Keep Up With The Play

If you missed the 2013 Competition the first time, (or simply want to relive it again), follow our daily “blog” and Keep Up With the Play.

  • The Competition Hits International Airwaves

    Sat 15 June 2013

    It’s hard to believe it’s now a week since our three finalists took the stage with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra to perform three concerti in the Competition’s Grand Final.

    What a stunning night of music that was with Boson Mo playing Prokofiev, followed by Nikki Chooi performing Sibelius and Sarah Christian playing Brahms.

    Canadian Nikki Chooi was announced the winner of the 2013 Competition, with Sarah Christian (Germany) second and Boson Mo (Canada) third.

    Fourth placegetter was Wonyoung Jung (South Korea), with Ioana Cristina Goicea (Romania) fifth and New Zealand’s Natalie Lin in sixth. Sarah won the Chamber Music prize and Natalie won the Audience Prize. Australian Sujin Park won the Bergonzi Violin for two years.

    Nikki told us afterwards he was delighted at the win and “it’s a dream come true.” Also delighted was judge Ida Kavafian – Nikki’s teacher. Ida said later that it had been incredibly difficult not to have contact with her student at all during the Competition.

    “Usually I would be by his side and supporting him with advice and not being able to do that was very hard for both of us.”

    Nikki’s win has gained attention from the international media and he’s featured in the prestigious online publications The Violin Channel and The Strad, as well as in the Victoria Times in Canada. On Monday (NZ time), Canada Broadcasting Service’s Radio Two is playing Nikki and Boson’s finals performances. You can tune in at

    We’ve now farewelled almost all our semi-finalists. Boson Mo stayed on for a week’s holiday and he and Natalie Lin popped in to the Auckland district finals of Chamber Music New Zealand’s NZ Community Trust Chamber Music Contest. Natalie says the contest inspired her in her choice of career as a professional musician (she was in the winning ensemble in 2005). Natalie and Boson popped backstage to wish St Cuthbert’s College ensemble Mentalstorm luck for their performance (they received a highly commended and this week will hear whether they will be performing in the National Finals in August).

  • The Grand Finale…

    Sat 8 June 2013

    Excitement is in the air as we head towards the Grand Final tonight and find out who will be the winner of the 2013 Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

    It’s hard to believe that just one week ago we were listening to our 18 semi-finalists for the very first time in Queenstown – for us, and the violinists, it seems a lifetime ago.

    On our Facebook page today we are uploading albums featuring each of the 18 semi-finalists and building towards the final three. While there can be only one winner, we remember that these 18 are among the world’s best young violinists today and we celebrate all their success in coming to the Competition.

    Our three finalists have been practising on their own, and rehearsing with the Auckland Philharmonia yesterday and today.

    For Nikki Chooi, this also meant trying out playing in his tuxedo jacket.

    Meanwhile, other activities of the Competition have continued. The Competition has a strong professional development component and competitors have been working in schools and attending masterclasses, together with other top young Auckland violinists.

    In our Classroom Conversations series, Georg Pfirsch and David Radzynski visited St Kentigerns College, while Stephen Tavani and Sissi Yuqing Zhang talked and played at Epsom Girls Grammar School.

    Don’t forget you can still vote (by text or online) for your favourite violinist in the Competition. And we will be live streaming tonight’s Grand Final direct from Auckland Town Hall from 7.30pm. The performance order tonight is:

    1. Boson Mo: Prokofiev Concerto for Violin No 2 in G minor
    2. Nikki Chooi: Sibelius Concerto in D minor
    3. Sarah Christian: Brahms Concerto in D major
  • And Then There Were Three

    Thu 6 June 2013

    Our three finalists have been named as the Competition enters its final stages.

    Following Round III performances by Wonyoung Jung, Sarah Christian and Boson Mo, the judges decided (again by secret ballot) on the final three – Canadians Nikki Chooi and Boson Mo, and German Sarah Christian.

