perfectly audible.Followed by Ysaÿe’s breakneck Obsession (2nd sonata, 1st movement) with the Dies Irae theme. This is a serious prize candidate. To take those tenths, on such a big viola too. What a great violist!



Yizilin Liang (China, age 19) plays from Bach’s 6th suite, as the only one so far employing a baroque bow for this purpose. In my ears she does not capitalize on this specialized hardware in the Prelude, but it works out very well in the Sarabande. The agility with string crossings is audibly and visibly improved, allowing to comfortably tackle challenges such as two chords in a single stroke.

She then switches to Vieuxtemps’ Capriccio (with a modern bow), a very good rendition. This could stand a chance for 2nd round selection. And to think she’s only 19… !

Entering the stage, Alyuan Liu (China, age 22)  gives a very unassuming and even self-conscious impression. But once she starts playing – what a sound, and what a personality! A magnificient start, with the 6th Bach suite, Prelude and Allemande  – you can hear a dialogue between different voices, different players.

And then Hindemith, the first 2 movements of op.25.1 – also so good. And so musical! She is definitely a strong candidate for the 2nd round. But then – when the music dies away, Alyuan disappears from the stage without so much as a smile. I’m inclined to think that such behaviour should count, it may be peripheral, but it’s still a part of the whole performance.

Hailing from Venezuela, Ruth Mogrovejo (age 25) starts off with a movement from Reger’s 3rd suite. Very well done. Good things are cooking in Venezuela, the cultural education results in many good young musicians. The “choice” piece is (once again) the Vieuxtemps Capriccio. I feel I’m getting a bit overexposed to this piece today, although that’s not Ruth’s fault (alone) of course..But her performance is certainly convincing, full of creative ideas. I wonder if the jury notices this too …


Julia Palecka (Poland, age 22) – at last, my prayers are heard: A free-choice piece NOT being Vieuxtemps or Hindemith! She brings the Fuga Libre by Garth Knox – such an amazing composer! Unfortunately the piece is longer than the maximum allowed 5 minutes, so although I could stay up all night listening to this, she is predictably interrupted by the jury before she can finish. She moves on to play the Prelude and Courante from the 5th Bach suite. I find Julia an intriguing young personality. Her Bach is very original. It is difficult to say whether such a strong character will make it to the next round, it depends on the taste of the jury. In my book, she’s in. I would love to hear what she would do with Schubert’s Arpeggione (her choice for round 2).

Then, last (for today) but not least, Connie Pharoah (Great Britain, age 20). She brings Bach’s 4th suite and the opening movements of Hindemith’s op.25 no.1. Her Bach is very good, even though it’s late evening by now. Like the French candidates, she positions herself in front of the stage. That sounds so much better!

She follows through with a very convincing Hindemith. She definitely has good chances for the next round.

Well, tomorrow brings another 24 interesting candidates!


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Nedbal Competition blog – day 1 (Tourist)

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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Arrived in Prague! After having checked in at my hotel, I felt fit enough to explore the city. Same as during the IVC in Poznan last month, I found a hotel just around the corner from the central square in Prague, so I can hear the tolling of the bells in the tower. The weather is fantastic, and there are tourists everywhere. Fortunately I’m above average height (measured against the tourist population), so I can still see the sights :-). I occasionally make a dive into more quiet streets, but in general it is just like in Amsterdam, walking in a throng from one monument to the next. It is truly a magnificent city!

After having walked several kilometers like this, I return to my hotel and start browsing through the competition booklet with all the candidates, which I had picked up just before my walk. The two Dutch candidates are both familiar to me, as former Amsterdam Conservatory students: Lotus de Vries (currently studying in Berlin) and Michiel Wittink (now in London).

To my disappointment, the programme further reveals that nobody has chosen the Feld or Kalabis sonatas (for the 2nd round), so I’ll have to figure out what those sonatas are like on my own. There is a good distribution of nationalities among the participants: The extreme counts include 14 Chinese candidates, but on the other hand only one candidate from the U.S., Venezuela and Canada. But well, those countries are indeed far away!

