With the 2018 Alice & Eleonore Schoenfeld International Cello Competition reaching its final stages in in Harbin, China, this week, 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 since presented.
In a VC-exclusive blog, French cellist and former 1st Prize winner Christoph Croisé talks us through his 2016 experience:
"When I entered the 2016 Schoenfeld International String Competition, I had already had the experience of participating in several international music competitions. Having seen the media coverage of the previous edition of the competition two years earlier as my friends from the Goldmund Quartet had won the chamber music division, I decided to travel to China for the first time in my life to try my best there as well. I was very excited to perform in front of such a distinguished jury, especially the chairman, Lynn Harrell, whom I’ve admired since my childhood.
My journey started with a twenty-four hour flight from Zurich to Harbin via Munich and Beijing. Upon arrival, the participants were picked up at the airport by competition staff and driven through the modern, skyscraper-filled city to the university campus where we would stay for the entire two weeks of the competition.
It was July, and the weather was extremely hot in Harbin. The humidity was so intense (around 90%) that I almost couldn’t put tension on my bow! Around the campus were many Chinese students who had signed up to volunteer during the competition. They were incredibly kind and tried to help in every situation. Even sometimes when everything was perfect, they still asked if they could do anything for us, which made us feel very welcome and comfortable.
The first two rounds were held at the conservatory. I was very nervous: like in every competition, since one is not playing in front of a normal concert audience and is aware of being critically judged by a panel of world class cellists, tension and pressure run high.
The finals were held in the morning, which was especially challenging for me since I’m usually not a morning person. However, with the adrenaline and excitement of knowing that I’d made it to the finals, I managed to pull myself out of bed at 7 in the morning for a long warm-up before my performance.
The finals were held in a gorgeous, new concert hall in Harbin. I was very fascinated by the architecture of the hall itself and how smoothly and beautifully the building blended into the landscape of the city.
The announcement of the results is always the most stressful part of the competition. After all the anticipation, I was so surprised to have won the first prize that I couldn’t really believe it for a while. I knew it was a huge opportunity for me, but only realized it fully in the weeks after. In the moment, I just felt lucky and grateful for the special moment which had just happened and I tried to simply let all the pressure of the previous weeks drop and enjoy it.
After the finals, the prizewinners stayed two more days in Harbin for the prize ceremony. I had the privilege to perform at the Winners’ Gala concert, at which Maestro Zubin Mehta was in the attendance. It was a great and unexpected honor for me to be able to meet him after the concert.
After these two weeks of trying to give my best, I felt extremely lucky and happy (and exhausted!) as I began my twenty-four hour journey back to Europe.
In retrospect, the competition didn’t only give me $30,000 in prize money, with which I was able to buy myself a beautiful old french bow, but also a great deal of media coverage. I was very lucky to be in the spotlight for a while, which lead to new concert opportunities in the coming seasons after the competition. All in all, I am deeply grateful for my experience at the Schoenfeld International Competition and for the wonderful time I had in Harbin.