Report from the Menuhin Competition

It was quite a week for violinists in London, with the Menuhin Competition going on for the past few weeks. The competition takes place in a different city every two years, and in this Menuhin centenary year, London, a city that became his home, is a fitting location.

It all wound up last weekend with two nights of finals (junior and senior categories) plus a glamorous gala concert Sunday night featuring 1995 junior category winner Julia Fischer in Bartók’s First Violin Concerto.

The great violinist would have been charmed by the junior final, held at the Royal Academy of Music. Five talented finalists—two 12 year olds, two 15 year olds, and one 13 year old—each played and directed one of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” after giving a solo performance of Shpigl, a new piece by Oscar Colomina i Bosch.


The virtuosic Shpigl proved to be a test of nerves for the finalists—and for the audience. It made me think of Mission Impossible: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to start playing Shpigl out in the concert hall foyer. Next, slowly walk into the hall while coming to a halt now and again to play another section as you make your way up the center aisle to the stage. Once up on the stage, you must pick up a mute from the music stand that’s front and center, put it on your violin and play the final bars with your back to the audience. Any questions?”

The “Four Seasons” part of the proceedings answered a musical question I’ve never thought of asking until now: Exactly how many “Four Seasons” can a reasonable person bear to listen to in one evening? The answer, apparently, is five, but that’s only when the concertos are played as well as they were that night (I could have done with two more seasons, though: We had three summers and two winters).

After a short deliberation, the jury gave first to Seattle’s Yesong Sophie Lee (age 12; center in the photo) and second to L.A.-based Kevin Miura (age 13; second from right). Next I’ll chronicle the turn of the senior finalists (up to age 22) as they strut their stuff at Royal Festival Hall—two Prokofiev first concertos, a Mendelssohn, and the Dvorák.