Evaluation of the 64th year of the Kocian Violin Competition

The 64th Kocian Violin Competition took place in Ústí nad Orlicí from 4th to 7th May 2022. Due to the post-pandemic situation and the conflict in Ukraine, the competition attracted slightly fewer competitors than in previous years. Despite this, we were very happy to see and hear each other after two years in person. That’s why the subtitle of this year’s contest was “…from Screens Back to the Stage!”

There were 44 violinists registered and 40 competitors finally arrived in Ústí. Violinists from 13 countries came to compete, 18 of them from the Czech Republic. It is amazing that the Kocian Violin Competition, as the oldest competition in the world for children and teenagers under 16, has such a great reputation in the world and still attracts so many foreign participants.
However, I would like to see more Czech participants in the years to come.

The composition of the jury, prepared by my esteemed predecessor and long-time chairman of the jury, the recently deceased Pavel Hůla, was highly representative and traditionaly international.

We welcomed Wladislaw Winokurow MA, BA – last year’s winner Kai Gergov’s Professor of Kunstuniversität Graz, a brilliant violinist MgA. Hana Kotková, who represented Switzerland, Professor Emeritus of Academie de Musique d’Ath Prof. Daniel Glineur, founder of the Kocian Quartet MgA. Pravoslav Kohout, Prof. František Novotný from JAMU Brno and also MgA. Štěpán Ježek, Ph.D. from the Prague Academy of Performing Arts and member of the Bennewitz Quartet. I was very pleased by our cooperation, and although we sometimes had differences of opinion on some performances, we always came to consensus.

Evaluation of individual categories:

1st category

9 competitors took part in this category. As usual, it was a one-round competition, the compulsory composition was the 1st movement from Sonatina in G major Op. 100 by A. Dvořák.
Apart from the winner, I felt that this category overall fell a little short of the the level of competitors from previous years, where we heard fantastic performances from a larger number of participants. I think this change was due to the pandemic and the inability to see your teacher live for many months. For those for the youngest violinists, it was a very difficult time. However, as we want to mainly support and appreciate our youngest contestants, in the end we awarded Certificates of Merit of 2nd grade to two Mongolian contestants and of the 1st grade to two Czech contestants.
The 3rd prize went to Badrakh Nasanjargal from Mongolia for her energetic performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor. The two second prizes went to  Mila Imak Fernandez Ostaševski from Slovenia and Bogomila Lyudilova Krasteva from Bulgaria. The clear winner of this category was the ten-year-old Slovenian/Austrian violinist Filip Fehér, who with his performance of the Spanish Symphony by E. Lalo, with his beautiful vibrato and quality of tone and musicianship, showed the class that surpassed the other competitors.
As a rule, first two categories are very tricky in performance evaluation. Each young violinist has a slightly different start, and we’re talking about kids with very different backgrounds and opportunities. Even the choice of repertoire is very important.

2nd category

In the 2nd category Arabesques 4 and 5 by Bohuslav Martinů were chosen as a compulsory composition. These pieces are not very technically demanding, but still proved too much for some of the competitors. Especially the slow Arabesque No. 5 with its first two notes immediately showed the weaknesses of many – vibrato and intonation. Some decided to switch the two movements and start with the faster Arabesque No. 4, which was a very good strategy against nervousness. In the end, seven out of the nine competitions went to the second round.

In the second round it turned out that this year’s second category will not be one of the strongest in terms of level. Although, as always, there is an exception to the rule. The one that finally emerged was Khulan Ankhbayar from Mongolia, who clearly won thanks to a flawless performance of the Violin Concerto No. 7 by Ch. A. Bériot. I was very happy about this victory not only because of the performance itself, but also because it was the first ever victory of a violinist from Mongolia. The Mongolian delegation is always large at KVC (this year there were 7 participants), they have been coming here regularly for more than ten years. And it seems to me that its participants are getting better every year also thanks to the experience they gain here at the competition.
Khulan Ankhbayar also won the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation Award for the best performance of a work by B. Martinů and also the prize for the best interpretation of the composition of the Belgian composer and thus took away a very nice financial reward from Ústí.

As I wrote before, the second category was a bit disappointing in the overall level, so the jury decided not to award the second prize. Instead, we divided three third prizes between Anna Magdalena Watzko, who impressed me with her very nice vibrato, Austrian violinist Michaela Kalisch and Nasanbat Gunzee from Mongolia. Certificate of Merit of the 1st grade was awarded to Helena Vydrová and Certificate of Merit of the 2nd grade went to Samuel Bernhard Novotný.

3rd category

The 3rd category is usually very good and every year it surprises with something.
The obligatory piece was Intermezzo Pittoresque by Jaroslav Kocian, composition often played at KVC for its playfulness and technical difficulty. I was a little disappointed with the performance from many of the competitors, as the RICOCHET seemed to be beyond their strength and capabilities, as well as  flageolet E3 on the A string very often did not come out. That’s why I enjoyed so much the beautiful performance of Asan Ryunosuke, who represented the United Arab Emirates and Japan, and who, thanks to his confident performance, eventually won the The Master J. Kocian Foundation Award for the best performance of Kocian’s composition.

