By Dennis D. Rooney
The four finalists in the second triennial Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition the next EOIVC will be held in 2023) were heard on the last weekend in January in two concerts.
They had been chosen from 19 quarter-finalists from 10 locations — Canada, China, Israel, Italy, Korea, Russia, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United States, ranging in age from 19-29.
On Saturday evening (Jan. 25), finalists Vikram Francesco Sedona, a 19-year-old Italian, and Jung Min Choi, a 25-year-old Korean, both performed the Violin Concerto (in D, Op. 77) of Johannes Brahms.
Sedona played on an instrument of unknown provenance but made a beautiful sound on it, emphasizing the work’s poetic lyricism. Those qualities marked an account that was deeply affecting.
Choi’s performance was markedly different. Hers was a true “winner’s performance” in which she established her technical security and tonal brilliance early on, in combination with brilliant virtuosity that easily impressed her hearers. I found her interpretation rather impersonal but no one could doubt her assurance and command throughout. She hit all the marks unerringly. She complemented her appearance with a striking gown that was as impressive visually as her playing was aurally.
Igor Khukhua, a 27-year-old Russian, led off the second concert, on Sunday afternoon (Jan. 26), with another performance of the Brahms concerto. There were problems both in the focus of his sound and also of faulty intonation, plus an overall lack of tonal brilliance that made his performance far less impressive than those of Saturday’s contestants. However, his choice of the Heifetz cadenza to the first movement may have lent it additional interest.
The fourth finalist, Julian Rhee, a 19-year old from Wisconsin, played the Concerto No. 3 (in B minor, Op. 61) by Camille Saint-Saëns. Whereas Brahms’s concerto, written for his friend, Joseph Joachim, is a massive work of often granitic character, the recipient of Saint-Saens’s concerto was the Spaniard, Pablo de Sarasate, whose brilliant, colorful playing inspired a work of brilliant virtuosity with moments of wistfulness, gaiety and playfulness.
From his fearless assault on the opening solo passages to his bravura traversal of the conclusion, Rhee demonstrated a mastery of technique and taste that belied his age. He was so poised that even a few mishaps in the orchestral accompaniment could not faze him. His advocacy for the work was entirely successful.
Rhee seemed to me to be the clear winner, and in ceremonies on stage, the jury (comprised of chairman David Cerone, Andrés Cárdenes, Ilya Kaler, Sung-Ju Lee, Silvia Marcovici, Gerardo Ribeiro, Barry Shiffman, and Kathleen Winkler) agreed by awarding him first prize, with a cash award of $30,000, public relations and artist management support for three years, and a new violin, bow and instrument case.
He also received a Community Engagement Prize of $2,500, awarded by a special panel of local partners not connected with the competition jury.
Second prize went to Jung Min Choi, with a cash award of $15,000 plus a new violin, bow and case. Igor Khukhua won third prize and $10,000 with a new bow. Vikram Francesco Sedona received Honorable Mention and $5,000.