Take Konoe wint het Brahms-concours

Take juicht hier – symbolisch naast een oranjegekleurde fiets – voor zijn finaleplaats bij het Brahmsconcours (foto: Johannes Brahms Competition Pörtschach, facebook)

Op de officiële resultatenlijst staat hij te boek als Japanner, maar aangezien hij in Nederland woont, nederlands spreekt en een nederlandse muziekopleiding heeft genoten, rekenen we hem wel graag als minstens een beetje Nederlander :-). In 2017 won hij al als eerstejaars student bij het Conservatorium van Amsterdam het Nationaal Altvioolconcours. Nu heeft hij zijn eerste grote internationale prijs te pakken – bij het 27e Brahms concours in Pörtschach, Oostenrijk.

Wij feliciteren de jonge altviolist Takehiro Konoe van harte met deze fantastische prestatie!


Zoom-concert met Esther Apituley

Vol verwachting ga ik ervoor zitten met een hapje en een drankje op de bank thuis, volop ingelogd op de live-uitzending van Esther Apituley’s Zoom-concert uit Amsterdam. Zo’n zeventig Zoom-verbindingen aansluiten is kennelijk makkelijker gezegd dan gedaan, dus het is even wachten. Maar dan, eindelijk – Esther in beeld, breed lachend stelt ze zich voor, met altviool in de hand. Ze vertelt over haar eigen worstelingen met de corona-quarantaine. Stond ze in dit Beethovenjaar te trappelen met haar gloednieuwe voorstelling Beethoven Lost in Silence, moest ze daags na de première alle voorstellingen schrappen. Maar nu mag ze eindelijk weer voor ons spelen. Solo, want medemusici voor de camera krijgen zit er niet in vandaag.

Het concert begint met een stukje Telemann. Het is fijn om Esther te horen en zien spelen. Na een betoog over onze globale natuur-, klimaat- en nu ook gezondheidscrisis reikt ze het troostende Erbarme dich van Bach aan, aangrijpend gespeeld. De begeleiding denk je er wel bij. Hierop volgt weer Bach, de Gigue uit de 2e vioolpartita, een kwint omlaag getrokken om beter te passen in het register van de altviool. Het is een leuk dansje, en zo zijn we niet alleen getroost, maar ronduit opgevrolijkt!

Nu haalt ze toch nog een pianist erbij, maar dan uit en vooraf gemaakte opname, voor de bekende Vocalise van Rachmaninov. Daar lijkt ook een cello bij te zitten, of is zij dat zelf, die de melodie op de lage snaren speelt? Dat laatste lijkt aannemelijk, want haar connectie met de frasering en timing van de basstem is bijna perfect. Dit loopt over in de Berceuse van Fauré, een lieflijk deuntje in barcarolle-sfeer. De webcam draait even naar de bootjes op het water buiten, en het verlangen naar een geheel zorgeloze zomerse dag borrelt in mij op.

Tot besluit wordt een stuk van Michiel Mensingh in première gebracht: De introductie heeft veel weg van een tango-opmaat, maar de daarop volgende ritmes zijn een stuk grilliger. Erg boeiend en met veel speelplezier uitgevoerd.

Ondanks alle zichtbaar in beeld gebrachte inspanningen met de techniek ter plaatse, viel het eindresultaat in mijn woonkamer qua geluidskwaliteit helaas tegen: er was met grote regelmaat uitval en/of vervorming van de mooie altvioolklanken. Waarschijnlijk lag dit aan Zoom, met (in tegenstelling tot een YouTube of facebook livestream) tweerichtingsverkeer tussen alle (in dit geval ca. 70) deelnemers.

“Elk nadeel hep z’n voordeel” – dankzij deze opzet kon Esther wel een applausje in ontvangst nemen via de vele aangesloten webcams thuis, we konden elkaar zien en dankbaar zwaaien. En zo is er ondanks de afstand wel sprake van enige “live” interactie met het publiek. Ik gun haar die beloning zeker van harte. Zolang we niet naar de concertzaal kunnen ben ik wel blij met zo’n alternatief.

Kristofer G. Skaug


Viola Ensemble Music Catalogue Update #13

The DVS Music Catalogue for Viola Ensembles has finally received a thorough update – almost 3 years since the last release. The update includes 132 new works, in large majority original compositions, compiled from viola congresses and composition contests over the past years. Enjoy! Browse our catalogue here:

Bladmuziek / Sheet Music


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.


Karin Dolman elected Vice President of the International Viola Society

Karin Dolman, the founder, president, and inspirational motor of the Dutch Viola Society since 2012, has been elected Vice President of the International Viola Society (IVS). for the term 2020-2023. The election was made by votes from viola societies world wide.

We congratulate Karin with this honourable appointment! The official announcement can be seen on the IVS website.

Karin is a viola professor at the Codarts school of arts in Rotterdam, where she also served as co-host for the International Viola Congress in 2018.

In a parallel development, Karin will be stepping down from her role as our DVS president. An announcement about the new chairmanship and composition of the DVS board will follow shortly.


Call for Proposals: IVC2020 Castelo Branco, Portugal

Find below the invitiation from the Portuguese Viola Society (APVdA) for the International Viola Congress 2020 in Castelo Branco, including the Call for Proposals, outlining the rules by which you can submit your proposal for a contribution to this congress!

