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Sayaka Shoji at Arts Club of Washington

During a private dinner ceremony at the Arts Club of Washington (in the historic home of President James Monroe in Foggy Bottom) on Monday night, the S&R Foundation conferred its Washington Awards on five deserving young musicians. For the four runners-up, we heard a brief recorded excerpt of their work: pianist Naoko Takao, Special Committee Award Winner (Persichetti's 7th sonata); marimbist Naoko Takada (a concerto by Ney Rosauro); composer Moto Osada (his own Take the Six for Marimba and Electronics); and violinist Shunské Sato, Grand Prize, 2nd place (the third Ysaÿe sonata).

Sayaki ShojiUltimately, the first place Grand Prize went to 24-year-old Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji. She is not exactly a newcomer, in spite of her tender years, having already won the Paganini Competition in 1999 and having already played in distinguished venues around the world (including with the Baltimore Symphony last season, which Jens reviewed). She has also made several recordings, although most of them are not widely available outside Japan. After receiving her award, she played three brief selections with local pianist Edward Newman. Shoji's Mozart (first and fourth movements of the G major violin sonata, K. 301) seemed dutiful, sounding mostly as if she were constricting the sound of her rich-toned "Joachim" Stradivarius, made in 1715. A miscommunication about the repeat of the first movement's exposition (Shoji took the repeat, which the accompanist's page-turner noticed after a couple bars) was quickly righted, covered nicely by Newman's adroit approximation of the opening measures.

From there, things got much better, as she launched into four of Shostakovich's op. 34 preludes (arranged for violin by Dmitri Zyganov, selections of which she has recorded), each with a carefully crafted color all its own: otherworldly con sordino in no. 10, raspy staccato in no. 15, broad Romantic sweep in no. 16 (almost a parody of Paganini), and raucous, throaty bravura in no. 24. If modern was audibly more to Shoji's taste, the late Romantic sounded like her native language in the last movement of Grieg's third sonata, op. 45. Here, Newman really earned his fee, shining on the endless arpeggiation of the outer sections. Finally in the Grieg, Shoji allowed her violin to have the big sound she seemed to be holding back in the Mozart. In that gorgeous middle section, when the Allegro animato gives way to a slower tempo, the melodies soared and the Strad's G string barked with intensity. Our appreciation merited a short encore, some crisp and muscular Bartók.

The Arts Club of Washington hosts a free concert series, on Fridays at noon, that continues through the end of July. It was omitted from my Summer Music Agenda.

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