Tuesday, 8 December 2015


Artist Category Finals 
Prizewinners' Concert
Saturday & Sunday (5 &6 December 2015)
Victoria Concert Hall

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 December 2015 with the title "Sky's the limit for Goh Soon Tioe award winner".

The National Arts Council (NAC) has been manning the National Piano & Violin Competition since the mid-1990s. This edition, which marks the NAC's final run, was co-organised with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and saw a major constitutional change. Pre-selection of all competitors meant that there were fewer performers, 64 violinists and 91 pianists in total.

The final rounds for the Artist categories of both the violin and piano involved concerto performances with the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra conducted by Chan Tze Law. Saturday evening was a violin extravaganza not unlike the final of the Singapore International Violin Competition held in January.

British-Malaysian violinist Liuyi Retallick, recent graduate of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, comfortably won 1st prize with an immaculate reading of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, characterised by a big and gorgeous tone from start to end. She could have turned on the heat for a more exciting showing, but chose to play it safe, which was the secret of her success.  

Liuyi Retallick with her teacher Igor Yuzefovich,
concertmaster of the SSO.

With no 2nd prize awarded, 3rd place went to Singaporean David Loke Kai-Yuan, now studying in Yale, who seemed to engage more in Mendelssohn's E minor Violin Concerto. His totally musical reading was indelibly etched on his face, from painful grimace to sheer ecstasy, but was let down by momentary lapses of intonation.

Honorable mention went to Samuel Tan Yek Hee, all of 10-years-old and performing for the first time with an orchestra. A natural charmer on a 3/4-sized violin, he coped unusually well with the fireworks required for Wieniawski's Second Violin Concerto. All he needs is greater expressiveness, a better instrument and experience, which will no doubt come with time.

On Sunday afternoon, there were two performances of Schumann's Piano Concerto. Singaporean Jared Liew Wei, student of the Salzburg Mozarteum, gave a exceptionally polished reading, one which made time to luxuriate in its harmonies and smell the flowers. Although he could have projected further and exert his authority, it was a major surprise that his shining effort was not placed higher than 3rd. Singaporean Joan Lynette Tay (below), long-time resident in New Zealand, provided a more assertive and tense view of the Romantic favourite, but struggled with getting all the notes in. A stumble towards the end meant only an honourable mention beckoned.

Josephine with her teacher Boris Kraljevic,
formerly of NAFA.

The last pianist Josephine (who goes by just one name) from Indonesia should have done much more for Saint-Saens' bubbly Second Piano Concerto. Her highly-assured account was stolid rather than spectacular. The mercurial scherzo was surprisingly earthbound, like champagne without fizz, but her steady and secure tarantella finale earned 2nd place from an international panel of jurors. The 1st prize went a begging for the first time since 2001.

The Prizewinners Concert saw performances from the top-placed musicians of all categories. It was also the perfect showcase for Zechariah Goh Toh Chai, the local composer commissioned for four set-pieces in the Senior and Artist Categories. His Ondeh Ondeh and Two Sketches for violin, Quinquagenarian Celebration and Jubilation for piano were varied in style, highly idiomatic and not to mention virtuosic, confirming his place among Singapore's creative elite.

Ronan Lim with his teacher Lee Shi Mei,
who looks almost as young as him.

The coveted Goh Soon Tioe Outstanding Performer Award of $10,000 went to to 16-year-old violinist Ronan Lim Ziming, who displayed astounding maturity and lyricism in Ondeh Ondeh, the first movement from Brahms' First Violin Sonata and Lutoslawski's coruscating Subito. A student of Lee Shi Mei, herself a major prizewinner in 2007, the sky's the limit. This competition just provides the wings.

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