By Inge Kjemtrup
If the junior finals of the 2016 Menuhin Competition left the audience and jury in the happy position of feeling that any one of the five finalists might reasonably have laid claim to the top prize, it was a different story at the senior finals, held the following night (April 16) at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
Strong opinions about the senior finalists were already forming by the intermission. Some of the audience declared for Ziyu He (China, 16 years old, studying in Salzburg), who gave a solid performance of the Dvorak Violin Concerto, while others (your correspondent included) stated their preference for Yu-Ting Chen (Taiwan, 20, studying at the Curtis Institute), for her expressive performance of the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.1.
Audience partisanship only increased after we heard two more players in the second half: a Mendelssohn Concerto from Jeein Kim (South Korea, 20, studying in Seoul) and another Prokofiev No.1, this time from SongHa Choi (South Korea, 16, studying the Menuhin School). As we awaited the jury’s decision, we continued to argue for our favorite.
Then out came the jury, and the surprises. Jury chair Pamela Frank announced that first prize was awarded to Ziyu He, second to SongHa Choi, third to Yu-Ting Chen and fourth to Jeein Kim. Ziyu He takes home £10,000 and also receives a year-long loan of a Stradivarius, courtesy of London violin dealer J&A Beare. There were substantial monetary awards to go with the other prizes, too.
I left the hall happy that these young players would be receiving a substantial boost to their careers yet puzzled by the jury’s choices, and, to be honest, a bit uneasy that out of 22 senior competitors, the only male competitor took first prize. It helped to hear later from a colleague that the jury’s decision was a cumulative one, that is, they considered performances in every stage of the competition. Indeed, the fact that Ziyu He scooped up several additional prizes—for best performances of Mozart, Bach, and the test piece composed by Roxanna Panufnik—suggested he must have made a powerful impression early on.
Other prizes went to Yu-Ting Chen (pictured below at the final) for best performance of the Bartók Solo Sonata, and to SongHa Choi for the Audience Prize.
The competition officially ended with a gala concert on Sunday night. In the first half, the junior winner, Yesong Sophie Lee, confidently led the Philharmonia in Vivaldi “Four Seasons: Summer” performance and the senior winner, Ziyu He, reprised the last movement of the Dvorak.
The gala’s second half featured jury member Julia Fischer (below) in a gripping account of the Bartók Violin Concerto No.1. When I think of Fischer, who won the junior prize in this competition in 1995 and has enjoyed a high-profile career, and of Yehudi Menuhin, who became a violin superstar without having to prove himself in competition after competition, I am reminded that there many different roads, often with interesting detours, on the way from fledgling violinist to fully formed concert violinist.