Szymanowski Music Competition 2018: Violin Final – Day Two & Winner Announced

It’s an odd experience waiting for a competition result – a handful of people hanging around for a sense of closure; everyone needing it; no-one knowing when it will really come. A bit like waiting at the gate for a delayed plane, just without the jaw-clenching frustration. 

As I write, competitors and their families, journos, staff, and other interested parties sit, pace or stand, some looking wistfully into the middle distance.

I’ve made a call to the Other Half (‘OH’ for any new readers) and said goodnight, “I think its going to take a little longer than I anticipated it would to find out the result.”

Tough gig tough call

I had assumed yesterday that we would be listening to another 6 violinsts tonight. We weren’t. I’d got that wrong. We were in fact hearing from the same violinists again playing different works. 

That’s two concertos on two consecutive days from each of the finalists. If I saw a professional soloist was playing two gigs one day after another I wouldn’t think anything of it. Come up close to some of the competitors like I did today and that thing you assumed was just normal – like playing two different concertos on consecutive days – suddenly seems like a massive deal. All of the competitors I spoke to appeared to take it all in their stride. I’d have been terrified, I’m sure of it. That’s one of the reasons I’m an audience member, not a professional musician. 

Four key points

The real story for me from tonight’s final (apart from the fact that I failed to make it to the concert in time owing to an afternoon spent chained to my laptop which is still on UK time), comprises four main points:

  1. Sulamita Ślubowska played with greater intensity throughout Szymanowski’s first violin concerto – a much fuller, rounder and consistent sound throughout. I really enjoyed listening to her performance this evening. 

  2. Like all of the competitors I saw this evening, there was a consistency of character and mannerisms compared with last night’s performances. Particularly so Maya Levy whose Sibelius started strong with great communication and captivating passion. Despite her stumble with the ensemble towards the end of the third movement, she regained composure – an unfortunate incident which I am in no doubt will not dim her spirit in future, only fuel it. 

  3. Polish violinist Rosana Kwasnikowska played Szymanowski’s first concerto with cool precision and a bright bright tone. She possesses amazing control and maintains a remarkable stillness when she plays. She keeps close to the orchestra but still maintains a projects the instrumental line with power. 

  4.  Whilst there was consistency in performance styles, there were distinctions between players in this concert which I thought was going to make it phenomenally difficult to pick a clear winner. I had privately settled for Sławomira Wilga (pictured) on the basis that she delivered consistent performances (which were brilliant) on both nights and that it was impossible to pick which one was ‘better’ between the two. It turned out the jury agreed with me. 

After quite a lot of sleep (there was a mammoth three and a quarter hours of interviews to capture this morning in video and audio), there’ll be editing, a little bit more interviewing and then a concert full of singers to listen out for tomorrow night. It’s quite full on here. Just how I like it. 

A full list of award recipients including third place for Royal College of Music student Maya Horvat, judges and prize money can be found on the NOSPR website

Szymanowski Music Competition 2018: Violin Finals – Day One

I’m in Katowice in Poland for the final stages in the Szymanowski Music Competition, to record a podcast, produce some video for social media and write some blog posts about the event. The weather is unseasonably warm and time at a premium. So my blogs will be brief.

Last night was the first of two violin finals – the second is tonight. There are four other categories in the competition – piano, composition, voice, and string quartet.

More than 100 participants (of which there were thirty-four violinists) have performed in the competition. From the two day second stage second stage, six soloists were selected to perform two concertos (each!) on two consecutive days with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in the nearby NOSPR Concert Hall (which is gorgeous by the way).

The competition concludes with a gala concert and the announcement of the first prize across all categories on Sunday. 

The shift from bingeing on piano music last week at the Leeds to listening to 6 concertos in concert has been slightly surreal. Though some general observations emerged during the first final for me last night. First, that a concerto for a pianist is in some respects less of a battle with an orchestra than for an instrument where its voice runs the risk of blending with the other orchestration. Some of the soloistic material was slightly lost in the mix last night which is, of course, part of the competition process. 

After seeing Mario Haring in Leeds last week, I’ve become attuned to the non-performance cues a soloistic gives off during a work. The position of the soloist in relation to the orchestra has considerably more impact on me than I realised. It’s a really subtle thing as well. Too close and there’s a hint that you’re not being bold enough. Half a metre too far away from the orchestra and you look a bit distant. And maintaining eye contact with the players behind you at various points – even if its a glance in their direction – conveys a sense that you’re all in this together. 

I’ve discovered a new work which I am, in the space of only a few hours, completely obsessed by: Szymanowski’s first violin concerto. It’s part Debussy, part Schoenberg. Heady. Ravishing with a hint of menace underpinning it. Come to think of it, the second violin concerto isn’t all that bad either. Can’t imagine why I haven’t stumbled on them before now. 

Two stand-out violinists from last night for me. Maya Levy (Belgium, 21): who plays with such attitude; demonstrative player; engaging to watch; a strong clear tone; seems to pull every sound out of the instrument. And, Sławomira Wilga (Poland, 24) who played the Szymanowski second violin concerto: balletic; contorted; ever so slightly dark too; plays with a bright crystal clear tone.