The Violin Channel recently caught up with VC Young Artist, and recent major prize winner at the Michael Hill, Carl Nielsen, Wieniawski, Paganini and Indianapolis International Violin Competitions, Luke Hsu from the United States.
In a VC-exclusive guest blog, the 28-year-old virtuoso shares his thoughts on managing the mammoth task of preparing the extremely large programs required for a major competition.
VC YOUNG ARTIST LUKE HSU | TCHAIKOVSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO | LEONARD SLATKIN & INDIANAPOLIS SYMPHONY | 2018 INDIANAPOLIS INTERNATIONAL VIOLIN COMPETITION | 3RD PRIZE
“The process of preparing for a competition requires a balance of intelligent planning, spontaneity, regiment, flexibility, and vision. I’ll write this blog from my own perspective, and since this can be so personal, there is no right or wrong way of preparing for a competition.
The most important aspect of preparing for a competition is to not treat it as such but instead, to view it as an opportunity to perform a series of high-profile concerts. This will alter the psychology from perfection to excellence, which encourages music-making rather than a tormented mind.
The first question in preparing for a competition (or any concert programme) is the choice of repertoire. Choosing the appropriate repertoire is perhaps the most important and difficult part. For me, I must feel passionate about the music, have a vision for the repertoire and feel empowered to share it with the public. It is never worth the time and energy in doing a competition if I feel apathetic, fearful, or indifferent for the repertoire, as this leads to non-convincing performances and an unhealthy outlook on music.
Then, I reflect on the goals and intention of applying to a competition. Usually, they are a combination of sharing a vision, pushing myself musically, discovering new repertoire, and/or generating more exposure on a wide-reaching platform. Whatever the goals and intentions are (yours can certainly differ from mine), one must strongly believe in them – this encourages looking beyond the competitive aspect of competitions.
Afterwards, I plan the amount of time that is necessary to prepare for the competition. I avoid under-preparation and over-preparation (any needless, mindless work). Having ample time and space to discover the music at my own pace is extremely important, however without losing the freshness and curiosity. In other words, “hurry slowly.” I schedule my practice into my diary, organised in sessions as if they were rehearsals (with myself), with breaks and rest days included. Ample amount of rehearsals with pianists and premature run-throughs are also scheduled.
Practicing, of course, is the most instrumental part of preparation, and this is very personal. I prioritise in minimal instrumental practice necessary and maximum inspirational practice/score study/mental practice possible (others have different priorities). For me, practicing without an instrument is the purest form of finding an understanding of the music, because there is no physical barrier between the mind and music. Singing, playing other parts, hearing the harmonies in the mind, finding the rhymes and emphasis in phrases, etc. are conducive to better planning and healthier practice habits. In other words, the mind, ear, and heart should work much harder than the fingers.
Additionally, experiencing live performances of other disciplines is equally important to daily practicing. For example, going to a Mozart opera one night is sometimes much more effective than practicing a Mozart concerto at home.
Finally, a word of wisdom from my teacher, Rodney Friend, at the Royal Academy of Music: “it is irrelevant who plays before or after you. It could be Heifetz and Oistrakh. Your performance is your performance, and nothing else matters. The competition is not between you and your colleagues, it’s between you and yourself. You must only concentrate on the highest level of music making and the music will reward you with something far better than any prize in the world.” Now, take everything I said with a grain of salt. Happy practicing!
(SIDE-NOTE: Every year, there seems to be more competitions appearing all over the map. It’s starting to become overwhelming, so choose wisely and not everything.