And so to the grand finale of the 2015 Michael Hill International Violin Competition. A well-attended Auckland Town Hall audience, many of whom had attended the earlier rounds in Queenstown and Auckland, was full of expectation and we were not disappointed.
It pays to remember what an endurance test this competition has been for the competitors – of the 158 applicants, 18 made the semi-final recital rounds in Queenstown and only 6 made it to the chamber music rounds in Auckland with three of their number making the final on Saturday night.
Opening proceedings was Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi who set the bar very high. His performance of the Sibelius projected dynamic power and very clear playing through all three movements. He definitely wowed the audience with what could only be described as a thrilling performance and the audience reacted accordingly.
How to follow that ? You had to feel a bit sorry for Korean violinist Eunae Koh after such a positive audience reaction but overcome it she did with an elegant performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto, particularly in the second movement adagio. A very different work to the Sibelius, it requires a dfferent mindset. Whereas the Sibelius concerto is cold and steely, the Brahms requires warmth and lightness. Her performance had both. But had she done enough ?
After the interval, at which there was considerable audience gossip, Australian Suyeon Kang had the second half all to herself with her rendition of the Sibelius concerto. It was a performance very different from that heard in the first half. By being noticeably slower and more deliberate, it made you think. Details such as the dialogue betweeen soloist and the violas in the first movement, for instance, were clearer and more interesting. But this approach is risky – a slower tempo draws more attention to your intonation and phrasing. Was the second movement a bit slow or just right ?Would such risk be rewarded by the jury ?
All three soloists had the benefit of the Auckland Philharmonia in excellent form under the very sympathetic baton of English conductor Rumon Gamba. Maestro Gamba took great care to coordinate with each soloists to ensure that the finalists gave their best possible performance with the orchestra and delivered their interpretation of their chosen concerto.
So, who won ? We were kept in suspense for a little while but the list of prize winners was:
–Best performance of the New Zealand commissioned work: Jung Min Choi (South Korea)
–6th prize: Marie-Christine Klettner (Austria)
–5th prize: Elly Suh (South Korea)
–4th prize: Natsumi Tsuboi (Japan)
–3rd prize: Timothy Chooi (Canada)
–2nd prize & winner of the chamber music prize: Eunae Koh (South Korea)
–Winner: Suyeon Kang (Australia)
And the prize for the winner ? NZ$40,000 as well as a recording contract on the Atoll label, a personalised professional development programme, a bespoke gown and a piece of Michael Hill jewellery designed by and presented to the winner by Lady Hill herself. Ms. Kang will return to New Zealand in 2016 for a performance tour across the country, presented in partnership with Chamber Music NZ and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Congratulations to her for her performances throughout the competition – a worthy and popular winner indeed.
As for the others, doubtless we will see or hear about them with interest as they progress with their careers around the world. Remember, you heard them here first !