VC INTERVIEW | Johan Dalene on the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition

The 2022 edition is now taking place in Odense between April 1-10, 2022

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Johan Dalene — © Mats Bäcker

 

The Violin Channel recently had a chat with VC Young Artist Johan Dalene to discuss his experience attending and winning first prize at the 2019 Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition.

 

As a young violinist, I attended many violin competitions, but the Nielsen Competition was my first competition for adults. It was also, by far, the one that required the largest repertoire — an incredible amount of music to present in a short time — it felt super serious! You could definitely feel the excitement in the air in Odense, but also goodwill, anticipation, and curiosity. Many of my friends at home were not musicians and couldn't fully understand why I was practicing all the time, so in a way, it was cool to suddenly be surrounded by a lot of like-minded instrumentalists who want to spend many hours every day doing something they really love. Even though we were competitors, we also supported each other, wishing everyone to perform their best.

Odense has a small, very cozy city center and you could see signs of the competition everywhere with posters and flags – and wherever you went you came across people from the competition. It made the whole thing familiar and friendly.

In the Nielsen Competition, there were some new elements for me compared to previous ones. For example, we played the first round anonymously behind a screen, which felt unusual but also fair. Before the second round, everyone got to record a short film, where we spoke about the repertoire that we had chosen. It was shown right before we went on stage. In the semifinals, we played a Mozart Concerto without a conductor — I remember sitting in the hotel room, nervously practicing how to make the orchestra start together in the first movement — turned out it was nothing to worry about. The musicians were so skilled, super flexible, and agreed with all my intentions, it was actually fun!

Throughout my week in Odense, I did everything in my power to push away any thought that reminded me that I was actually taking part in a competition. I tried hard to focus on playing as well as I could and enjoying the music. It’s so much easier said than done, but I think it’s essential that you feel confident in what you do and not think too much about how the members of the jury will react. There will always be different schools, ideals, and tastes and all you can do is be yourself, try to present the music in a way you believe in, and hope for the best. After all, it's a fantastic opportunity to get to play three different violin concertos with a great symphony orchestra for one week!

After competing, we sat nervously in the concert hall waiting for the jury to announce the results. When it became clear that I had won first prize, I felt infinitely proud, happy, and grateful! To have a winning title in your CV is perhaps not a necessity, but at least for me, it has been an invaluable help to start an international career. It led to a lot of engagements outside Scandinavia, meeting with great orchestras and conductors and playing at prestigious festivals like Verbier. I also got to sign with Enticott Music Management.

Having said that, I can also confirm that the recent years certainly were no walk in the park. When the pandemic hit the world, it meant tough challenges for artists. I tried to use the time to learn new repertoire but it wasn’t always easy to keep up the motivation when concerts were postponed or canceled. Luckily, I had the privilege to do quite a lot of streamed concerts; during the first lockdown in April 2020, I performed Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, alongside the amazing Janine Jansen — a fantastic experience!

I wish the best of luck to all the contestants in this year's competition! It seems to be an amazing group of violinists and I hope it will be an equally unforgettable and educational experience for them as it was for me!

 

A student of Janine Jansen and Per Enoksson at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Dalene is a former major prize winner at the Menuhin, Kocian, and Cooper Competitions. The 21-year-old also plays on a Stradivarius violin from 1736 ("Spencer Dyke"), generously on loan from the Anders Sveaas’ Charitable Foundation.

He was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2019-21 and Artist in Residence with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra during the 2020-21 season. In Spring 2020, Johan Dalene’s debut album on BIS Records received a Diapason d’Or in France and was chosen as an Editor’s Choice by both the BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone in the UK. His second release, "Nordic Rhapsody," was followed by his most recent SACD, "Sibelius and Nielsen Violin Concertos."