I show up a bit early at the small, but nicely acoustic concert hall at the New York University, the main venue of the Nedbal competition.

Oskar Nedbal, who is famous in the Czech Republic for his operettas and theatrical music, was himself a violist in the famous Czech Quartet. He is also responsible for the first known sound recording of a solo viola piece. This recording tells us that excessive vibrato was not necessarily so commonplace in his time.

In total 11 (out of the originally accepted 76) candidates have cancelled, so “only” 65 people will play in the 1st round. This is probably normal at big competitions, but it’s a pity that four countries thereby are without representation here. On the upside, it allows everyone the luxury of a good night’s sleep, because the reduced number of participants means there is no need for anyone to play tonight. So we start tomorrow at 0900 am. Well, I was all geared up for tonight, but this allows me to write this report directly and get to bed early.

Tomorrow it all starts!


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Nedbal Competition blog – day 1 (prologue)

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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By now I’m in the train from Berlin to Prague – so far no delays. After a few hours of sleep (:-)) I am sitting with my iPad connected to the onboard WiFi, browsing through the competition repertoire and the schedule.

The first round will start tonight – and Oh my, it continues throughout Friday and most of Saturday – there are 76 participants from 27 countries! The 2nd round participants (finalists) will only be announced on Saturday afternoon at 1700h! To my regret I will have to miss the prize winners’ concert on Sunday evening (I’ll be on my way back). But I suppose the most important decisions are made in the 1st round.

Now for the repertoire list – that seems not too bad in terms of playing time: Two contrasting movements from Bach’s solo sonatas/partitas or (cello) suites, or one of the Reger suites. And furthermore another 5-minute solo work of your own choice. Everything must be played by heart.

The 2nd round piece is a choice of sonata with piano: B. Martinů, P. Hindemith (op.11/4), R. Clarke, J. Brahms (op.120/1 and 2), F. Schubert, N. Paganini, J. Feld (Sonata), M. Reger, H. Vieuxtemps, V. Kalabis. The unknown ones for me are Feld en Kalabis. I sincerely hope that some of the finalists will have chosen those, and that we don’t get too many Rebecca Clarkes – clearly one of the most “fashionable” viola sonatas of recent years. To think that, back in my student days, I was the first violist in The Netherlands to play the Clarke sonata!

The most interesting aspect of this programme is the free choice of a solo work. What would I have chosen? Well, first I would want to know if it has to be an original viola composition. Then I would consider to have a solo piece commissioned for myself. Nowadays I’m studying the (transcription of the) 1st Britten cello suite, which is very challenging. This music assumes extensive use of the cello thumb position, for which I am trying to develop technical solutions on the viola. So if I were a Nedbal competition participant, I would have chosen Britten.

What am I hoping to hear? Of course Hindemith, but not the “Tonschönheid ist Nebensache” – I’d rather hear one of his other three solo sonatas. Or Stravinsky’s Elegy, or some (hopefully surprising) national repertoire from the participants’ home countries.

So in short – I’m tremendously looking forward to the 1st round. Almost 3 days long!

For now I decide to make another attempt at a power nap in the train. More thoughts tonight!


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Nedbal Competition blog – day 0

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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It is 3.30pm, and I have just set off on my monster train ride to Prague. All this just because – whenever possible – I’d like to avoid flying. At least I have 1st class seats all the way, so I should be reasonably comfortable. But why am I going to Prague? Because of the first Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition which takes place there, in the coming days.

It is always interesting to see how they organize a new international competition. I haven’t studied the programme closely yet, but given the name “Oskar Nedbal”, I should think that at least his well-known Romance will be played at some point. But OK, I’ve got time enough to read in this train.

The first leg of 2 hours and 6 minutes goes by “sprinter” (local train) from Dordrecht to Arnhem, where I will have to change trains. I will visit an old friend there, before continuing my trip at 21:45 with the international train.

More news after I arrive in Prague tomorrow!


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