La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Menuhin Competition Austin 2014: Junior Section Prize Winners Selected

by Paul E. Robinson

Menuhin Competition Austin 2014 Winners (Junior Division)
(Left to right) Ludwig Gudim (3rd Prize); Daniel Lozakovitj (2nd Prize); Rennosuke Fukuda (1st Prize);
Jaewon Wee (5th Prize); Alex Zhou (4th Prize)

Friday night at the Butler School of Music in Austin, TX, seven young violinists between the ages of 12 and 14, competed for prizes in the Junior Section of the Menuhin Competition Austin 2014. Among the countries represented were the United States, Korea, Japan, Sweden, and Norway.  In this final round the contestants chose one 10-minute piece from a list of four works by Sarasate, Saint-Saëns, Waxman and Wieniawski. Each of the pieces has enormous technical challenges.

In fact, the seven finalists chose only two works among them: Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (chosen by two) and Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy (chosen by four).

By the end of the evening it was clear that we had heard violin playing of remarkable accomplishment. Technical problems didn’t seem to exist for these talented youngsters, and it was difficult to rank one competitor higher or lower than another. While the judges had their work cut out for them this evening, they had also had the experience of listening to these same competitors in earlier rounds; clearly, their final decision was not based solely on a performance of Zigeunerweisen or the Carmen Fantasy.

In my opinion, were I judging only what I heard on Friday night, I would have given the top prize to 15-year-old Ludwig Gudim from Norway. He had technique to burn in the fast passages but he also had a rare gift for getting to the very soul of the music in the soft passages. It was almost uncanny to watch him tease out a phrase and then make it softer and softer almost to the point of inaudibility. What is more, in so doing he forced the members of the orchestra to listen intently and to follow him into that softness. This was artistry of the first order. The judges obviously heard what I heard, but weighed it against what they had heard earlier in the competition and from other competitors. Ludwig Gudim was awarded Third Prize.

Another fine choice was the 12-year-old Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovitj, who played with a maturity and a stage presence way beyond his years. He fully deserved the Second Prize.

The First Prize was awarded to 14-year-old Japanese violinist Rennosuke Fukuda. In the finals he played the Carmen Fantasy better than anyone. His left hand flew up and down the fingerboard and he tossed off the thousands of notes as if it were child’s play. And perhaps it was, given his age.
The University of Texas Symphony Orchestra played superbly for each of the contestants. Conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann handled the tricky accompaniments with such calm assurance that the contestants needed only to concentrate on their own parts.

As First Prize Winner Rennosuke Fukuda is awarded US$7,000, a one-year loan of a fine old Italian violin by Florian Leonhard Fine Violins, and performances at the Long Center in Austin  with the Cleveland Orchestra at a Family Concert on Saturday and at the final Gala on Sunday night.

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