Jean Sibelius Violin Competition

This week, violinist Isabel Bartles is in Finland to take in the 11th International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki, Finland. With the Nashville Symphony having just completed  performances of Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, it was perfect timing for Isabel to travel to Finland and experience this competition, named in honor of the country's best-known composer. Taking place from November 22 to December 3 at the Helsinki Conservatory of Music, the competition is open to violinists born in or after 1985, with 40 entrants from 13 different countries this year.

Here are a few pictures that Isabel shared with us from her travels.

The following are for the first two days of the Sibelius Violin Competition, first round: 40 contestants in three days. The contestants are playing Bach, Bartók Solo Sonata No. 1, Mozart Rondo, and a short Sibelius piece of their choice. 

Isabel (R) and Friends.


Helsinki Conservatory of Music


With my friend Helka Hakasalo, violist, in the cafeteria at the Helsinki Conservatory.


Some of the contestants. They all play so well and have beautiful bow arms. Most of them are playing on beautiful Italian instruments loaned to them by foundations or violin shops from around the world.


Our host, Marion Goebel (L) and contestant Marina Grauman (R) on the bus on the way to the competition. The first snowfall for the year today in Helsinki!


Marina Grauman (L),  contestant from Russia, partakes of a hardy Finnish breakfast prepared by our host, Marion Goebel (R), before she heads off to the Music Conservatory for a rehearsal with the pianist assigned to her by the Sibelius Competition.


Today (Wednesday) is the last day of the first round of the Sibelius Violin Competition. This is one of the many International violin competitions held around the world at various intervals. By 9 o'clock this evening I will have heard, over the last three days, 40 contestants play the same program of Bartok Solo Sonata (both technically and musically VERY challenging), 2 contrasting movements from a Bach Solo Sonata or Partita - which they get to pick from a list, Mozart Rondo in C major KV 373, and a short piece by - you guessed it- Sibelius.


After the 1st round - and before the announcement of the winners, I was honored to be invited by the competition staff to join staff, sponsors, Sibelius Academy professors, host families, and contestants for a "Musicians Party." I sat at a table with contestants who all study in Berlin and a contestant (USA) who is not only a violin major but studies comparative literature at Harvard!  I asked them what their plans for the future are. One already has an orchestral job, one would like to eventually play in a 'good' orchestra, one would be content to do 'something else.' And teach - they all agreed that they would like to teach! 


Tonight the finals start. Four competitors will play a concerto with either the Radio Orchestra, or the Helsinki Philharmonic. Two of my faves (Emmanuel Tjeknavorian (Austria), and Frederike Starkloff (Germany) will play tonight. Unfortunately, one of my other faves Kerson Leong (Canada) did not advance. Violin competitions  are different from, for example the Olympics, in that you can't judge anything with a machine (well, not yet, at least). It's entirely subjective. So there is much discussion in the audience (and indeed around Finland - because the Finns take this competition very seriously) as to who everybody thinks 'should have advanced!' It must have been hard for the judges - because ALL of the competitors played so beautifully! 


I took this really quickly right before the first concert of the Finals. This is in the Musiikkitalo (Music Hall) Where both the Radio Orechestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic perform. 


Holiday decorations in downtown Helsinki. No snow yet - strange for this time of year.

Tomorrow (Thursday) will be a free day. Then 20 contestants will advance to the second round. A comment on the competitors attire: the men are wearing either all black, or suit and tie. The women wear black pants, a fancy top, and sparkly flat shoes, or evening gown that pools around the feet, sparkly shoes, some wear heels.

I'll be interested to see what their attire is in the second round. We are not allowed to take photographs in the hall itself, so I can't send any pictures of their attire. By the time I see them they've already changed into jeans and heavy winter coats and hats, as it is around 32° here in Helsinki Finland. Nice and chilly! 

To learn more about the Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, click here. Read our Musician Q&A with Isabel Bartles here.