As we have come to know, it is a long established mandatory condition of the Queen Elisabeth Competition for all 12 finalists to spend the preceding 7 days to their Final Round appearance within the closed confines of the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth conservatory – so to focus physically and mentally and study the previously unpublished set work without external influence.
1997 3rd prize winner, violin virtuoso Kristóf Baráti, guest blogs about his experience inside the infamous Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth:
“O my! The 1997 Queen Elisabeth Competition seems like such another world away for me now.
It was a surreal experience, and certainly a highly intense way to celebrate my 18th birthday.
My host family during the earlier rounds had been so nice, supportive and accommodating to me, so before entering the Chapelle I remember feeling apprehensive. In my 17-year-old imagination, I think I was thinking I was about to be locked up in Alcatraz.
Upon arriving at the Chapelle, I remember being given the right to one 'last call' before they took away my huge 'brick' cell phone, with double sized batteries, and handed me the score to “Raptus” by Hendrik Hofmeyr.
I was sad to see my lifeline gone – as I swear I only would have used it to call my girlfriend.
Luckily for us, 1997 was the very beginning of the internet era, so no real online detox was required. (Quite unbelievable to think?)
As I entered the Chapelle as one of the last candidates the place was full when I arrived. I remember the building as being a little 'retro' although very clean and very organised – with the most promising piece of furniture for maintaining sanity: the well worn ping-pong table.
I obviously spent a lot of my time during the week alone learning the new work, but I also remember a great feeling of collegiality – with a number of us coming together at various times to compare and exchange fingering solutions.
The 1997 new work was certainly complicated and included some usual requests, such as tuning the E string down at one point, but by end, I believe we all came to enjoy it.
Congratulations to my friend Andrew Haveron, now Concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony, who was awarded the 'Best Performance' prize of the work – and of course Nikolaj Znaider, who took the 1997 grand prize.
The saddest part of the Chapelle experience, I recall was actually as the finals began and seeing my new friends diminish from our home day by day.
The Queen Elisabeth competition, with its huge repertoire requirements and the sheer physical and mental intensity of it, is definitely a unique and gigantic mountain to climb – but wow, what fantastic life memories!