VC WEB BLOG | VC Artist Nikki Chooi – "Inside the Infamous Queen Elisabeth Comp Chapelle"

VC Artist Nikki Chooi guest blogs about his 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition experience within the infamous Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth


As we standby in anticipation for Monday evening's commencement of the final round of the 2017 inaugural Queen Elisabeth International Cello Competition, each of the 12 finalists have now entered the isolation of the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth conservatory - to complete their final stages of preparation.

It is mandatory, as condition of the competition, for each finalist to spend the preceding 7 day within the closed confines of the school - so to focus physically and mentally and study the previously unpublished set work without external influence.

During this isolation period, each candidate is forbidden from making contact with any person outside the competition establishment.

VC Artist and 2012 violin competition laureate Nikki Chooi, from Canada guest blogs about his experience.

nikki chooi queen elisabeth competition image

“I remember the events of the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition as though it were yesterday ...

I had spent the period between my semi final performance and the day of the results exploring the city of Brussels, watched a 3-D showing of the Avengers, and of course, practice a bit to keep my chops in shape!

After the finalists were announced, the gracious staff members of the event went through the rules and procedures of the final round.

Basically, it came down to this: We have 7 days to prepare a brand-new concerto with orchestra in addition to a programme that includes a violin/piano sonata and a concerto - with no communication devices in the premise or contact with people outside the Chapelle.

I had two days to pack, figure out what I need, and prepare myself for a 7-day mental, social and emotional fasting.

My wonderful host, Caroline Firkit, drove me to the Chapelle on Wednesday morning. I arrived with my newly bought Sony CD Player (it was impossible to find), 2 dozen CDs that I copied from my computer, clothes, and my violin - no phone, no iPad, no computer…and no Facebook!!

The first person I saw was fellow finalist Hyun-Su Shin, who waved to me enthusiastically through her window from her room. I thought to myself, "she seems to be ok - perhaps the experience is not as daunting as it seems.”

I settled into Room No.4. There were two sections to this room: the bedroom and the practice studio, complete with an upright piano and all.

I was shown around the premise by Ms.Roudabush: the rehearsal room, the dining hall, and the ping pong room. Meals were prepared by the in-house chef.

Once the tour was over, I finally got my hands on the brand new concerto set work by Kenji Sakai. I flipped through it from beginning to end - my first impression: "lots of notes, 16th notes to 32nd, to 64ths."

Each day for the next 7 days, I would get up in the morning, run a few laps around the Chapelle, dive into the Sakai concerto, lunch, take a nap, practice my other repertoire, run a few more laps, dinner, rehearsal with the pianist, hang out with the other finalists in the dining room, and sleep.

It was very interesting to be in this zone, to breath and live with the violin and music, and have absolutely no communication with people outside the Chapelle.

I learnt a lot about myself, the way I function, the way my mind works, and how I deal with pressure and nerves completely on my own.

Listening to Michael Jackson and U2 was my outlet to give my mind a break from being in preparation mode.

After 7 long days, the day came for my performance - all I wanted was a steak for dinner.

My experience at the Chapelle was an interesting and challenging 7 days. I have only heard stories and legends from respected musicians that have gone through the process and I am incredibly honoured to have experienced it on my own.

It will be a good story to tell for many years to come!”