In a little office on Surrey Crescent one of the top violin competitions in the world is organised.
“I’ve been with the competition since the very beginning. We started in 2001. The initiation of the idea came from Michael [Hill]. He wanted to have a violin competition. I remember the day he came in, I was working for the Auckland Philharmonia. He came to meet with us, when it was just an idea, and it was a surprise to us all that he wanted it to be an international competition. By the time he left we had a plan in place, and we rolled it out that first year quite quickly!”
Anne has a little bit of an accent herself and has some history as a global musician, living in many different countries, but now calls Grey Lynn home. “We moved to New Zealand from the United States 20 years ago. For the last 14 years we’ve been in Grey Lynn.
“I was a cellist,” Anne says. She hasn’t performed at the level she’d like to for many years, but says maybe she’ll find the time to get back up to her high standard. Despite this lack of professional performance in her own life she comments, “I’ve been really lucky to have that creative outlet, even without performing.” Through her work as Executive Director of this competition, her time with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and many other organisations, she calls herself a “serial arts leader”.
The Michael Hill Violin Competition in 2017 had 140 applicants from 32 countries. An astounding feat for a competition run out of New Zealand, and half of if run out of Queenstown. It has grown since the first competition in 2001, but Anne does believe there have been some important bumps along the way that boosted the competitions reputation and reach. “The rise of digital advertising, we just had some help getting our message out there. Probably the most significant bump came with the announcement of the jobs of some of our winners. For instance, our 2013 winner [Nikki Chooi] is the Concertmaster of the New York’s Metropolitan Opera. When he won that announcement we had a lot of applications.
“It has become a launchpad for important careers. The accomplishments and accolades of our past winners really speak to the reputation of the competition. We are one of the top violin competitions of the world, not that any of us expected that 18 years ago, run out of New Zealand.
“Of the 140 applicants, every single one of them was incredible. They all could have participated, because it takes a lot to put together an application.” Only 16 are chosen from those 140 to become quarter finalists. They compete over multiple rounds in Queenstown and Auckland in June. Held every two years it draws in some of the most celebrated classical musicians to judge, and some of the most talented and phenomenal young musicians.
Anna was very excited to discuss the new system they’ve created, that allows people to track and find all of their past finalists and winners.
“Of the 130 past laureates we had, we were able to track down all bar two. They are all involved in music. A couple have gone into music therapy. I find it really gratifying, it is an age group that I am really compelled to focus on, that post tertiary, pre-profession. So much excitement, so much potential and raw talent. And I know myself I had some really great experiences when I was that age, so to be able to provide opportunities for that precious time in people’s lives, I find incredibly rewarding.”
This year's competition includes Wellington-born Benjamin Baker, who has performed with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
The competition also features a Development Prize for a standout young New Zealand artist. The winner of this prize gets to accompany the quarter finalists throughout their week and participate in all the professional development opportunities on offer. The 2017 Development Prize winner is Alexandra Lomeiko, who is the younger sister of the 2003 competition winner. A true testament to the impact and importance of this competition on families' and individuals' lives.
The winner of the Michael Hill Competiton receives NZ$40,000, a recording contract with the Atoll label, an intensive performance tour across New Zealand and Australia, and a personalised professional development programme. The winner is also invited to perform on Sir Michael Hill’s magnificent personal violin, a 1755 Guadagnini named 'The Southern Star', on their Winner’s Tour.
The Michael Hill Violin competition comes to Auckland with the six semi-finalists for 7 and 8 June before the final three perform the Auckland Town Hall on Saturday 10 June. Check out all the information at their website and get along and watch the best young violinists in the world. (FINN MCLENNAN-ELLIOTT)