La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Menuhin Competition Austin 2014: Jury Members Dazzle in Performance!

by Paul E. Robinson

Mozart: Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major K. 301
Kreisler: La Gitane/Londonderry Air/Tambourin Chinois
Joji Hattori, violin/Gordon Back, piano

Piazzola: Historie du Tango and Café 
Joji Hattori, violin/Adam Holzman, guitar

Gang Chen: Sunshine in Tasikuergan
Saint-Saëns: Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 75
Lu Siqing, violin/Anton Nel, piano

Bates Recital Hall/Butler School of Music
University of Texas
Austin, Texas
Monday, February 24, 2014

One of the many benefits of having a major music competition in town is the opportunity to hear performances by some of the jury members. In the case of the Menuhin Competition Austin 2014, these included Joji Hattori and Lu Siqing, surely two of the finest violinists to be found in the world today; both gave outstanding performances in this evening’s chamber music concert.

© Jeff Mangione
Joji Hattori (photo:right), originally from Japan, has lived in Vienna for much of his life. He won the Menuhin Competition in 1989. With Gordon Back at the piano – Mr. Back is the artistic director of the Menuhin Competition - he led off with an elegant performance of Mozart’s Sonata K. 301. While the Mozart was lovely, Hattori really came into his own with three short pieces by Fritz Kreisler. In Round One in the Senior Division of the Menuhin Competition Austin 2014, each of the competitors must play one of a number of delightful encore pieces composed by Kreisler for his own use. Some of these are technically very difficult and all of them require an ability to play with charm and finesse. What we heard last night from Mr. Hattori was a veritable master class on how to play this music. He delighted the audience with a performance that was not only technically superb, but also sensitive and beautiful.

With guitarist Adam Holzman, a faculty member at the Butler School of Music, Mr. Hattori next turned to a tango-inspired piece by Piazzola; although not one of the Argentinian composer’s most ambitious works, it too had charm.

After intermission, we heard Chinese violinist Lu Siqing (photo:right), who studied with Dorothy Delay at Juilliard and in 1987 became the first Asian violinist to win lst prize at the Paganini Competition. Lu’s recording of the famous Butterfly Lovers concerto has sold over a million copies; in fact, the first piece he played on this evening’s program was by Gang Chen, one of the composers who collaborated on Butterfly Lovers. Gang Chen’s Sunshine in Tasikuergan is a virtuoso showpiece that could easily be mistaken for gypsy music because of its harmonies, rhythms and the way in which it alternates slow and fast sections. Lu Siqing played it with tremendous panache.

Finally, we heard a performance of the Saint-Saëns Violin Sonata that was outstanding in every way. Lu played the big tunes with a full range of tone colors and in the virtuoso passages his mastery of the instrument was astonishing. The last movement of this piece is practically a perpetuum mobile; Lu Siqing and pianist Anton Nel threw caution to the winds as they hurtled to the finish at top speed. 

Special kudos to Anton Nel (photo:right) on piano. A Professor of Piano and Chamber Music Studies at the Butler School of Music, he is also a member of the jury for the Menuhin Competition Austin 2014. Having heard him in concert quite often here and elsewhere, I am familiar with Nel’s technical prowess and breadth of repertoire, but he surpassed himself in this superb performance of the Saint-Saëns, with playing every bit as thrilling as that of his partner. Perhaps the two of them should take this one on the road!

As the competition continues, the original list of 22 competitors in the senior division (16 to 21 years of age), has now been reduced to 9, and the performances in the junior division (under 16 years of age) are underway.

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