Tuesday 5 December 2023

NATIONAL PIANO & VIOLIN COMPETITION 2023 / Piano Artist & Violin Artist Finals, Prize Winners Concert / Review





Victoria Concert Hall

Saturday (2 December 2023)

Sunday (3 December 2023)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 December 2023 with the title "National Piano & Violin Competition showcases fresh young talent".


The National Piano & Violin Competition (NPVC), Singapore’s premier music competitive musical platform, returned to live concerts after the pandemic had reduced its 2021 edition to just online performances. The finals of the Artist categories also saw an upgrade from mere piano accompaniment with the return of concertos performed with the NPVC Orchestra (Singapore Symphony in all but name) conducted by Joshua Tan.


This made for two very satisfying concerts showcasing six musical talents in six concerto performances. The piano finals held on Saturday evening was an all-Beethoven affair, opening with university undergraduate Long Jing Xuan in the Fourth Piano Concerto in G major (Op.58). Technically and interpretively the most difficult concerto of five, it received a very musical reading despite him betraying nerves with some missed notes and the occasional brief desynchronisation with the orchestra.


Compensate he did, by projecting a big sonority which could sound overdone at times, and this also informed Conservatory student Lee Ann slightly more confident performance of the Third Piano Concerto in C minor (Op.37). Here, some over-emphatic responses to certain phrases were equated with reliving the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) of this urgent and dramatic work.


Their valiant efforts were however eclipsed by national serviceman Joshua Lau Jin Quan, a supreme figure of composure in the Second Piano Concerto in B flat major (Op.19). Crispness of articulation, realisation of the music’s humour and unexpected but delightfully turned ornamentations made his reading the very definition of joie de vivre. The international jury of three awarded Lau with a deserved first prize, with Long and Lee sharing joint third places.


The Violin Artist Finals on Sunday afternoon had the more impressive concerto performances, all from the Conservatory’s international students. There were two readings of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor, first by Ukrainian Datsiuk Leonid who evoked a sense of mystery in its quiet opening and lots of pathos further on. There were minor intonation lapses and missed notes in the heat of the moment but the music’s high-wire tension was maintained throughout.


The other Sibelius performance came from the Sichuan native Zou Meng, who exuded a quiet confidence and then let rip with a searing intensity that surpassed the earlier reading. A big tone and perfect intonation certainly helped and this 20th century concerto had seldom resounded with white-hot incandescence from the hands of students.   


In between was Tchaikovsky’s popular Violin Concerto in D major by Zou Zhang, and the audience could be excused for doing a double-take as the Zous are actually identical twins. Whatever fireworks one could generate was replicated by the other, and it must have been a razor-thin decision separating the two.


Meng’s Sibelius was the denser and more compact work, which allowed his delivery the vital immediacy which just about topped Zhang’s sprawling Tchaikovsky. The violin jury placed Meng first, Zhang second and Datsiuk third, a fair decision.


Artist category 1st Prizes:
Joshua Lau (Piano) &
Zou Meng (Violin)

Senior 1st Prizes:
Adrian Tang (Piano) &
Low Peng Guan (Violin)


The prize-winners concert relived movements from the winning concertos partnered by orchestra and also unveiled the set-pieces commissioned for the Artist and Senior Categories. Young composer Terrence Wong’s Life (for piano) and Death (for violin) – works recalling Arvo Pärt-like minimalism and Paganinian calisthenics - received glowing performances from Adrian Tang (Piano Senior) and Low Peng Guan (Violin Senior) respectively.


Intermediate 1st Prizes:
Ethan Peleg (Piano) &
Kaleb Toh (Violin)

Junior 1st Prizes:
Chua Suen Ern (Violin)
Newman Tong (Piano)

Not to be ignored were seriously good solo performances from the children of the Junior and Intermediate categories, whose prowess at their tender ages have consistently impressed juries over the decades. The names of violinists Chua Suen Ern and Kaleb Toh, pianists Newman Tong and Ethan Peleg may some day be as ubiquitous as NPVC’s most famous alumnus: Chloe Chua.  

More photographs from NPVC Award Ceremony:

All the judges with SSO CEO Kenneth Kwok:
Erik Heide, Kevin Lin & Tseng Yu Chien (Violin),
Marianna Shirinyan, Noriko Ogawa
& Christopher Park (Piano)

Seeing double:
Zou Zhang & Zou Meng
with NAC Chairperson Goh Swee Chen.

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