The Portuguese Viola Society is delighted to be hosting the 47th International Viola Congress from October 14th to 18th 2020, in Castelo Branco, Portugal. We are still vibrating from Porto-2014 and we are very happy to be able to apply all that acquired knowledge and experience to Castelo Branco-2020.

Castelo Branco is the capital of the Portuguese region Beira Baixa, it is a beautiful city founded at the beginning of the 13th century known for its Castle, the Cathedral, the beautiful baroque gardens “Jardins do Paço” and its tasty gastronomy. Situated in between Alentejo and the big mountains of Serra da Estrela it is part of an important touristic region. It offers fantastic opportunities to enjoy landscapes, natural adventures in communion with nature as well as very old villages and castles all around the region.
Situated 2h by car from Lisbon Airport, it is also reachable from Lisbon by a very beautiful train trip along the river Tejo where you can enjoy the amazing landscapes of Ribatejo, Castle of Almourol and Portas de Rodão. Other options by car are Porto, about 2h30 away and Madrid which takes 4h.

Castelo Branco has a very strong cultural tradition in which history meets modernity, with a good infrastructure and a diverse cultural life that portrays the dynamism of the city. There is an important Music School named Conservatório Regional de Castelo Branco and an Artistic Department of the Polytechnic University called Escola Superior de Artes Aplicadas with bachelor and master’s degree in music.

Our principal partner is the City Hall of Castelo Branco, that is allowing us to use the Concert hall, the Auditório of the new Centro Cultura Contemporânea, which has fantastic acoustics and is the perfect size for chamber music, and the Museu Francisco Tavares Proença Junior, all of them very near one to each other (a few minutes walking).

47th International Viola Congress
“Shining through: the Viola soul and sound “

Considering the role of the Viola in music. Its sound is unique and its soul undisputed. Its voice draws together instrumentation enhancing the depth and richness of the harmonies. It can shine through the texture of the orchestral sound, be the soul of a chamber group or find its unique voice as a solo instrument. We will be taking a fresh look at our perception of the viola to consider how different approaches to performance can be enriched by its diversity.

This 5-day event will host concerts, lectures, masterclasses, performances, workshops and round table discussions. We believe that, together with you, we will arrive at a diversified and rich program.

Call for Proposals

The Portuguese Viola Society is happy to announce a call for proposals to all International Viola Society branches for the 47th International Viola Congress. We would be delighted to hear from you and receive your proposals by February 15th, 2020.

The congress theme can be approached in numerous ways, and we welcome submissions from students, professionals and Viola friends with relevant views and experience.

Proposals for presentations will be considered in any one of the following formats:
The proposal may be for giving a recital, a lecture-recital, a lecture, a masterclass or a workshop. The maximum duration of a presentation session is 50 minutes, but shorter programs may be accepted, if they can be combined with other presentations.
The proposal should be accompanied by a short résumé and any other support you find enriching.

In accordance with IVS regulations, there will be no direct financial compensation for candidates selected to present or perform at the Congress. A personal letter of recommendation may be requested from the IVC organizing committee to support the candidate’s application for financial assistance.

Proposals should be submitted to ivccastelobranco@gmail.com .
Please note that English is the official language of this international congress.

Reviewing process
All submissions will be reviewed by the APVdA committee. Submissions will be reviewed in terms of their accessibility, relevance to the congress theme and their contribution to a diversified program.

Important deadlines
Proposals must be received by 15th February 2020
Presenters will be notified by 30th March 2020
Normal registration from 1st May 2020
General enquiries about registration, travel, accommodation should be
sent to ivccastelobranco@gmail.com

The Official contact email is ivccastelobranco@gmail.com.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or suggestions.
Looking forward to seeing you all in Castelo Branco!

Yours,
Jorge Alves
President APVdA
Gonçalo Ruivo
Organizing Committee


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


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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!


In Search of a Lost Language

DVS board member Emlyn Stam received his Ph.D. last month at Leiden University. In this article, he briefly summarizes his original research topic. Red.

by Emlyn Stam

Dr. Stam explains his thesis in words and musical examples at Theater Branoul, The Hague – October 29th 2019

Why do the performances of early-recorded violists from over a century ago sound so different from own? How might we describe their performances? What can we learn from them? And most importantly, can their musical and technical approach be used to create new performances today? These are some of the questions that occupied me in my work over the last five years on my dissertation: In Search of a Lost Language: Performing in Early-Recorded Style in Viola and String Quartet Repertoires.  The project involved detailed analysis of recordings by violists Oskar Nedbal, Léon van Hout, Arthur Post, Pierre Monteux, Maurice Vieux and Lionel Tertis. I describe the way they use techniques like unnotated rhythmic and tempo flexibility, portamento, layering, ornamentation and vibrato to create highly personal performances.

I copied their performances as closely as possible and continued by extrapolating from their approach to create my own style copies. This work resulted in a recorded portfolio that accompanies the written thesis where you can listen to the original historical recordings and my own attempts at reinvigorating early-recorded style. Colleagues who wish to free themselves from the constraints of today’s neat, tidy, score-based performances may find the path I followed to be of interest. My work also sheds light on the historical record, detailing how the repertoire was heard at a time when many of today’s most revered, canonical composers were alive.

The dissertation and accompanying recordings can be downloaded here: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/79999


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!

Karin

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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!

Karin

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