- Robert Anemone, the 2015 Hudson Valley String Competition first-place winner.
Launched in 1966 as way to recruit string players for the orchestra, the annual Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Competition, which takes place this month, attracts some of the finest young conservatory-trained players in the world. The competitors—violinists, violists, and cellists ranging in age from 18 to 25—will vie for the grand prize package of $4,000 cash, a guest soloist slot with the orchestra, and the chance to travel to Italy for a week to perform at August's prestigious Musical Landscapes in Tuscany festival. Susan F. Avery, the competition's chair, answered some questions about the event below via email. The Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Competition will be held March 16 and 17 at Vassar College's Skinner Hall (see website for the schedule of rounds). Both days are free to the public. Bardavon.org/annual-string-competition.
For those who are unfamiliar with the competition, what makes it such a significant musical event?
For 46 years we have encouraged and nurtured young talented musicians at the very beginning of their careers, while bringing the highest caliber of musical performance to Poughkeepsie, at the culmination of a music filled weekend. Supporting world-class music, bringing music into the community, and providing opportunities for music students are what we strive to do. This is a greatly anticipated musical event in Dutchess County and beyond. Music lovers are delighted to see and hear the future stars.
Who are some of the past competition winners who've gone on to illustrious careers beyond the Hudson Valley?
There have been many: violist Marcus Thompson (1967; Boston Chamber Players), violinist Ani Kavafian (1973; Lincoln Center Chamber Players soloist), violinist Adela Pena (1985; Eroica Trio), violinist Judith Ingolfsson (1996; 1998 Indianapolis International Violin Competition winner), and others.
Last year, the competition ended in a three-way tie between violinists Ania Filochowska, Max Tan, and Choi Tung Yeung, an unprecedented occurrence in the event's nearly 50-year history. Can you describe for readers the scene and the feeling in the hall that day?
It was magical. All three got spontaneous standing ovations. I've never seen the audience so excited by all the players. Ania played Beethoven, Choi Tung played Prokofiev, and Max played Bruch's Scottish Fantasy. No sooner did the judges retire to make the final decision than Sam Rhodes called me to confer with them. He said, "We have a problem." The problem was that they couldn't separate the three artistically and therefore couldn't give second and third place prizes. He even declared that each had played their concerto "as well as I have ever heard it played." No amount of persuading could budge them, so the unprecedented triple first prize was awarded. All three finalists went to Italy and had a fantastic experience. Ania will be playing the Beethoven with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic at the Bardavon Theater on March 23. Max and Cherry will play with the orchestra during the 2019/2020 season.
What are some of your other favorite moments from the competitions that have taken place during your six years as chair of the contest?
Truthfully, the weekend is a bit of a whirlwind for me. I love seeing the camaraderie of the students many of whom already know one another. Although they compete at a very high level, they all seem to love getting together and there is a great sense of collegiality. A poignant moment occurred, when a small child couldn't go into the hall; a young cellist came out to play especially for him. I will never forget the look of awe on that toddler's face. I enjoy hearing the stories the competitors share with us. One young man played his grandfather's cello, which was smuggled out of Europe during the war. His connection to that instrument was palpable.
For anyone planning to attend any or all of the yearly competition's three rounds—or who's never attended a classical string competition—what should they look forward to?
Attending a competition is a great introduction to classical music, for those who know little and for those who have been listening for a long time. It provides chances to hear and begin to understand the dedication and hard work behind all accomplished performance. If you attend the early round auditions on Saturday, you get to see the more technical aspects of the competition that add to the appreciation when you listen to a finished, well-rehearsed piece in a concert setting. In addition to his or her chosen concerti, every competitor has preselected a Bach piece. Violinists also select a Mozart concerto, violists play Schubert, and cellists select from Haydn. As the judges call out what they want to hear from each competitor, the audience gets to hear a sampling of musical history and a good idea of the breadth of virtuosity of the competitors. On Sunday morning, when six semifinalists play Brahms, it is a further journey into music history, and the audience can hear how differently each performer plays.