With all prize winners chosen, the 57th ARD Music Competition draws to a close. The time for competitive playing is now over, and the time for nit-picking, looking for weaknesses and flaws among the many different participants is, too. Instead, the three concluding Prize-Winner Concerts have the purpose of showcasing the discovered talent - and for those talents to simply enjoy playing before the large audience both in the sold-out Prinzregententheater and listening live on three German Public Radio Stations. This is the time to sit back and bask in these young artists’ music-making.
The Verus String Quartet, who won a third prize at what was their first ever competition, made that very easy with their performance of Beethoven’s op.18/4, proving again how enjoyable they are to hear. A quartet where the character of the violins suggests that the elegant first violinist Naoto Sakiya and the impetuous second violinist Akira Mizutani could share the first violin job á la Emerson Quartet, they are a pleasure to watch, too. Despite their usual refinement and unusual maturity, they have an inner tension and tenacity to offer and they visibly enjoy their job. It’s worth it just to look at their wily cellist Rentaro Tomioka nudging his partners on – or, for contrast, their calm violist Kouichi Yokomizo, the source of calm among the four. It isn’t at all daring to predict these four youngsters a very successful international career.
Viola Competition, Round 1 (2) (September 2)
Viola Competition, Round 1 (3) (September 3)
Viola Competition, Round 1 (4) (September 4)
String Quartet Competition, Round 1 (1) (September 5)
String QuartetCompetition, Round 1 (2) (September 6)
String QuartetCompetition, Round 1 (3) (September 7)
String QuartetCompetition, Round 2 (1) and Viola, Semi-Finals (September 8)
String QuartetCompetition, Round 2 (2) (September 9)
Viola, Final (September 10)
String Quartet, Semi-Finals (September 11)
Clarinet, Final (September 12)
Days 13 & 14:
String Quartet & Bassoon Finals (September 13 & 14)
Somewhat surprisingly to these ears, the Belgian Dimitri Murrath, not Sergey Malov or Teng Li, was chosen – by the jury and the composer – as the Prize Winner for the best interpretation of the commissioned piece, “Tikvah” by Atar Arad. My prediction that this piece was going to be heard five times and then never again already shot, Mr. Murrath played it for the sixth time at this concert. It was announced with its preface wishing for and end to all violence, for world peace, and perpetual strawberry ice cream, which can’t be said to have made the music easier to grasp, even in this dedicated rendition. It remains difficult to appreciate without a score at hand and (forced) repeat exposure. A dilemma faced by most contemporary music.
A pressure-free, somber and reflective G-major sonata for Bassoon and Piano of Camille Saint-Saëns was presented by third prize winner Václav Vonášek. A little pale in the bassoon-final, he now blossomed and underscored why the bassoon competition has garnered a surprising amount of headlines in even the national papers. That having been not just a reaction to the fact that 2008 offered the first First Prize ever in this category (which had been held 8 times, since 1954), but also because the quality of every finalist was apparently very high.
While Shelly Ezra’s performance of the Hosokawa “Metamorphosis” in the final was the epitome of controlled clarinet playing, this third prize winner from Israel let her hair down a little more (metaphorically, if not literally) in the Brahms f-minor Sonata op.120/1. The result was less refined and clean, but stormy and passionate – and particularly well accompanied by the very delicate looking Isabella Melkonyan who, defying exterior impressions, was able to plow into the sonata without the unfounded fear of competing with the nominal soloist. Brahms benefited greatly from this.
Felix Mendelssohn’s second, “Is it true?” String Quartet op.13 is modeled after Beethoven’s late quartets and a tribute to the grand composer in the year of his death. Made up of Anne Schoenholtz (first violin), Manuel Oswald (second violin), Sylvia Zucker (viola), and Uli Witteler (cello), the audience's favorite, the German/Swiss Gémeaux (“Gemini”) Quartett played, and played well. Incapable of smiling, even with the competition part over, they look – and sound – as if music was not supposed to be fun. It’s way too early in their careers for these musicians (two alpha-ladies and two subservient men, from the look of it) display such seriousness – bitterness even – and treat their work as such a terribly severe thing. Alas, the Mendelssohn sounded pretty good even without any sense of joy.
All pictures © Sigi Müller