Adjudicating a string prize….

by Vaughan Jones violin teacher – Yesterday, I did something that was completely new to me – I was asked to adjudicate a string competition at Charterhouse School, where I was a student in the late 1980s. I remember vividly entering this same competition myself as a teenager and playing the ‘Praeludium’ from Bach’s E major Partita – and I think I won a book token!

Interestingly, I started the day feeling a little bit nervous at the responsibility of judging talented young musicians who would have all prepared thoroughly for such an event. I’m sure this would come as a surprise to the students as we are all used to the anticipation of an exam say, but would never imagine the examiner to have similar feelings!

The prizes were in three categories: Junior, Intermediate and Open and I decided that rather than passing dry judgements, I’d have my violin case open all day and try and offer each student something individual to go away with. Furthermore, I attempted to make observations that could apply to the majority of musicians. I also felt it important to note that the prizes were more like an exhibition of their playing, where they were all able to share their¬† music making with each other.

The day started with some impressive performances, notably of¬† Kreisler’s¬† ‘Praeludium and Allegro’ and Bartok’s ‘Roumanian Dances’. In the Kreisler piece we looked at adding a little more grace and charm to the ‘Allegro’ by allowing the music to breath; whereas in the Bartok the percussive rhythms of the last two movements could be gained from trying it on open strings with energetic bowing, then adding a light left hand. Both students had a go at this.

In the Intermediate class there were some more fine performances with an accomplished rendition of Bach’s ‘Praeludium’ (which brought back a memory or two). This piece is such a test of good bowing and all round musicianship and we had a good look at musical line and the two facets of the piece: the jubilant, extrovert passages and the more soul searching ones.

The Open category was the one where I wanted to emphasize the achievements of the players most (as opposed to winning or losing). There were so many musically involved performances that I felt emotionally drained by the tea break! There was a lyrical and at times poetic account of Brahms’ Violin Sonata in G, accomplished renditions of Kabalevsky and Franck from two musical brothers and a technically solid (and excellently in tune) Mozart G major Concerto. After tea we were treated to a delightfully pure toned ‘Gavotte En Rondeau’ from Bach’s 3rd Partita and the performance of the day which was a driven account of the last movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

I tried to convey to the Open class students that competing in music always has an element of self serving, whereas if we derive our fulfillment from the music itself (as well as the ability to put that across to an audience) a lifetime of riches would be ahead of them! Luckily, it was a lesson that most seemed to have already learned and was evident in the generosity of spirit that filled the day.