    Sir Michael Hill with the three finalists and judges: Helene Pohl, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, James Ehnes, Nikki Chooi, Boson Mo, Sarah Christian, Ning Feng, Dene Olding, Christian Altenburger and Ida Kavafian. Photo: Simon Darby

    These three finalists will spend Friday rehearsing with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra ahead of their final performances on Saturday night for which they will each play a full concerto. Boson Mo will play Prokofiev’s Concerto for Violin No 2 in G minor; Nikki Chooi will play Sibelius’ Concerto in D minor and Sarah Christian will play Brahms’ Concerto in D major.

    And while Nikki, Boson and Sarah rehearse and prepare for the final, our other semi-finalists and judges have a full programme. Competition violinists will visit two Auckland secondary schools, and three of our judges – Ida Kavafian, Christian Altenburger and Ning Feng – teach masterclasses for talented New Zealand violinists and our semi-finalists.

    The masterclasses are open to the public. Ida and Christian teach at the University of Auckland School of Music Theatre (Ida at 1pm and Christian at 3.30pm), while Ning Feng conducts his masterclass at the University of Waikato at 5pm. Dmitry Sitkovetsky and James Ehnes taught masterclasses today.

    And tune into Radio New Zealand Concert at 12.05pm Friday (NZST) to hear judge Dmitry Sitkovetsky talking about the Competition. Plus, we’ll be popping into rehearsals and will keep you up with the play as we head towards the Final on Saturday night.

    And finally, we thought we’d share this snap. Earlier today, one of our team made a flying visit to our colleagues in Wellington at Chamber Music New Zealand … and who should walk into the office but 2011 Winner Sergey Malov and his mum Klara. If you’re in Wellington on Friday, Sergey is performing a concert at Expressions Theatre in Upper Hutt.

  • A Thrilling Start To Round III

    Weds 5 June 2013

    What a thrilling start to Round III at Auckland Town Hall! This is the chamber music round where each of the top six semi-finalists performs a full piano trio with pianist Michael Houstoun and cellist Ashley Brown. In Rounds I and II the judges saw and heard how the competitors performed solo and with piano accompaniment – in Round III they see them perform in a piano trio.

    Each performer had previously selected their repertoire for the competition and this year that means five of the six semi-finalists perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 1 Op 49 and tonight we heard it performed three times by Canada’s Nikki Chooi, Ioana Cristina Goicea from Romania and New Zealander Natalie Lin. Hearing and watching the three competitors perform the same piece provided audience members with an opportunity to experience the subtle nuances and different styles of playing. We’ll update this blog tomorrow morning with photos from the first night of Round III.

    It’s been a busy day for all our semi-finalists. While our top six semi-finalists were busy rehearsing and preparing for Round III, the 12 other semi-finalists had a day off in Auckland and time to relax and rest after the very intense competition in Queenstown.

    Tomorrow night we are back at the Concert Chamber in Auckland Town Hall to hear first Wonyoung Jung (South Korea) and then Sarah Christian (Germany) play the Mendelssohn, followed by Boson Mo (Canada) performing Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor.

    We’re continuing to live stream the Competition, so no matter where you are, you can tune in. We love hearing from our audience around the world – here’s a comment from our Facebook page from Helmi: “very good competition, watching from Paris. Very happy for Nikki and Boson.”

  • Heading To Auckland

    Tue 4 June 2013

    All our semi-finalists headed to Auckland today as we enter the next phase of the Competition. We grabbed our top six semi-finalists for a quick snap before they dashed to board their flight.

    Tomorrow three of our six top semi-finalists rehearse with Ashley Brown (cello) and Michael Houstoun (piano) before the first of the Round III performances at the Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall at 7.30pm.

    While our semi-finalists have been busy, so have our development prize winners. New Zealand Development Prize winner Ben Baker and Australian Development Prize winner James Dong performed at a special lunch at The Hills yesterday.

    Development and education is a big part of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition and school students attend our top six semi-finalists rehearsals, while Classroom Conversations take place at a number of Auckland secondary schools.

