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By Christine Lee
(In order to prevent confusion between the two contestants Chi Li and Zeyu Victor Li, who share the same last name, Zeyu Victor Li is referred to with his full name in this article.)
The finals for the Montreal International Music Competition ended yesterday with the last three finalists performing a concerto with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra led by guest conductor Maxim Vengerov.
The night began with the young violinist from China, Zeyu Victor Lip performing Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D major, opus 35. Zeyu Victor Li played with ease, confidence, and personality. His phrasing displayed great musicality, especially in the first two movements. His clever use of diverse sound and articulation was astounding, and so was his vibrato. However, what set him apart the most from the other candidates was his musical direction, which involved the entire orchestra.
Zeyu Victor Li’s performance showcased his understanding of the piece’s structure. Every moment – a note, a melody, silence – led fluidly to the next . Each instance created suspense, set up a climax, brought out a certain line, or prepared the next moment.
The piece was a complete entity: the soloist, when ending his solo parts, anticipated the phrasing and dynamics used by the orchestra, which created a sense of unity in the music. This in turn inspired the orchestra to reciprocate with equal musicality.
Zeyu Victor Li continuously performed with the orchestra, commanding its attention, and connecting with its musicians, often turning to make eye contact with Maestro Vengerov.
In the second movement, Zeyu Victor Li’s singing tone, coupled with his natural vibrato, showcased the desolation and solitude inherent in Tchaikovsky’s score. A few weeks before he composed his violin concerto, Tchaikovsky, trapped in an unhappy marriage, attempted suicide.
Zeyu Victor Li breezed through the last movement, the most technically challenging section, with a clear technique, clean and on key. He was probably the candidate with the best technique, in both the bowing and the left hand.
Perhaps the only thing somewhat lacking in the final movement was a hint of delirious happiness, the kind that Tchaikovsky might have felt as he was composing this violin concerto: he finally divorced and immersed himself in his work. He was so enthralled by the idea of a violin concerto that he set aside his work on the piano sonata he had been working on to concentrate. The last movement in his violin concerto in D major most probably reflects the ultimate happiness, relief and freedom he found in music.
The night continued with another Tchaikovsky violin concerto, performed by Fédor Roudine, hailing from France.
Roudine’s sound was elegant, light, sweet and enchanting. From the first movement, he played with an earthy tone and brought out the melodic aspect of the music. He showcased a beautiful legato. Unfortunately, the orchestra did not follow Roudine’s style, and played in a more ‘Russian’ style – a little more detached, with more accents and thicker in tone. Overall, this created a disjointed feeling. Also, because the first movement was so elegant and beautiful, there was very little contrast with the second movement, which is meant to showcase the melodic aspect. As such, the latter movement did not have the expected impact, which is a shame because Roudine’s interpretation was beautiful and very sensitive. Perhaps he tried to compensate by choosing a slower tempo, but it was not enough to impress the judges.
The third movement, which should be uplifting, did not have the appropriate character. Roudine’s technique was good, but at times there were problems with pitch. It is to be noted, however, that Roudine performed his last movement much faster than the other candidates.
The last performer of the night and of the competition was Stephen Waarts, performing the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major. As in his semi-final recital, Waarts displayed a beautiful tone and a majestic sound. Every time Waarts played the melody, it sang and resounded with sensitivity, and it moved the piece forward. Though he was slightly nervous at the beginning, he truly brought out the eerie and worrying spirit of the first movement. The young violinist offered a palette of intense moments, especially in the cadenza, where he performed with great contrasts.
In the second movement, Waarts’s musicality and phrasing were truly showcased. Undoubtedly, his sense of melody is his strength: every note, every crescendo, and every vibrato had its place. Everything was on key. (Definitely a must listen!)
The last movement of the Brahms Violin Concert in D major possesses a jolly, almost playful spirit, with some gypsy influence: detachés, portamentos, double-stops, dotted-rhythms, accents and glissando. Brahms wrote his violin concert for his friend, Joseph Joachim (to whom the piece is dedicated), and no doubt, this movement is a wink at the latter’s Hungarian background. Waarts’ rendition of the piece captured just that spirit, and gave it a dancing feeling. Waarts’s beautiful counterpuntal melodic line was also noteworthy and brilliant.
Though the soloist and orchestra were not always together, the audience showered Waarts with thunderous applause and cries of ‘Bravo!’ A rather comical situation then occurred: perhaps shy, the young violinist slipped away, before Vengerov had a chance to shake the hands of the concertmaster or have the orchestra rise, and so Waarts was ushered back on stage. The applause doubled, and with one last bow, Waarts, Vengerov and the musicians left the stage.
After a rather long deliberation (during which the audience was encouraged to vote for their favourite performance by depositing their choice in a ballot), the judges finally revealed the results of the Montreal International Music Competition:
- First place: Marc Bouchkov ($30 000 first prize with a ‘Sartory’ model bow valued at $3 700)
- Second place: Stephen Waarts ($15 000 second prize)
- Third place: Zeyu Victor Li ($10 000 third prize)
All the prizes, including Radio Canada People’s Choice Award, the Award for the best performance of the compulsory Canadian work, the Wilder & Davis Award for the best semi-final recital and three MIMC grant for three unranked finalists, will be officially awar
ded during the Gala Concert on Friday, May 17, at 7:30pm, in the Maison symphonique de Montréal.
Don’t miss these three young violinists, who will perform once again under Maxim Vengerov’s baton and with the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal!