Excellence is mandatory


Technical mastery is a given at the Michael Hill International Violin Competition 2017.

Instead, sole Kiwi competitor Benjamin Baker says the winner will be the one who can communicate the music so as to catch the hearts of those listening.

Baker, 27, is one of 16 insanely talented young violinists from around the world competing in the biennial contest.

“It will come down to communication and expression on the day,” he says.

“There’s a certain amount of ‘do you roll out of bed the right side’ that day or, if not, can you put yourself in the right frame of mind?

“That’s why we prepare like we do, so we can go on stage and enjoy communicating this wonderful music.”

Baker’s been playing since the age of three – starting with a ruler strapped to a tissue box.

He’s now moved on to a 1709 Tononi violin, on a generous loan from a patron.

Originally from Wellington, he won a scholarship to study music at the Yehudi Menuhin School in the Uunited Kingdom aged eight, and went on to study at the Royal College of Music.

He’s remained in London, playing with numerous orchestras and winning many prizes – including the Michael Hill development prize in 2013.

At the opening of the 2016 season, he made his debut with the Royal Philharmonic and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestras performing Tchaikovsky.

He practises comfortably five hours a day, keeping the mind and body in tune with each other, and sometimes plays more than three concerts a week.

Still, he’ll feel the pressure for his home competition.

“Of course, mostly around my own expectations of myself – how I’ll play; hopefully better, more free and more communicative than before.

“Those nerves also bring their own positives; extra intensity and energy.”

He says the biggest challenge is keeping the intensity for every note and enjoying playing despite the “extreme scrutiny” of the competition.

He’ll go through a similar process to an elite sprinter, visualising the ‘race’ the night before.

“Visualisation is key – especially with violin where you’re dealing with tiny, tiny margins.

“Half a millimetre and you’re pretty much at a different note.”

The competition is spread over eight days in Queenstown and Auckland, including eight sessions over the coming four days at Queenstown Memorial Centre.

The 16 musicians, aged 18 to 28, will perform a commissioned piece for solo violin by New Zealand composer Karlo Margetic, along with Bach, Paganini, Tchaikovsky, and pieces by other composers, including Baker’s favourite, Franck’s violin Sonata.

They must also show their creativity through an ‘Ad Libitum’ [according to pleasure] section – for which Baker has worked with rising choreography star Loughlan Prior and two Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers.

The competition has a $100,000 prize package, featuring a $40,000 top prize, a recording contract and Australasian performance tour.

Bayleys Realty Group are new sponsors this year and Queenstown Airport boss Colin Keel and his partner Ian Jackson have personally donated the $5000 cash third prize.

Various sessions from Friday through to Monday, Queenstown Memorial Centre. Adult pass $235, senior $207, student/child $82, or $43/$38/$15 per session. Earlybird also available before noon on Friday.