The Asian boy who won an adult violin competition

The Asian boy who won an adult violin competition


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2014

Samuel Tan, from Singapore, took first prize in the 2014 Andrea Postacchini International Violin Competition in Italy. He beat 130 violinists from 39 countries, aged up to 35.

His parents explain how, in first interview here.

samuel tan

His success will reignite the debate over the value, standards and impartiality of many international competitions.



  • David Ashbridge says:

    It is not really fair or objective to say the success of Samuel Tan will reignite the debate over the value, standards and impartiality of many international competitions. Those of us who work in the music profession know about the pitfalls of competitions, their drawbacks and in the worst cases, the interference of judges. What goes on in some of the big events is probably amongst the worst kept secrets in the music business. That is not to say all competitions are suspect by any means for many are conducted with absolute propriety, but of course they don’t grab the headlines.

    Winning a competition in itself means very little. It is no guide to career prospects or a guaranteed pathway to career success as there are so many different factors involved that have nothing to do with competitions. In general, classical musicians have little interest in one-trick ponies or those only capable of playing only a couple of pieces in then only in their way. Also too many competition winners turn out to be shooting stars; there one minute gone the next. We’ve seen it all too many times to pay much attention.

    For the winners or those highly placed, the real work starts after the competition. Can they build on it or is the competition win about it? We take interest when we see competition winners transform themselves into consummate all round musicians. Nicola Benedetti is a good recent example. Quite apart from which the overwhelming majority of classical musicians make their way in the profession having never entered a competition in their life.

    Classical music competitions are what they are, warts and all. They are just one small part of a much bigger musical world. If Samuel Tan is going to make it as a violinist he will be still be around in 10 and 20 years time and making the headlines for better things than a competition win at the age of 9. I for one wish him well, but the real work is still ahead for him.

  • May says:

    For anyone interested in competitions, this one makes for an interesting story. While it does seem to attract applicants from every corner of the globe, looking at the list of past winners and their ages, it seems to be geared towards quite young violinists (Samuel Tan is by no means the only nine-year old prize winner in recent years). So the headline is misleading, as the Postacchini Competition seems to be more a local affair which happens to be deluged with young, well-trained and well-drilled violinists looking to add an Italian name to their resume. As for Samuel, the boy is a real natural, but let’s wait another decade before passing final judgement. It seems to take the organizers 6-8 weeks to get video from the competition online, in case anyone is interested. Otherwise you can find older videos of Samuel on youtube, with a vibrato that would make any cellist envious

  • Jehi Bahk says:

    The Andrea Postacchini International Violin Competition in Italy ( is divided into four age categories. Samuel seems to have participated in category A (born between 2003 – 2006). Competitors in that age group were required to play two caprices only in one single round.
    So it might be misleading to say, that Samuel Tan “beat 130 violinists from 39 countries, aged up to 35”. Nevertheless, our congratulations to a young, talented violinist. We wish him all the best.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    This is a snippet of a Skype conversation between me and a colleague. on the 12th June 2014. I open the conversation. The colleague who is a great violinist will remain anonymous

    “There is something so crazy now that I think the trend is irreversible……
    Fermo competition did not award a first prize in either the intermediate or senior section but there was a first prize winner in the junior section who won overall as well.
    His name is Samuel Tan and he is playing the worst performance i could ever experience of the Praeludium and Allegro.”
    “i believe there can’t be a trend for something already dead.”
    “Who are the jury members who have not seen that he has no talent whatsover? Who is the teacher with such poor taste?”
    “ they vote the worst through very often
    : which is why i’m tired of doing competitions”
    maazel said it best recently
    there are always a few smart ones out there but there also are a lot of ignorant people as well”
    “ It takes a lot to shock me. I always said that the orientals have fine acrobatic talents without music making but this child simply cannot play at all.!”
    “i know what you mean”
    “Paul de Keyser:
    “i expect that though…
    in most competitions”
    “: Am I mad?”
    “ he’s better than a lot of pplfor age 8
    and that’s why he won”
    “: hes 10 now”
    “ got better maybe?”
    “ not possible
    there is nothing right everything is wrong
    no sense of pulse
    no beauty of ton no ability to shift
    no taste
    poor wobblat cannot hold the bow
    no understanding of any inner sense of anything
    no dynamic contrasts
    you see, Maazel my mother and Ida don’t care
    they have done their bit for humanity, for life and for G-d: they have been recognised and they say farewell to an old order
    We two are nowhere
    we have nowhere to go and nothing really productive to offer we are much younger and have to witness this “nuclear winter”..
    “ i say
    it’s really hard to bet on life ending completel in terms of culture and music/art/etc.
    i think in a sense it already has”
    u r right
    it is metamorphosed”
    so somehow it will eventually come back”
    but we are finished”
    the question is in what form and what shape”
    “ palaces didnt come back
    they are visited as mudseums”
    “perhaps they will come back in two hundred years”
    did u see planet of the the apes original film? watch it. it was good now in retrospect it is great
    the apes take over and trap some humans
    there is the “forbidden zone”
    it is protected by the elders of ape society

    In the end they ride to the forbidden zone and I wont spoil it for you……”
    “ i’ll check it out sometime”
    :”but the ending is where we are at now: I dont think there can be a return
    sooner or later the great players will become forbidden
    already no one has hear of norbert brainin
    one of the greatest violinists of all time
    the recording sales have slowed and will be discontinued…!

    Ida Haendel roared with laughter and said “find out who was on the jury..someone will want him to study with him /her for their own gain. PLUS CA CHANGE PLUS C’EST LA MEME CHOSE ” (her favourite saying)

  • Sergei says:

    In the past contests, there were real winners. Take first Wieniawsky, Warsow, 1935. First, Ginette Neveu; second,Oistrakh; third Henrik Temianka. Other prizewinners were some talent child: Boris Goldstein, Ida Hendel and Joseph Hassid (!!!). But, I wonder if really great Ginette deserved first over Oistrakh !

  • Kyle says:

    Hi Samuel

    Nice concert! Ur friend Kyle