    Masterclasses with our international jurors also provide opportunities for and talented New Zealand violinists to expand their skills and further develop as players. Already we have held masterclasses in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

    This week masterclasses take place in Auckland and Hamilton with Dmitry Sitkovetsky, James Ehnes, Ida Kavafian, Christian Altenburger and Ning Feng. The 12 semi-finalists who have not made it in to the next round have the option to attend these masterclasses as well.

    Don’t forget you can vote for your favourite violinist via text voting (New Zealand only) or online and we’ll be keeping you up with the play as the Competition progresses this week.

  • Announcing The Top Six Finalists

    Mon 3 June 2013

    We’ve announced the top six semi-finalists to progress to Round III.

    Eighteen violinists from around the world have performed in the gruelling initial rounds of competition in Queenstown over the past three days. The six semi-finalists who go through to the next round in Auckland are (in no particular order): Nikki Chooi (Canada), Sarah Christian (Germany), Ioana Cristina Goicea (Romania), Wonyoung Jung (South Korea), Natalie Lin (New Zealand) and Boson Mo (Canada).

    New Zealander Natalie Lin admits she was completely shocked and overwhelmed, while Ioana Cristina Goicea is excited and described the night as “amazing”. For Wonyoung Jung it was an extra special surprise – it’s only 10 days since she received the email that she was coming to New Zealand as the first alternate after Russian Ekaterina Frolova withdrew due to illness. Don’t forget … 2009 winner Josef Spacek made it into the competition as an alternate.

    “I still can’t believe it,” Wonyoung told us after hearing that she was in the top six. “I really didn’t expect this at all.”

    Also announced tonight was Nikki Chooi as the winner of Best Performance of the New Zealand Work, Jack Body’s Caravan.

    We’ve had sold-out audiences attending the first two rounds in Queenstown and this year, for the first time, the competition has been live streamed over the Internet with more than 10,000 views over the three days.

    Tomorrow we all fly to Auckland (except the judges who have a well-earned day off in Queenstown) for Round III and we’re looking forward to the excitement continuing. Our blog will continue as we follow the semi-finalists on their journey through the Competition.

  • Have You Picked Your Top Six?

    Mon 3 June 2013

    The time has come – after three intense days of wonderful music, our international jury has adjourned to make the decision on the top six semifinalists to advance to Round III. The voting is done in secret and the judges do not confer at all.

    In the foyer of the Queenstown Memorial Centre we can hear the audience members discussing their favourites. In just over an hour we will know who will be performing in the chamber music round in Auckland on Wednesday and Thursday.

    We’d like to wish all 18 competitors the very best of luck – they are all superb musicians and it’s been a treat to be immersed in the most wonderful music-making for three days.

  • Final Day Of Queenstown Rounds

    Mon 3 June 2013

    At the end of the day our international jury will retire to decide on the top six semi-finalists to go through to Round III in Auckland.

    Jurors follow a strict voting procedure and do not discuss competitors. Each juror votes in confidence for his/her first choice of semi-finalist to advance to Round III and a semi-finalist may only advance by receiving a majority vote. The process is repeated until six semi-finalists have been selected for Round III.

    Meanwhile, Sir Michael has been enjoying the competition – we’re not sure who he is cheering on!

    As well as a $40,000 cash prize, a major winner’s tour and a CD recording, the winner of the Competition also receives a custom-designed gown from Kiri Nathan or a tailored suit from Working Style. Competition executive director Anne Rodda is sporting a beautiful Kiri Nathan dress today.

  • Jazzing It Up With Sergey

    Sun 2 June 2013

    Today’s activities ended on a high note with a special jazz concert ‘Come Play With Me’ featuring 2011 winner Sergey Malov performing with the Jason Thornton Jazz Group and guest vocalist Karen Hattaway.

    Sergey once again showed us, and a sold out audience, his incredible talent.

    This year has been a year of ‘firsts’ for the competition – the first time a jazz concert has featured as part of the Competition; the first year the competition has been live streamed and the first time we’ve had a former winner (Feng Ning) return as a judge.

    Join us tomorrow when nine of the 18 semi-finalists perform in Round II and the top six semi-finalists will be announced.

