Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition and Workshop X

by Louise Lansdown and Dwight Pounds

Louise Lansdown writes:

The end of an extraordinary week in the history of the viola is drawing nigh, and a reflective glance at this unique and intimate event is called for. Picturesque Port Erin situated on the south coast of the Isle of Man is the perfect home for the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition with its very own Erin Arts Centre (EAC) as the main hub of activity throughout the event. Although the hall is small, the acoustic is warm with the newly completed bust of the late Lillian Tertis just below the competition emblem in the middle of the stage. Everything about this competition is unusual—the place, the program, the selection process, the concurrently run workshop with master classes and virtuoso recitals, and the endearing team who manage this tightly run ship. Five of my viola students from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and I took a ferry from Liverpool to Douglas on Saturday, March 20. We drove straight to our rental cottage in Port St. Mary, the neighboring town to Port Erin, and immediately drove into Port Erin to find the Erin Arts Centre, register for master classes, and join in the opening reception. A board displayed passport-sized photographs of the competitors from all over the world—just an indication of the immense task ahead for the distinguished jury chaired by Christopher Yates, including Tatjana Masurenko (Russia), Simon Rowland-Jones (UK), Hartmut Rohde (Germany), Garfield Jackson (UK), Pierre-Henri Xuereb (France) and Su Zhen (China).

Tertis 1 Erin center to use

Erin Arts Centre stage and audience area (all photos courtesy of Dwight Pounds)

Sunday morning began with an energetic Viola Ensemble session led by Martin Outram followed by a master class with Su Zhen. Non-competitors were able to take advantage of daily master classes from members of the jury until the eight semi-finalists were announced on Wednesday, March 24, at which time competitors who were not progressing were permitted to play in these master classes. Simon Rowland-Jones and Huw Watkins gave the afternoon recital, including works composed by both performers, and finishing with Shostakovich’s epic viola sonata. A moving and beautifully constructed program!

On Sunday evening we were given an enthralling recital of Russian music entitled “The White Nights—Viola Music from St. Petersburg” by Tatjana Masurenko and Anthony Hewitt. Works by Shostakovich, Glinka, Stravinsky, Glazunov, and finally Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet were played with integrity, imagination, and impeccable technical control throughout!

Sunday morning began with an energetic viola ensemble session led by Martin Outram followed by a master class with Su Zhen. Non-competitors were able to take advantage of daily master classes from members of the jury until the eight semi-finalists were announced on Wednesday, March 24, at which time competitors who were not progressing were permitted to play in these master classes. Simon Rowland-Jones and Huw Watkins gave the afternoon recital, which included works composed by both performers and finished with Shostakovich’s epic viola sonata. A moving and beautifully constructed program! On Sunday evening we were given an enthralling recital of Russian music entitled “The White Nights—Viola Music from St. Petersburg” by Tatjana Masurenko and Anthony Hewitt. Works by Shostakovich, Glinka, Stravinsky, Glazunov, and finally Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet were played with integrity, imagination, and impeccable technical control throughout!

The first round of the competition began bright and early on Monday morning, March 22. This first round, which lasted two and a half days with fifty-two competitors, was closed to the public with just the jury in situ. In the meantime, we were all kept busy with the activities of the festival. Talks by Tully Potter on Watson Forbes and David Hume on “Taking care of your Bow” were interspersed with more viola ensemble sessions.

On Monday evening we were treated to a fabulous collection of English viola sonatas performed by Martin Outram and Julian Rolton, featuring works by Jacob, Arnold, Delius, Berkeley, and Ireland. A mind-boggling collection performed with great aplomb!

David Hume master restorer luthier small

Tuesday morning saw a fascinating session in instrument set-up and sound post adjustments with David Hume. Barbara Buntrock (a competitor from Germany) brought her fabulous Mariani viola with several niggles about sound and clarity, certainly testing David’s skills in this public forum. Viola ensemble sessions continued valiantly, followed by an inspiring master class conducted by Martin Outram. He worked on the first movement of York Bowen’s Sonata in C Minor with competitor Benedicte Royer (France), Vitali’s Chaconne with Rhiannon James (Royal Northern College of Music), and Brahms’s Sonata in E-flat, op. 120, no. 1 with Lucy Nolan (Royal Northern College of Music). The afternoon session finished with a talk on Lionel Tertis delivered by Tully Potter.

Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola), Roger Steptoe (piano), andAdrienne Murray (mezzo soprano) delighted audiences with an eclectic selection of French and English music in the evening recital, with Brahms’s op. 91 songs thrown in at the end for good measure.

Although I attended all events during the rest of the week, Dwight and I agreed that he would take over the reporting from Wednesday morning, March 24!

—Louise Lansdown

Sarah-Jane Bradley addresses audience before performance small

Sarah-Jane Bradley addresses the audience before her evening performance

Dwight Pounds writes:

John and Carol White. My first visit to the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition and Workshop almost did not happen.  A dear friend of several decades, John White, had taken ill and would not attend the competition, thus dampening my enthusiasm for making the journey. John White is a living legend among violists: a former student of Watson Forbes, he played many years with the Alberni String Quartet. Following his performing career and several years teaching at the Royal Academy as viola professor, he was appointed Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music (FRAM). He is the consummate authority on Lionel Tertis, having written an acclaimed biography of the violist and served for years as advisor to the Tertis Competition. The International Viola Society acknowledged these contributions to the viola by presenting him with the IVS Silver Alto Clef for 2010, its most prestigious award. It seemed impossible to travel to Isle of Man knowing that John would not be present.  However, when he informed me that surgery had proved quite successful and he had regained health and strength much sooner than anticipated, I quickly reconsidered.  An invitation to visit him and his wife at their home in Old Harlow sealed my decision.

John and Carol White welcomed me into their home where it was my pleasure to share hours of their hospitality.  This included the obligatory British cup of tea, a delightful lunch, a visit to the Harlow Arts Center, which served as the venue for the annual Harlow Viola Festival given by his students between 1990 and 2002, and several hours of delightful conversation about the Tertis Competition and  International Viola Congress XXVI, which John and Carol with Jimmy and Dawn Durrant hosted in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1998. Other topics included British works for viola, publishers, luthiers, his good friend Harry Danks, and his Tertis biography. Even as we were visiting, the postman delivered just-released copies of Kenneth Harding’s Moonlit Apples, Harding’s Poem, and William Alwyn’s Ballade, three works for viola and piano edited by John for Comus Edition. It was my joy to receive signed copies of each. However, the highlight of the visit came when John said, “I rather imagine that you would enjoy seeing these,” and placed in my hands bound copies of three Walton Viola Concerto scores, each signed and marked by Lionel Tertis and used in different performances. Each also contained an inscription from the composer: “For Lionel Tertis, with gratitude for everything he has done for this work, and his magnificent playing of it, from William Walton, February 6, 1931.” It indeed was a marvelous experience, to say nothing of being a humbling moment. Tertis, when he retired, insured that the scores went to Harry Danks, and Danks likewise before he died insured that they were put directly in John’s hands. Although we had enjoyed hours together, the time for this memorable visit nevertheless was far too short, though it alone had made my journey worthwhile—and the Isle of Man and Tertis Competition lay ahead.

The Lionel Tertis Viola Competition.

My initial visit to this historical celebration of the viola proved to be a rather intimidating experience.  Firstly, while it is my practice to appear at an international event—whether congress or competition—at least one day early to acquaint myself with the local geography and examine the rooms for lighting balance, this was not possible on this visit because of travel arrangements and the visit with John White. Much of my time during the first evening and day on Isle of Man was spent groping my way through unfamiliar territory and incessant drizzle and rain. Once I found and became acquainted with the Erin Arts Centre, everything quickly fell into place. Dr. John Bethell, EAC Director, greeted me most cordially and provided me with a full packet and program and extra tickets reserved for close British friends. Although I had attended International Viola Congress XXVI in Glasgow in 1998 where many new friendships were made, I would deem myself fortunate to find three or four acquaintances at Isle of Man after a twelve-year hiatus, quite a change from North American viola congresses where dozens of friends can be encountered in short order. I needn’t have been concerned since several people were present—Dr. Louise Lansdown, IVS Vice President and viola professor in Manchester; my friend Tully Potter, lecturer, music critic, and author of a soon-to-be-released book on Adolf Busch; and David Hume, master luthier.