Out of the ten participants, six candidates finally made it to the second round.
Nowdays, we expect from their performances a good technique and a strong musical sensibility. I write this with the knowledge that these young people are between the age of twelve to fourteen. It’s a lot of pressure on them, of course, but who can’t handle it now will have a very difficult time in the future.

I was a bit worried after the first round what the quality of the second round would be. But it turned out that my fears were false. With more repertoire and time could the contestants show their full strength. This was especially demonstrated by the winner of this category Lana Zorjan from Serbia. The jury was literally enchanted by her playing and by her well chosen repertoire. A thrilling and highly musical performance in the first movement of Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto and in another of his compositions Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso brought tears to the eyes of some of the jurors. A not only them. It was very touching to watch her mother during the announcement of results… I was very happy to see the 1st prize and the title of laureate coming back to Serbia after a long time. In the earlier years, still under the Yugoslavia brand, many violinists came to KVC, including the legendary Stefan Milenković, who in 1984 became the youngest laureate in history.

The second place in the 3rd category went to Małgorzata Maria Błazik from Poland, who beautifully performed Dvořák’s Ballade and the unconventional Carmen Fantasy by Franz Drdla, which is rarely performed. We again awarded three third prizes. One to Daniel Guttmann from Austria, who only played in the second round technically tuned pieces – Paganini’s La Campanella, Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella and Wieniawski Polonaise in D major. For such a young violinist, it was great performance, it’s a pity he didn’t show some of his more musical qualities.
Another third place was the above mentioned Asano Ryosuke, who in the first movement of Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 showed his quality of feeling of chamber music. I was very pleased with Viola Lukášová, who played Ch. de Beriot’s complete Violin Concerto No. 9. Mostly only the first movement is played, so it was nice to hear the other movements. Certificate of Merit of the 1st grade was awarded to Tadej Benedik from Slovenia and of the 2nd grade to Alžběta Domincová from the Czech Republic.

4th category

The 4th category was the best and overall the most balanced. This time the compulsory composition was Ševčík’s Girl with Blue Eyes. I was very surprised how well the violinists did especially at the beginning of the piece, where the theme of a famous folk song is played in flageolets in double stops. Many an adult soloist would not be ashamed of such a performance. Of the twelve participants, ten competitors deserved to go to the second round, which in itself indicates the high level of this category.

Ten contestants was quite a challenge for the jury, considering that most of the of the competitors used the full 20-minute limit. With one exception, the Serbian Nađa Komlenić, who played only 13 minutes. The first movement of Mendelssohn’s concerto was well played, but as a jury, at my instigation, we wondered if she should be disqualified because the competitors should play at least 14 minutes. As the competition should be an objective picture of the contestants’ performances, I wouldn’t want us to hurt someone who plays 20 minutes and then for the jury to face questions about how it is possible that someone has to play that longer and someone only 13 minutes. It is, of course, primarily the teacher’s fault that they may not have read the rules of the competition, but rules are rules and should be followed by all without exception. In the end, we agreed that each judge would take not only her performance, but also her low minutes. I think it was a good thing, and given her final result, a good enough decision.

I would like to highlight at this point four contestants who received first three prizes. The 3rd place went to Vilém Jirsa, whom I have been following for a long time. Vilém is an excellent violinist and it seems he is becoming a first-class musician. He showed that in the 3rd and 4th movements of the Shostakovich concerto. Shostakovich is a composer into whom one has to grow into, so to speak, one has to have some life experience. But Vilém has taken on this work as a skilled violinist, not only with excellent technique, but and also with expression and musicality. It’s just a pity about his very fast and narrow vibrato, which limits his musical expression.

The jury awarded two 2nd prizes in this category. Liepa Jurgutavičiūtė from Lithuania won one of the prizes for her performance of the 2nd and 3rd movements of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D Major. It was a very heartfelt performance of the 2nd movement, unfortunately with occasional technical hesitation of the third movement. Liepa shared the second 2nd prize with Milan Kostelenec who performed 1st movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. He has a great technique, he improves every year and his musical expression, but still, Tchaikovsky needs a little more calm and composure.

1st prize in this category was deservedly won by Boha Moon representing the Czech Republic. She did not come from the Czech violin school, but she lives in Prague and we are very happy that such a great violinist we can consider “ours”. She played Mozart’s Adagio in E Major and Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy. If I were to be more critical of anything, it would be the Mozart. But the Carmen Fantasy might as well been recorded on CD right away. I confess that I’ve never heard such a flawless performance of this extremely difficult piece.

If I were to summarize the whole competition, despite the great coronavirus problems, this year’s competition was of an exceptional level. Perhaps the covid did a bit of a detriment to the preparation and development of the younger ones, but the 3rd and 4th categories were exceptional.

For me personally, this was the first KVC in my role as Chairman of the Jury. I tried to lead the jury impartially and objectively, always thinking of my predecessor Pavel Hůla. I had great fellow jurors and I thank them once again for participation.

I wish all young violinists, their parents and teachers the best of luck and perseverance. And we will look forward to seeing you again next year.

With best wishes

Pavel Šporcl, chairman of KVC 2022