  • Catching Up With Sergey And Ben Baker

    Sun 2 June 2013

    We’re nearing the end of day one of Round II of the competition and thoroughly enjoying the superb playing we’re seeing and hearing, and with our LiveStream of the competition, our audience is spread around the world – already we’ve had more than 4500 views of the LiveStream channel.

    We popped backstage and caught Sissi Zhang heading onstage to perform.

    Meanwhile, 2011 winner Sergey Malov popped in again today on his way to rehearsal for the jazz concert tonight ‘Come Play With Me’ (be quick – there are a very limited number of tickets left). We took the opportunity to grab some special snaps of him (and there are more on our Facebook page).

    We also caught up with Ben Baker who is the New Zealand Development Prize winner and has been attending all the sessions and masterclasses. We’ll be posting the full interview on our Facebook page.

    Ben (23) was born in Wellington, but left New Zealand when he was eight years old after being offered a scholarship to the Yehudi Menuhin School. He’s now forging a career as a musician and “living the dream” and is finishing his studies at the Royal College of Music, trialling as assistant concertmaster for the Royal Opera House orchestra and performs with The Philharmonia in London later in the year. Ben’s proud of his New Zealand roots and his violin is sponsored by Sir John Todd. If you’re in Wellington on Monday night, Ben performs at The Wellington Club.

  • Dressing The Part

    Sat 1 June 2013

    We’re reaching the end of day one of the Competition and along with beautiful performances, we’ve also seen a parade of gorgeous gowns worn by our 13 female semi-finalists.

    While every semi-finalist has put in hours and hours of practice before they take to the stage, thought and planning has also gone into what they wear, and for the women, that means evening gowns.

    NZTrio violinist and presenter of our ‘Insider’s Guide’ Justine Cormack says the choice of clothing for all semi-finalists is important and they need to look the part. “It’s equally important for men and women, but for women, it can go more wrong.”

    German semi-finalist Sarah Christian chose an elegant gown for her Round I performance and says selecting what to wear is an important part of planning for the Competition and she has particular dresses which have associations with good performances. “It has to be absolutely comfortable and ‘fit’ the stage well, but the dress shouldn’t catch all the attention – the music has to be the most important.”

    Round II of the Competition begins tomorrow at 9.30am NZ time and is spread over two days. The 18 semi-finalists each perform four pieces – a Paganini Caprice, two movements from a selected sonata with piano, Caravan by Jack Body, and a virtuoso work of the competitor’s own choice from the 19th or 20th century.

  • Round 1 Action

    Sat 1 June 2013

    We’re halfway through Round 1 of the Competition with nine of the semi-finalists having performed their solo Bach and accompanied Mozart pieces.

    The almost full house at the Queenstown Memorial Centre has certainly appreciated the very high level of skill shown by our competitors.

    New Zealand semi-finalist Natalie Lin performed this afternoon and said afterwards that she was pleased with her playing. “I was nervous, but the audience was lovely and it’s always nice when it feels like a recital rather than a competition and that people are here for the music.”

    Natalie’s Auckland-based parents are among the 1000 viewers who have been watching the Competition through live streaming.

    Today’s Competition runs until 10.15pm New Zealand time and don’t forget you can listen to the live stream and start voting for your favourites. If you missed one of the performances, you can watch and listen again via the live stream link.

  • Competition Underway Today

    Sat 1 June 2013

    The 2013 Michael Hill International Violin Competition gets underway this morning with the first round during which each semi-finalist plays a Bach sonata and a Mozart concerto.

    First to perform is Australian Sujin Park who last night told us she had hoped not to be first or last “but that’s my luck and I’m not thinking about it too much”. American semi-finalists Stephen Tavani and David Radzynski follow.

    We welcomed all the semi-finalists yesterday with a powhiri followed by the draw of the order and we caught up with New Zealand semi-finalist Natalie Lin who is excited about performing on home territory and has her grandparents with her supporting her. She competes ninth on the programme today at 3.15pm.

    We also met and heard from our panel of judges about the role competitions play. It’s always a thrill seeing the incredible calibre of the judging panel and this year, for the first time, we have a returning winner – Feng Ning – on the panel.

