"It is always hard to judge a competition because music and arts in general, are not like sports — as in, where somebody runs faster in a running contest, you can calculate the win so easily. But music is an entirely different story, different strokes for different folks. What I am looking for is young artists that are ready to take the next step in starting a solo career. Not everybody is ready for such kind of lifestyle because you have to take on a lot of pressure and responsibility and sacrifice so much. That's why I think we're not only looking for great violinists but also well-rounded artists who have found their own distinctive voice — a voice that is so unique that I can identify immediately even with my eyes closed!
I don’t mind mistakes. If you're judging a competition and your primary goal is not to enjoy the music but to pick their flaws, then why are you there? I want to enjoy the music as much as possible, that’s why I treated every single video as a real recital. So, if the violinist makes some mistakes, I won’t be too concerned as long as the musical intention was still there. We are human, and nobody is perfect. For me, imperfection is the beauty of our human nature, and I want to embrace that imperfection. Again, the artistic quality of a distinctive voice is something I'm really looking for.
Now 11 years after I won first prize and being on the other side, I felt I wanted to put myself in the shoes of the competitors. I would constantly ask myself, “What would I have done if I were them?” In fact, I got the opportunity of studying and premiering this year’s commission work by Mason Bates last week with the Richmond Symphony. It was truly a unique experience that gave me a chance to be a ‘competitor’ one more time!
The most fruitful part of this year’s competition is simply put — it happened!
The challenges that came from this year’s competition include a variety of things. For example, you have to decide a particular time in your own time zone, and perform one take without editing, and place a clock in the shot so that there's no way that you can edit it. It’s really difficult for me when I decide upon who should advance to the next round. Everybody uses different materials and recording equipment, and people play in various spaces. Somebody likes to put the microphone very close to the violin, and somebody likes to record from very far away. So, when you try to guess if a certain player could project in 2000 seats concert hall, it becomes particularly challenging. I would have to use other tools to help me ‘guess’ — looking at their contact point, bow speed, bow distribution, and so on.
We're also required to watch the videos in the exact order they gave us; the first and second rounds are alphabetical. We were asked to just watch it once and take very little breaks in between, and treat it as if it's a live competition. To be honest, I did not sleep AT ALL on the night that I had to submit my result, because I really thought of all of them should be the first prize! I know that when I click the submit button, I may have changed the path of a young violinist’s future career, forever. And that holds a lot of weight. But I also always keep one thing in mind: no matter what place a competitor comes in, they will still have the chance to become one of the greatest violinists ever. We know a lot of great artists that didn't win competitions, like Yo-Yo Ma and Hilary Hahn. Competition is a great way to motivate yourself to practice and learn new pieces, but it is not the only way to a successful career. All roads lead to Rome!"