Gla-Lillian-Tertis-8a001-A

While well acquainted with the international viola congress system and the American Viola Society (AVS)-sponsored Primrose International Viola Competition, there was much to learn about the Tertis Competition, now in its thirtieth year. Firstly, it is an entity unto itself with its own organizational structure. Dr. John Bethell, MBE, serves as Director and Yuri Bashmet as Honorary President. The self-sufficient competition has no formal affiliation with the Welsh, English, or International Viola Societies, though the latter lists the Tertis Competition as a “Friend of the IVS.”  Rather the competition is very well endowed, with substantial gifts to the Tertis Foundation over several years from Mrs. Lillian Tertis and other patrons and contributors too numerous to list.  Mrs. Tertis, the great violist’s widow, died in 2009 in her ninety-fifth year.  The Isle of Man Arts Council and the Tertis Foundation actively—even aggressively in a positive sense—support the competition.  The fact that the Tertis Foundation contributed an impressive £15,000 (ca $22,500) for the first three prizes (as is noted below) speaks for itself. Secondly, the competition enjoys many common traits with viola congresses, with recitals, lectures, master classes, group viola play-ins, and exhibits that complement the competition as the “workshop” portion of the celebration, but ultimately these are secondary and subservient to the competition itself.  Dr. Bethell announced that, in the future, “workshop” would be replaced by “festival.” Thirdly, the eight-day schedule allows much more free time than viola congresses, with ample opportunity to visit with delegates, walk around Port Erin and its beautiful beaches, and tour the island.  International congresses tend to be shorter by two or three days and have their events tightly scheduled.

The Erin Arts Centre on Isle of Man itself is an interesting facility. To his great credit and foresight, John Bethell purchased with his own funds a lovely old stone building, the Victoria Square Wesleyan Church, for use as an auditorium; the remainder of the center and offices were added. The EAC hosts diverse artistic events during a given year or cycle of years, such as the Barbirolli International Oboe Festival and Competition, to be held next in 2012, one similar in structure to the Tertis. However, the Victoria Square Wesleyan Church was not the home of a large congregation and thus the facility seats only some 150 people. The arrangement of the incredibly small stage included a six-foot piano, two hand-crafted and beautiful wooden music stands, and the Tertis Competition banner in the rear center, in front of which was placed an alabaster bust of Lillian Tertis. What the performing area lacked in space, it more than compensated in intimacy.  At any time, depending upon placement of the piano, the soloists—had they wished and using their bows as pointers—could have touched someone sitting on the first row. While having the audience so close might have proved initially intimidating to some of the performers, most seemed to adjust to it quite well and actually appeared to have drawn strength from sympathetic listeners.

Good organizational skills proved as essential for Tertis Competition contestants as technical and musical abilities.  Of 152 applicants from 31 countries, only the first 60 to submit a complete application package were selected, no doubt resulting in many disappointed would-be contestants. Following three days of preliminary hearings, eight semi-finalists were announced late Wednesday evening.  The contestants retained the original “ballot order” assigned to them in the preliminary rounds and performed the closing recitals in the same order:

Ballot No. 7: Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (age 21) United States

Ballot No. 9: Barbara Buntrock (age 28) Germany

Ballot No. 12: Veit Hertenstein (age 24) Germany

Ballot No. 15: Seungwon Lee (age 20) South Korea

Ballot No. 28: Adrien La Marca (age 21) France

Ballot No. 45: Benedikt Schneider (age 27) Germany

No. 49: Kyoungmin Park (age 19) South Korea

Ballot No. 52: Elias Goldstein (age 27) United States/Norway

Page thirty-three of the program listed eight spaces for the semi-finalists’ names and that of their accompanist with ample space for comments in order for the audience to choose their own favorites.  Rather than second-guessing the judges, I was content to identify traits among these outstanding young people that particularly impressed me.  Having judged competitions myself, the question foremost in my mind was whether the “curse of the first performer” would be a factor during this round.