    And what a treat last night to hear 2011 winner Sergey Malov perform, accompanied by pianist Sarah Watkins and joined by Ben Baker for Bach’s three-part inventions for violin and violoncello. Ben and Sergey were obviously enjoying playing these short pieces written by Bach as exercises for his students and particularly his son Wilhelm Friedemann.

    Sergey earlier described the programme of Bach, Schnittke, Falla and Stravinsky as “sweet suites”.

    As well as live streaming all rounds of the competition, you can vote for your favourite violinist throughout the competition. We’ll be updating throughout the day as we catch up with the competitors and judges.

  • Competition Count Down

    Fri 31 May 2013

    Excitement is building in Queenstown as we near the start of the first round of this year’s Competition. All our 18 wonderful semi-finalists have been rehearsing and trying out the acoustics of the Queenstown Memorial Hall where the first two rounds take place.

    They’ve also had the chance to enjoy the beauty of the Queenstown area which is simply breathtaking – Belgian semi-finalist Eugenia Ryabinina got among the wolves at The Hills’ sculpture park (‘The wolves are coming by Liu Ruowang’).

    Yesterday, as part of the Competition’s ‘Classroom Conversations’ series, school students had the chance to hear some of our competitors and have questions answered by 2011 winner Sergey Malov and New Zealand Development Prize winner Ben Baker. Alison Price from Wakatipu High School said her students don’t have a lot of exposure to classical music and really appreciated the skills on display.

    And while the competitors have been busy, there’s been plenty happening behind the scenes as we prepare to bring you the best experience of the Competition ever. We’re LIVE streaming all rounds of the Competition so whether you’re with us in Queenstown, in Auckland anticipating Round 3 and the Final or one of our many followers around the world, you can tune in and be part of the action. Details for how to access the live streaming will be on our homepage tomorrow.

    Today we formally welcome all 18 of our semi-finalists and the draw will be made determining the order… who will be up first? We’ll let you know right away.

    And tonight, we’re all looking forward to a very special Welcome Back Winner recital with Sergey Malov and accompanied by Sarah Watkins. Sergey is incredibly talented and we love having him back in New Zealand, and this time he brought his mum, Klara.

  • There’s No Business Like Snow Business

    Wed 29 May 2013

    2011 competition winner Sergey Malov was delighted to hear snow was forecast for Queenstown … “maybe I will get to ski?” he asked hopefully.

    Sergey may not get on the slopes, but our competitors are all experiencing the winter wonderland which is Queenstown in the snow and meanwhile, we’re just pleased the weather has cleared enough to make sure everyone gets to Queenstown in time.

    All but two competitors had made it to Queenstown by yesterday, but the flight delays did leave Canadian violinist Boson Mo and New Zealand Development Prize winner Ben Baker in Auckland for the night, while pianists Sarah Watkins and Diedre Irons were also delayed and judge Ida Kavafian spent an extra night in Christchurch before she drives to Dunedin for tomorrow’s masterclass.

    “We’re just loving the beautiful snowy scenes here in Queenstown,” executive director Anne Rodda said. “And, with our judges arriving tomorrow and on Friday, we’re just pleased that the weather is clearing.”

    But it’s not just travel plans which have been a challenge – violins are delicate and luthier Dick Panting has been touching base with all the violinists to check on the health of their instruments and make sure they are all in the best condition possible ahead of the competition.

    It’s been a particularly exciting week for all of our semi-finalists, but none more so than for 27-year-old Korean violinist Wonyoung Jung who had just 72 hours notice to get on a plane from Seoul to New Zealand after Russian competitor Ekaterina Frolova had to withdraw due to illness.

    Today marks the first day of rehearsals for the 18 semi-finalists as they meet up with Sarah and Diedre to rehearse for the first rounds of competition which begin on Saturday.

    Meanwhile, Sergey thrilled the audience in Whangarei with his performance last night on violin, viola and violoncello da spalla. We’re looking forward to his concert with Sarah on Friday night in Queenstown.

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