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Chinese American violinist bags $100,000 prize money

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-08 11:05
Chinese American musician Nancy Zhou won the grand prize of the second Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition on Sept 1. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Musician Nancy Zhou won the grand prize of the second Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition (SISIVC) on Sept 1.

The $100,000 prize money won by the 25-year-old Chinese American ranks among the highest monetary awards in international music competitions. Zhou said that she would use the money to further develop her music career.

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Zhou started to learn the violin from her father Zhou Long, who is also an internationally recognized musician. Since her orchestral debut at the age of nine, the Harvard graduate has won international awards such as the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition and the 2015 Jean Sibelius Violin Competition.

The final round of the competition took place across three consecutive evenings from Aug 30 to Sept 1, during which six contestants each played with members of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (SSO) under the baton of Michael Stern. They performed a concerto of their own choice and a mandatory violin concerto La joie de la Souffrance (The Joy of Suffering), a contemporary composition by Chinese musician Chen Qigang.

Olga Sroubkova from the Czech Republic won the CPIC (China Pacific Insurance Company) Award for putting up the best performance of the Chinese composition, as well as the second prize of $50,000.

"I am very happy to find that the level of expressiveness in Chinese violinists has become much higher than the last edition two years ago," said David Stern, co-chair of the jury committee.

"I believe they have gone a long way from imitating to finding their own voice, and playing the violin as a statement of their own opinions and personalities."

Founded by the SSO in 2016, the SISIVC has been a biennial event open to violinists of all nationalities who are between the age of 16 and 32. This year, 174 candidates from 33 countries and regions took part in the event, with 27 of them making it to the quarterfinals which kicked off in Shanghai on Aug 10. All six finalists were women.

"Nobody chose them because they were women, but because they are all good musicians," Stern said. "Their success has demonstrated the strong role that women play in the music world today."

Chen Qing, director of Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, noted that the competition this year has attracted not only first class violinists from around world, but also a world-class jury panel that can equal those in other top events.

"This competition shows China's rise in the world music scene and how it has built a great platform for young musicians to develop their career in major symphonies around the world," said Chen.

"There has been a large number of Chinese violinists active in the global music scene and winning titles in international competitions. Now we have this first-class competition event and I believe it will further promote Chinese music and musicians in the international scene."

Stern pointed out that, apart from the monetary award, the competition also provides musicians with support in their career development.

"Since the first edition, everyone has become a member of the Shanghai competition family. The jury consisting of educators, conductors and music agency managers would help them and provide career advice," he said.

"We will work closely to see what her needs are and help her to move on to the next level," he added, referring to Zhou.

One of Zhou's upcoming performances will be playing with the SSO under the baton of Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden on April 17, 2019.

The Isaac Stern Human Spirit Award was also presented during the competition. The prize of $10,000 went to two recipients this year: the Xiaoshuijing (Little Well) Chorus of Miao Farmers, a group from southwestern China's Yunnan province that combines unique ethnic characters with traditional classical choral music, and Kayhan Kalhor, an Iranian Kamancheh player, composer and master of classical Kurdish and Iranian music.

The laureates were selected by the president of the organization committee of SISIVC, Yu Long, and renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as members of the Stern family, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the understanding of humanity through music.

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