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Aspiring to promote the growth of classical music in the region, as well as provide a platform to catapult young and gifted violinists from around the world into a professional music career, the Singapore International Violin Competition returns in 2018, hosted by the YST Conservatory. We asked the head of its Artistic Committee, QIAN ZHOU, a world-class recording artist and teacher in her own right, what to expect.
How did you get started with the violin?
You could say I was something of a child prodigy. I was born in Hangzhou, China, and my father, who was also a well-known composer and violinist, decided to send me for early training when I was eight. I ended up winning first prize in the China National Competition in 1982, when I was 14.
At that point, I had to choose somewhere to continue my studies. There were three directions I could have gone in, but in the end I decided to head to the US to the Peabody Institute to study with Berl Senofsky, as I loved his playing.
At the age of 18, I won the Marguerite-LongJacques-Thibaud Competition, and I signed a contract with an artist management company and started performing as a concert violinist around the world including in France, Germany, the UK and the US.
Eventually, I explored teaching by taking up a post at Peabody Conservatory for two years, but had to eventually give this up due to schedule clashes with my performance and tours.
What brought you to Singapore?
Steven Baxter, who was the first director of YST, approached me about starting a collaborative conservatory with Peabody in Singapore. They wanted someone Asian who has connections, and of course I wanted to be here. My father was ill at the time and I wanted to be close to him, so I decided to take the job.
That was how I became one of the founding members of the conservatory, back in 2003. The more I settled in to Singapore, the more I enjoyed it. I’ve now been here for 14 years.
What’s the main goal behind the Singapore International Violin Competition (SIVC?)
Our mission is to provide a platform that can establish a career pathway for deserving artists. We wanted to create a competition event that was meaningful; it’s not just about the cash prize.
The first Singapore International Violin Competition in 2015 was years in the making and took a lot of preparation. To organise such a high profile event is never easy.
To establish a great competition, you need a good reputation, talented participants, first class jury members and the involvement of the right organisations.
What sets SIVC apart from other famous violin competitions around the world?
We’re the only competition that provides rare and fine italian instruments for finalists. Apart from concert engagements and a recording contract, winners will have the luxury of playing instruments from the likes of Stradivari, Guadagnini, Pressenda, Tonini and Montagnana. What’s more, the winner will be able to use it for three years.
What are the key components you look for when judging a performance?
Musicianship, technical assurance, stage charisma and sincerity. When you have all four, you shine. Having perfect notes is not enough; you need a deep understanding of the music, and to be able to communicate it well. Sincerity is the most important thing to me. We want to hear something that touches your soul .
What advice would you give to parents who would like their children to take up the violin?
Parents should be more democratic when it comes to letting their children choose what they like. The violin is the most difficult instrument to learn, and it takes a lot of concentration and devotion from both sides.
Ear training from the age of four or five is very important. Not everyone knows that perfect pitch – the ability to hear any note and know what it is – can be taught. It’s the best time for them to learn, and you can create a game with it, which is fun. Fifteen minutes a day is enough, and consistency is the most important thing.
If you hadn’t become a violinist, what other career might you have had?
Definitely ballet! My mother was a dancer, and I was so passionate about it; even more so than playing the violin.
In your opinion, is the performance industry a male-dominated one?
Yes, to an extent. It really does take more than a normal person to be a career performer and a mother at the same time. It’s incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally; I can’t imagine juggling the two roles, but there are others who can cope with both sides equally well.
Find out more about the Singapore International Violin Competition at singaporeviolincompetition.com. Tickets to watch the live rounds, which are open to the public, will go on sale on 9 November 2017 from SISTIC.
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