Tertis X Delegates, Contestants, Jury

Tertis X Group photo outside the Erin Arts Centre

Any concerns were quickly allayed—Melina Pajaro-van de Stadt performed with precision, skill, great confidence, and set an extremely high standard for the remainder of the field.  Other personal favorites became evident as the evening progressed. Barbara Buntrock, whose Mariani arguably was the superior instrument performed in the semifinal round, coaxed a gorgeous, luxuriant, and dark-chocolaty sound from it that absolutely radiated throughout the small room.

Veit Hertenstein was at the “top of his game” in this performance, technically and musically exquisite, a consummate musician in my opinion. Benedikt Schneider possessed such personal presence that he elicited audience excitement simply by taking his place on the stage.  His La Campanella was the best to that point in the evening and one of the cleanest performances of the piece I have ever heard.  Kyoungmin Park, the youngest of the semi-finalists, played with astounding ease and natural ability, equaling Schneider’s superb rendition of La Campanella. We have by no means heard the last from her. The second American, Elias Goldstein, combined his own impressive stage presence and beautiful interpretation with superb bow control to leave an indelible impression on the audience.  Such reactions are highly subjective, of course, and each audience member would have selected different contestants for different reasons, but those were mine—which is to take nothing from the fine musicians not mentioned. Each contestant was allowed forty minutes of performance time with a dinner interval built into the program following the fourth contestant.  Later in the evening, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, Veit Hertenstein, and Kyoungmin Park were announced as the finalists who would perform in the Saturday afternoon finals, the only event scheduled that day.  I was rather proud of myself, having picked two of the three finalists, with the third firmly on my list of three additional potential finalists.

One of the finest recitals of the competition was that of four violists deemed by the judges to have missed the final eight “by a whisker,” to quote jury-chairman Christopher Yates. As non-finalists, their performance pressure had been significantly diminished, and they as a group seemed to replace this with a “how dare they not have selected me!” attitude. These outstanding violists included Viktor Batki (age 30) from Hungary, Benedicte Royer (age 23) from France, Sang Hyun Yong (age 21) from South Korea, and Yoshihiko Nakano (age 22) from America. The final three days also featured master classes conducted by Garfield Jackson, Pierre-Henri Xuereb, and Tatjana Masurenko; recitals by Xuereb and Hartmut Rohde;  a lecture by jury chairman Yates; a forum; and a viola ensemble conducted by Sarah-Jane Bradley, who had been featured in the Tuesday-evening recital.

In the final round I was assigned a seat on the front row, meaning the soloists occasionally were closer to me physically than students in my own studio had been. They performed in the same order as the earlier round—Pajaro-van de Stadt, Hertenstein, and Park. This time it was Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt who was at the top of her abilities and who delivered an absolutely amazing performance.  Her fingers hit the fingerboard with the precision of the proverbial Swiss watch; she was expressive, her intonation was perfect, and her bow control was such that even the slightest waver was beyond my ability to detect it. It was an improvement even over her impressive semi-final round.  Hertenstein also performed in a superb fashion but had some noticeable problems at the close of the Walton Concerto’s first movement, and his tone at times seemed forced.  Park again displayed an almost supernatural ease and confidence, but this performance seemed to lack the freedom and spontaneity of the previous round.  Still, all three performances were superb, but such were the expectations of Tertis Competition finalists. This review would be woefully inadequate were not the battery of superb piano accompanists mentioned: Caroline Dowdle, Anthony Hewitt, Sophia Rahman, and a gentleman with the very violistic name of Tadashi Imai proved both prodigious and loving in their efforts to interpret accompaniments in the highest musical standards, and which were worthy of their charges’ talents, preparations, and aspirations. Mr. Imai confirmed that he had met Nobuko Imai but that no connection had been found between their two families.

Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt was selected as the winner of the tenth Tertis International Viola Competition.  She was awarded the “Lillian Tertis Memorial Prize” of £7000 (ca. $10,500) donated by the Tertis Foundation, a London recital at Wigmore Hall, and separate engagements with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and the London Schubert Players.  Kyoungmin Park in second place was given the “Ruth Fermoy Memorial Prize” of £5000 (ca. $7500), also donated by the Tertis Foundation. In third place, Veit Hertenstein was awarded the “Artur Rubinstein Memorial Prize” of £3000 (ca. $4500), again courtesy of the Tertis Foundation. An amazing eighteen special prizes—playing engagements, bows, and cash prizes ranging from £30 to £280—were distributed to semi-finalists and non-finalists alike who had impressed the judges with their musicianship and personalities. Of these I would venture to say that Elias Goldstein was the unofficial fourth-place finisher, taking home a silver-mounted viola bow crafted by John Clutterbuck valued at £2000 ($3000). The prizes were announced by John Bethell and presented by the Honorable Noel Cringle (the President of Tynwald) and Mrs. Cringle.

One additional comment: the competition work required of all competitors in Tertis X was a solo viola composition, Sonatine I, by British composer Roger Steptoe.  I found it to be a beautiful, challenging, and cogent composition and one that surely will find its way to the New World via the American and other contestants who learned it.

Tertix X Finalists, Jury Chair, Erin Arts Centre Director, Compo

From left to right: Christopher Yates (jury chair), Veit Hertenstein (third place), Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (first place), Roger Steptoe (composer), Kyoungmin Park (second place), and John Bethell (Erin Arts Centre Director)

Were I a member of the AVS Primrose Competition Jury for 2011, I would obtain a copy of this work and familiarize myself with it sooner rather than later, because it shall be encountered at a major viola event in the near future.

Roger Steptoe Composer small

Roger Steptoe, composer of the Tertis Competition’s required work, Sonatine I

There it is, my first Tertis International Viola Competition and Workshop, nee “Festival,” which now can be listed with some twenty-five viola congresses, several Primrose Competitions, workshops, and smaller viola venues I have attended, which are too numerous to mention.  In all sincerity I would have to concede that the triennial Tertis Viola Competition arguably is the world’s leading viola celebration by virtue of its endowment, leadership, reputation, having a permanent home, and its prize structure. This is not to imply that the American-sponsored Primrose Competition should be in competition with the Tertis, but rather that the two events should complement one another, each serving to advance the cause of the viola, its literature, luthiers, its performers, and each preserving and advancing its rightful and distinguished place in the music of the world’s peoples.

—Dwight Pounds

Dr. Louise Lansdown has been a full-time viola and chamber music tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) since 2001 and holds part-time teaching positions at the University of Manchester and Junior RNCM.  She currently serves as Vice-President of the International Viola Society and as President of the English Viola Society, an organization that she founded in 2007.

Dr. Dwight Pounds is past Executive Secretary of the International Viola Society, photographer of many violists, and frequent contributor to the Journal of the American Viola Society. He is also the author of The American Viola Society: A History and Reference and Viola for Violinists. Dwight has served on the AVS Board multiple times and has often appeared as a presenter at viola congress


One Comment

  1. John J. Kula says:

    I would like the above article to include, not only the performers’ names, but the pieces they played for the various competitions and recitals. I am a pianist who will be playing with a new v iolist member of the chamber group and would like to do a contemporary work for viola and piano that is not terribly demanding, yet illustrates the melodic and lyric capabilities of the viola. Any suggestions for short works that highlight the viola that are contemporary?
    Thank you for the well-written article and wonderful photos that bring the various events to life.
    John – PS I played viola in college as a supplementary instrument, but I don’t really know the literature to recommend something that would make this colleague feel at ease in her first chamber music recital.

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