With the 2018 Bach International Violin Competition currently underway in Leipzig, Germany, VC recently caught up with a number of former prize winners, to get a better understanding of their time at the competition – and the opportunities the event has since presented.
In a VC-exclusive guest blog, Japanese violinist and former 1st prize winner Seiji Okamoto talks us through his 2014 experience:
"It has been 4 years already since I participated in the 19th Bach competition in Leipzig.
Time flies…! At that time, I was 20 years old and studying at the Tokyo University of the Arts.
Actually, it was my first time participating in a major international competition!
When I was child, I have one special memory with Bach’s music.
I started playing the violin when I was 3 years old through the Suzuki-Method, and at this time I enjoyed playing.
However, when I turned 6 years old, I momentarily gave up playing the violin because I didn't like the piece that I was playing at the time.
After 2 weeks, I suddenly wanted to play the violin again and took the score; which was my favorite piece at that time; Bach’s Ciaccona from Partita No.2 BWV1004.
I had never played the piece before and I didn’t have the necessary skills yet, so it took one and half days(!) to finish playing it despite it originally taking only 15 minutes.
Owing to Bach’s Ciaccona, I got my motivation back.
Since then, I became fond of Bach’s music and took many lessons not only with modern violin teachers such as Prof.Kimiko Nakazawa, Prof.Gerard Poulet and Prof.Kazuki Sawa, but also musicians who specialize in period instrument/historical playing such as Prof.Hidemi Suzuki and Mr.Shunske Sato.
This made it very natural for me to participate in the Bach Competition.
During the competition, things got really hard because there were 4 rounds in only 9 days along with some pieces that were new to me; C.P.E.Bach’s Sonata, Locatelli’s Caprice, Westhoff’s suite and so on.
So everyday life consisted of; wake up, practice, have lunch, take a walk, practice, rehearsal with harpsichord, orchestra or play on stage, practice, dinner, sleep and wake up.
Despite all this, it was my first time spending a few weeks in Germany, so I was really excited to see old buildings like Thomaskirche, as well as visiting museums like the Bach-Museum, Mendelssohn-Haus and eating some really good German food and drink.
During each stage of the competition, of course I was nervous, but I tried to concentrate on enjoying the piece while I was playing it as always no matter the conditions (this is my motto). (I remember one funny memory, it was the final match of the 2014 Football World Cup on the day before my 2nd round performance (actually I watched the game on TV live) and Germany won, so outside of the hotel was really noisy through the whole night and I couldn’t sleep well…!)
Of course the moment I won the competition was one of the greatest moments of my life.
After the competition, I had many opportunities to play in concerts with orchestra, as well as recitals and chamber music, including famous festivals such as Bachfest Leipzig (2015), La folle journee au Japon (2015, 2017) and so on. Especially the first year after the competition, I had 60 concerts that year.
They turned out to be wonderful experiences and gave me many precepts.
In 2016, I got 2nd prize at the 15th Wieniawski International Violin Competition (Poznan, Poland) and 6th prize and audience award at the 6th Sendai International Music Competition (Japan).
Needless to say, I could use the experiences which I had in the Bach competition not only for other competitions, but also for concerts.
Since 2017 autumn, I moved to Berlin and live there to study with Prof. Antje Weithaas at the Hochschule fur Musik ”Hanns Eisler” Berlin.
Everything became closer so I am really looking forward to play in Europe more often and would love to come back to Leipzig again very soon!