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Lacey Huszcza column: Region successfully hosts the Menuhin Competition — a global celebration of violin artistry
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Bravo RVA!

Lacey Huszcza column: Region successfully hosts the Menuhin Competition — a global celebration of violin artistry

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From May 14-23, the Richmond region hosted the first all-virtual international Menuhin Competition, celebrating the extraordinary skills of the world’s most talented young violinists. This prestigious global event, founded by and named for the great violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, has showcased the most gifted young musicians since 1983. The Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021 rolled out the red carpet and provided a fabulous virtual venue to welcome the world.

The concept is like the Olympics — every two years a different city will host the competition and create a festival of learning, exchange and joy around it. Three years ago the Richmond Symphony, with the University of Richmond, the city of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and VPM, Virginia’s home for public media, bid to host the competition — and won.

The competition this time has been like no other and is testimony to the strong commitment Richmond has to being a vibrant cultural city and supporting its arts scene. It was due to be held in May 2020 after two years of planning — preparations were made for flying in 44 competitors and nine jurors from 18 countries and 12 states, and eight venues around town were booked for concerts, with thousands of tickets sold.

Then, in March 2020, just two months before the competition was scheduled to land in Richmond, COVID-19 swept into the U.S. and around the world. As concert venues and cultural organizations worldwide shut their doors, the competition had to be postponed and was rescheduled for May 2021. By January of this year, it was clear that an in-person competition would not be possible, and the tough choice was made to take the competition online for the first time in its history.

Concerts were reimagined, competitors recorded their rounds at local venues or at home, jurors watched their videos across at least eight different time zones, discussions and masterclasses were moved to Zoom, and ticket holders were given links to participate. It was paramount to all of the co-hosts that we maintain the consummate professionalism associated with the Menuhin Competition and ensure fairness for the competitors, while also creating an opportunity to show the world what an extraordinary cultural destination Richmond is. In its virtual incarnation, the competition now was free and suddenly was open to the whole world. And therein lies the great silver lining of the pandemic. Richmond now was under the gaze of the world’s international classical music eye.

We had no idea what to expect, but we knew when the first videos of the first rounds came in that we had the most amazing young people taking part. After 24 hours of being online and more than 150,000 views, we knew we had made the right decision not to cancel. I also personally was glad not to be a juror, since they had the hardest decisions of all. After all of the performance rounds were completed, the winners were announced and online viewers enjoyed watching as the judges called to congratulate María Dueñas from Spain for winning first prize in the Senior section and Keila Wakao from Boston for taking first prize in the Junior section.

Our featured performing artists artfully and gracefully created beautiful concerts that we could share online for free. We were thrilled to welcome Regina Carter; Mark and Maggie O’Connor; the joint 2018 Junior first-prize winners, Chloe Chua and Christian Li; and the Sphinx Virtuosi. Also, our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion found an amplified voice through a discussion panel that brought together the leaders of many of Richmond’s important arts institutions.

Special original compositions for the competition rounds from Richmond native and nationally-awarded Mason Bates and American composer/fiddler Mark O’Connor found new young international audiences, and those pieces now are the lasting legacy of the competition — a reminder of this extraordinary virtual competition every time they are played.

This unique virtual event was made possible by the quick pivoting of the Menuhin Competition Trust in London, the Richmond Symphony team, and its loyal co-hosts and wonderfully generous sponsors. I can’t thank Gov. Ralph Northam, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, our local education and business leaders, and sponsors enough for supporting this monumental project through such challenging times.

Working together, we orchestrated an exceptionally diverse array of artistry over a 10-day period, even though we could not be together in auditoriums or concert halls, and we look forward to bringing back some of the winners to play with the symphony in future seasons. I especially would like to thank VPM for producing so many hours of quality content, concluding with the fine closing gala film that perfectly captured the joyous, uplifting spirit of the Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021.

To date more than 1.6 million people have watched the competition, and it will remain freely accessible online for years to come. I know you will find something in the rich program of offerings that inspires you.

Lacey Huszcza is executive director of the Richmond Symphony. Contact her at: lhuszcza@richmondsymphony.com

The Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021 can be viewed at: 2021.menuhincompetition.org

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