Hello from the train!
I’m trying to think back to 2010, and realizing that that’s over a decade ago. How time flies, how opinions have changed in between, and how interesting it is to reminisce.
Every time I’m asked about how a competition has affected me, I must say, I’m a little paralyzed when it comes to answering the question. I guess the best I can do is to give the most truthful answer as it comes to me in the moment!
For that competition, I ended up originally being on the reserve list, so it wasn’t until a few weeks before the event that I was notified that a candidate had cancelled, and that I had a place to compete. One does the best one can in his/her own circumstances to prepare the best for the event. I think my father was visiting me in Germany at the time, so I do have some memories of both of us squished in my tiny student dormitory (then in Nuernberg), and him having to put up with my noise and the bitter cold of a European winter.
To make a long story short, I arrived in Oslo and the volcano Eyjafjallajökull (no idea how to pronounce that) erupted, which quickly became a major problem. Lots of the competitors were stranded in airports, unable to fly due to this unexpected turn of events. I believe one competitor arrived just a few hours before his first round performance, played phenomenally, then went on to win the whole competition. Being one of the few that arrived early, I was whisked to the office to translate instructions over the phone to anxious Korean mothers who were escorting some of the junior candidates.
Somehow, this phenomenon resulted in an interesting atmosphere. I had done a few of these events in the past, but it wasn’t actually that often that you went to a competition and were genuinely happy to see your fellow competitors. In this case, it was really like that, when all of us were finally herded together in Oslo after the travel fiasco. I remember making friends almost immediately, some of which I have to this day.
These events are a funny beast to tackle. It’d be easy at this stage in my life to say something like: “No need for them, they’re unhealthy, and have nothing to do with the art of music.” However, competitions aren’t that black or white. I understand that in many ways, it’s almost inevitable. It is, for a fact, competitive out there. I mean, look at the sports culture or business. It’s a shame in many respects, but some of us will go over that hurdle, trying to make the most of it with a good attitude, if we choose to do so.
The Menuhin Competition was one of the first, larger international competitions I did at age 20 or 21. I don’t think I went in expecting that much. Having been selected from the reserve list also didn’t help get my hopes up of getting that far, so I was very surprised and honored to come out with third prize.
The staff, organization, Norway’s pristine and friendly vibe, competitors, and programming of the rounds were all spectacular. Many competitions are aiming to do more of this these days, to make sure competitors are well-rounded and not just good technicians. The Menuhin Competition certainly did this well, as a legacy to the man behind the event’s name.
Was it life-changing? Probably, to some extent! Everything is life-changing!
I didn’t get a string of concerts after that, no. Nor did I get get a huge boost of confidence. But I was proud for getting through something so demanding, happy about meeting some incredible people, and grateful to hear some really interesting playing. Lots of competitors, whether they were prize winners or not, are still playing in the music industry today. They are each on their own path and that is nice to see.
Jury meetings are always quite interesting and I recommend future competitors to always go and listen to opinions. You might not agree with everything, but take what you can, because there is always something you can learn. I remember that one was particularly complimentary after the final concerto round, while another one told me bluntly that I was “too much.” Another gave me some really useful, constructive criticism that I still remember and am grateful for today.
The funny thing is, I still get the same mixed comments today. So I figured out pretty early on that I cannot please everyone, and I’m slowly getting used to that.