A crisp, cool morning greeted a goodly bunch of violin stalwarts as they made their way into the Indiana History Center between 9 and 9:30. Many were prepared to sit there — with appropriate breaks — until 6:30 that evening. This was the opening day of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (if you don’t count the previous Friday’s ceremonial opening) which featured the first ten participants — out of 40 — chosen at random to display their bowing and finger wares. This was not merely for the 250 or so inside the IHC’s Basile Theater, but for the whole world: anyone anywhere choosing to view the streaming video and listen to its accompanying audio.
In the course of each passing participant’s displaying his/her talents, we had to hear a goodly number of pieces — which each player chose in advance from an “allowed” list — over and over again: in particular Bach’s “Grave” and “Fuga” from his A Minor Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin, plus his “Adagio” and “Fuga” in G Minor from the same series. We heard four versions of Mozart’s light-veined Sonata in G, K. 301 with piano accompaniment, two of his Sonata in A, K. 305, and four of his more interesting Sonata in E Minor, K. 304. Paganini was well represented by two caprices each from his famous set of 24 for solo violin, repeats occurring there as well. Each player could choose one of three “furnished” competition pianists, all male: Nelson Padgett, Rohan de Silva and Akira Aguchi, all being splendid.
I thought two of these ten first-day players stood out from the rest: first Stephanie Jeong (23), just before the lunch break, then Stella Chen (17) — both from the U.S., immediately following. Returning from the 2006 IVCI, Jeong was most impressive then, but failed to make the Finals—and thence failed to become an IVCI laureate. Hopefully, she’ll make it this time. Chen put out a combo of technical security, including a faultless pitch, strong musicality and near tonal perfection (I think of Hilary Hahn, who now doesn’t need a competition), consistently rich with all her repertoire, without crossing that line into wobbliness. Let’s see what tomorrow brings . . .