Whether you're in Beijing, Brussels or Birkenhead, you can enjoy the opening rounds of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition online from Queenstown's Memorial Centre this weekend.

Six of the 16 contestants will go on to play in the semifinals in Auckland and three will proceed to Saturday's final round with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under Giordano Bellincampi.

Artistic Adviser Dene Olding has been a judge since 2003. He says for him, the Queenstown event catches the magic and sets an atmosphere that adds a dimension not found in many other competitions.

During these sessions, you'll hear each competitor play Bach, Paganini and a full-scale sonata by composers from Brahms to Prokofiev; all 16 tackle the compulsory test solo, written by APO resident composer Karlo Margetic.

Advertisement

Olding is proud of incorporating the local, saying it's the ultimate test and if players can draw something different out of it, they've shown an important skill.

"That's why we have a special prize for the best performance of the piece."

This year, contestants must make a selection from the once-popular genre of salon music - sweet, sentimental morsels like Elgar's Salut d'amour and Kreisler's Liebesleid, music that Olding says is not fast or virtuosic but demands an expressive touch and a certain honeyed tone.

Another new category, Ad Libitum, calls for a 12-minute piece that personally resonates with the player, demonstrating their particular talent or enthusiasm and pleasing both them and their audience.

Benjamin Baker, the sole New Zealand contestant, has the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Loughlan Prior dancing while he plays Kreisler; others offer music from their own countries and one uses multimedia elements.

In previous years, semifinals have focused on placing competitors in a piano trio; in 2017, the town hall concert chamber will resound to Mozart, as six young hopefuls play his quintets with local string players Justine Cormack, Julia Joyce, Gillian Ansell and Ashley Brown.

Two evenings of superb chamber music are guaranteed with programmes that reflect what Olding feels is a call for versatility.

"The Mozart Quintets will be revealing because the first violin is very operatic in style and has to lead by example and influence the whole performance," he explains. "With a minimum amount of rehearsal time, they have to mould and impress their personality on to the performance."

The competition is watchable online, reminding us that the APO is making a name for itself in this area. A broadcast of its recent Sound of the Horn concert drew 70,000 viewers from Alaska to Tunisia. In a few weeks, we will know whether the orchestra's 2016 Otello will win the best sound recording category at New York's International Radio Program Awards.

Lowdown:
The Michael Hill International Violin Competition is fully streamed on violincompetition.co.nz
Semifinals: Town Hall Concert Chamber, Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm
Masterclasses: University Music School, Thursday at 10am, Friday and
Saturday at 10.30am
Final Round: Auckland Town Hall, Saturday, June 10 at 7.30pm