The Violin Channel recently caught up with American Baroque violinist, Rachell Ellen Wong – 1st prize winner at the 2019 Lilian & Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach String Competition.
Hi Rachell, you won the Grand Prize at the inaugural Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach Competition. Can you tell us about this experience?
“It was a wonderful experience. I have competed at many competitions, and what I immediately noticed was how comfortable they made all of the competitors feel (which is not always the case)! We all had our own warm up rooms and a huge spread of food as well – we even received goody bags afterward, with rosin and gift cards!”
What is your favorite memory from the competition?
“I have always treated competitions as just another opportunity to perform, so my favorite memory was performing the third sonata (BWV 1005) in its entirety. I had just lost my grandfather at that point, and the third movement of the sonata I was performing was something I played for him right before he passed away. So it was very meaningful to me to be performing the piece for people for the first time since he passed”
What was for you, the most beneficial aspect of entering this competition?
“I found that meeting the jurors and the Barbash family was the most beneficial for me. I enjoyed getting to meet and talk in depth about Bach to the musicians on the panel, all of whom I have admired greatly. I also feel grateful to know the Barbash’s – they have been so supportive of me since the competition. I was fortunate to meet Lillian Barbash in January during the winners concert. She is a very inspiring lady, and so impactful to her community. I am lucky to have benefitted from her generosity”
Why would you recommend musicians to apply for the Barbash Competition?
“If you enjoy playing Bach’s music, then I think you should apply! I love that the jury consists of great “modern” players and also great “historically informed” players. You don’t often see that kind of mixture in most competitions. It opens up the opportunities for people playing on baroque violins to compete in the same competition as a “modern” player”
How do you feel winning the Barbash competition has impacted your career?
“In March, I was the first baroque artist to receive the Avery Fisher Career Grant. I believe that being one of the first historically informed violinists from the US to be receiving major prizes, which includes the Barbash competition, helped to raised my profile so that the members of the Fisher recommendation panel were aware of me and my playing. I feel that the competition has helped me as well to feel like the “baroque” world and “modern” world don’t have to be separated. Bach’s music is one of the hardest to judge in a competition, because every person has their own opinion on how it should be played. Knowing that I have bridged that gap between these two sides, and coming from both a modern and historical performance background, is a great feeling. It has given me confidence to know that I am on the right path. I am even getting the opportunity to record Bach’s entire solo sonatas and partitas for solo violin soon, which is really exciting for me”