With the 2016 Menuhin Competition opening rounds set to commence this coming Friday, VC recently caught up with a number of former prize winners to get a better understanding of their time at the competition – and the opportunities the biennial event has presented.
2010 Senior 1st Prize Winner, VC ‘Artist’ Angelo Xiang Yu, from China guest blogs about his eventful experience.
“The 2010 Yehudi Menuhin Competition in Oslo is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
Many people still remember the famous eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in April 2010. Such disaster severely paralyzed the air transportation. Due to the strong wind, almost entire Europe was covered by thick volcano ash – from Iceland to Moscow, from Norway to Spain.
“Luckily”, I was flying through Iceland Air from Boston to Oslo, with a connection flight in Reykjavik. It was a Thursday morning, by the time my flight was landed in Reykjavik Airport, the volcano erupted. Absolutely no flight was allowed to fly due to the volcano ash, and I thousands of people were stuck at the airport with empty stomach. However, the eruption continued, and the intensity showed no sign of decreasing. Finally after 10 hours, the airline decided to put me in a hotel in the city center.
The eruption did not stop, and many other competitors were stuck in Berlin, Paris, and other European cities. They had to find alternative solutions such as traveling by car, train, or ferry in order to get to Oslo. However, the only way to get out of Iceland is air transportation, so I better start swimming!
I waited here for 2 days, staring at the TV news, walking on the street alone, and started feeling depressed as the eruption continues.
In day three, the competition office introduced me to a former ambassador of Norway and China, who retired a couple years ago and lives in Iceland. I stayed with his family in Iceland, and the depression slowly became a relief. Most of the competitors finally arrived Oslo on that day with other transportation method and had their draw of orders. And of course I missed it, still stuck in Iceland.
Sunday, first round already started, I woke up with a piece of hopeful news – due to the wind direction change, the volcano ash in Norway moved towards the south; as a result, Trondheim airport in Norway has opened for 2 flights from Reykjavik. I quickly called the airline, and my hope was again torn into pieces – the two flights were fully booked in only 3 minutes as people all desperately wanted to get out.
I was 20 year old, which means it would be my last chance to participate this competition. As I am about to see this opportunity fade into oblivion, the ambassador called his daughter who used to work in Iceland Air. She asked his best friend (who happens to be a pilot/captain) if he could help me to get on the flight. The pilot was supposed to fly to Frankfurt, so he immediately proposed to be transferred to the flight to Trondheim.
I wish I could describe how unbelievable I felt in the next 3 hours…I went to the airport with the pilot, got through the security as a “crew member”, and got on the plane to Trondheim. Instead of turning right after I got through the cabin door, I was told to turn left to the cockpit (probably for the only time in my life)!!! Therefore, I flew to Norway in the cockpit with the pilots.
It was like a dream when I landed in Trondheim; however, the dream had to continue as I was still nowhere near Oslo, and it’s already late at night. I got on a bus to Oslo, and spent 7 hours on the bumpy road before I finally arrived Oslo. It was already 4am in the Monday morning, and I felt extremely tired and excited at the same time. I could barely sleep – maybe because of jetlag, or simply because of what happened in the past couple of days.
So I caught the tail of the competition first round, I was the last performer of the day as I had barely any time to rehearse and rest. The only thing I remember was that it took me so long to start the performance – I started with Bach Andante, and there were so much going on in my mind: “I haven’t practiced for many days…What did my teacher say about this piece?... Why my arms are numb? Should I repeat or not? How’s mom doing, is she watching me? (she had suffered from cancer for almost a year) Wait…did I put rosin?!” It was probably the most challenging (and long) beginning I’ve ever experienced so far, yet I had to say by the time I put the bow on the strings – all the thoughts were gone.
The repertoire of Menuhin Competition that year was particularly interesting and varied. All the contestants had to play a piece by Ole Bull instead of Paganini (personally I don’t think Bull is any easier than Paganini), and in the second round we all have to play a Beethoven String Quartet with the members of Vertavo Quartet, with only 30 minutes of rehearsal time prior to the performance. In addition, we all had to perform a piece by Nordheim for violin and electronic delay unit – which I tried so hard to design, and finally succeeded by using a sound software, NOT knowing that the competition is providing the unit already…
One thing I remember the most was the friendly environment in the competition – all the participants were so nice and warm to each other, and even the juries were extremely open to questions and concerns. Even after so many years, I’m still connected with some of the friends from the competition.
The final round was held in the beautiful Oslo Opera House. Many people thought that I must have been performing concertos a lot in the past, but in fact, that was my very first time playing an entire concerto with an orchestra! So I was quite nervous, but curious at the same time, as I did not know how it feels to have an orchestra behind me, instead of in front of me.
I was lucky enough to win. As important as it means to me, it really isn’t the most valuable thing I get from the experience. I realized, after all these adventures, even under the most difficult circumstances, one should never give up. Life never tells us what's inside this box until we finally open it.