A prestigious new prize is on offer for promising violinists. Chair Qian Zhou speaks to Maria Roberts
With a first prize of USD50,000, (€37,500), Singapore International Violin Competition is setting its sights on attracting the best global talent to the country. The inaugural event,
due to take place in January 2015, is now open for entries.
In addition to cash prizes, finalists will be invited to perform at concerts in Singapore, China, Thailand, Japan, Poland and the UK, including a concerto with London Philharmonic Orchestra at Southbank Centre and with Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra.
‘As a hub of trade and commerce, Singapore is well positioned to host an international event of this calibre,’ explains Qian Zhou, chair of the competition and head of strings at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. ‘As a country we realise the value of culture, humanity and the arts – classical music, especially, has a very important status in Singapore.’
‘I have always wanted to start a violin competition that helps deserving musicians reach their destiny. While young performers work for years towards their dreams, we can create a platform for them to show off their talents to the right people, including new audiences, agents and conductors.’
She adds that the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory was opened to demonstrate a drive for cultural excellence that would benefit not only the local community, but also the Southeast Asia region as a whole. The competition is also a chance for Zhou to fulfil a long-held personal goal. ‘I have always wanted to start a violin competition that helps deserving musicians reach their destiny. While young performers work for years towards their dreams, we can create a platform for them to show off their talents to the right people, including new audiences, agents and conductors.’
Taking place triennially, the competition is open to violinists of all nationalities aged under 30. Applicants can submit recordings via the online tool DecisionDesk (along with an entrance fee of USD100). The selection jury will then choose approximately 30 candidates to attend the competition, picking up all costs and travel arrangements associated with flights and accommodation.
For Zhou, SIVC offers more than an opportunity to simply showboat talent. The four challenging elimination rounds have been designed to enhance the violinists’ professional development. She says the process will ‘strengthen their minds, perfect their technique and enlarge their repertoire’, resulting in a collective of more mature and capable musicians. Zhou’s own experiences as a competition winner have influenced her approach.
Zhou is a laureate of the 1987 Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud International Competition, which she won in Paris aged just 18 years old. ‘Frankly speaking, I was not prepared mentally,’ she says. ‘I knew I wanted to play as well as I could, and winning a competition would give me the chance to become a concert artist – in retrospect I see that was a very simple thought and inadequate.
‘I was thrown into giving 80 concerts a year for a few years and found myself constantly on the road. During this intense performance period, I didn’t have time to build on a breadth of repertoire and actually started to wonder what music meant to me – and had doubts about whether this was the life I really wanted.’
The experience almost stalled her progress: ‘If at 18 I’d experienced the toughness of a few more big competitions [such as the Queen Elisabeth Competition, International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition or International Tchaikovsky Competition] I would have been mentally stronger and learned a wider repertoire early on in my career.’
So what qualities will Zhou and her prestigious jury be looking out for in potential SIVC winners?
‘Artistry, honesty and sincerity are the most important things I hope to see. Though, of course, these alone will not be sufficient if one lacks mastery of the instrument.’