Young musicians outshine seniors

REVIEW / CONCERT

NATIONAL PIANO & VIOLIN COMPETITION 2017 - PRIZE WINNERS' CONCERT

Victoria Concert Hall/Sunday

The Singapore National Piano & Violin Competition (NPVC) continues to show that there is great talent among young musicians, especially the youngest, who roundly eclipsed their seniors in the prize winners' concert.

With four categories - Junior, Intermediate, Senior and Artist - for each instrument, the Prize Winners' Concert featured a work or movement from each of the eight top prize winners, not reflective of how they performed in the competition, but providing a glimpse into the playing of each winner.

The older contestants played in the first half - Koh Serene (Piano Artist, 22), Soh Wei Qi (Piano Senior, 19), Dylan Wee (Violin Senior, 17) and Ronan Lim Ziming (Violin Artist, 18).

An unusual situation arose in that the juries of the respective instruments, made up of highly regarded international artists, did not award any first prizes in the categories, so the four second-prize winners performed.

Soh and Dylan were asked to play the set pieces required of older contestants - Zhang Kangyi's Postcards From Singapore and Eric Watson's Toccata - Eccentric Dance respectively. As competition set pieces go, both were useful vehicles to explore contestants' abilities to cope with new music and both players handled the pieces comfortably.

Koh's piece was the second movement from Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, performed with the NPVC Orchestra under the baton of Joshua Tan. She played with expressiveness, clarity and well-shaped lines, but with a sense of detachment between her and the orchestra.

Ronan's level of comfort as a soloist was never in question as he played the third movement of Sibelius' Violin Concerto. His performance was resolute and unflagging, even when Sibelius' extreme violinistic demands got the better of his intonation or fingerwork. The technicalities of the piece seemed to leave him little space to find deeper meaning in the work. The previous Violin Senior First Prize winner might have been better off choosing a concerto that allowed him to show off more dimensions of his musicianship.

After the intermission, younger contestants - Tay Wan Ni, Nicole (Piano Intermediate, 15), Madeline Goh Anyi (Violin Intermediate, 10), Meng YiRuiXue Jessie (Piano Junior, 10) and Chloe Chua (Violin Junior, 10) - got to perform.

Nicole's first movement from Beethoven's Les Adieux piano sonata was balanced, with well-crafted lines, expressive and tidy. It was only her slightly cool tone and uneven pedalling that kept it from being an excellent performance.

From the time Madeline performed, it became clearer why the higher category first prizes were not awarded. Her Wieniawski Etude-Caprice Op. 18 No. 4, a short but highly demanding study, was dispatched with disarming ease - accurate, tuneful and with minimal fuss.

As if to show that the piano at the Victoria Concert Hall was not as cold as the previous players made it sound, Jessie produced gorgeous sound, great dynamic range and a warmth in her playing in The Lark by Balakirev. Each time one felt that her small frame would limit her playing, she kept giving more.

Chloeseemed to be performing on a violin at least a quarter-size too large for her, but once her bow touched the strings, everything sounded perfectly in place. She produced a wonderfully rich tone and immaculate double stops and harmonics. Her agogic sense, the give and take in her playing, made this technical showpiece most musical.

There should be some concern that the Senior and Artist sections did not have contestants worthy of top prizes, but the exceptional performances by the trio of 10-year-olds show that something good is happening with the teaching of young talent in Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'Young musicians outshine seniors'. Print Edition | Subscribe