Questions for the Menuhin Competition (and one answer)

Questions for the Menuhin Competition (and one answer)


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2016

The selection for the forthcoming Menuhin Competition has raised a few eyebrows for the huge preponderance of girls over boys – a ratio of 3 to 1, with only one male contestant in the senior finals.

Now the eyebrows rise a little higher on discovering that all four US finalists have connections to Brian Lewis, a judge at the 2014 Menuhin Competition. Mr Lewis was, we are informed, involved in ‘pre-selection’ for the 2016 competition. He is not on the final judging panel.

UPDATE: We have received the following denial from the Menuhin Competition publicist:

I would like to state on behalf of the Menuhin Competition London 2016, that Brian Lewis was not on the pre-selection jury for the Menuhin Competition London 2016. Your story is wrong.

In order to ensure clarity, the pre-selection jury for the Menuhin Competition are published here: Brian Lewis, as can be seen, was not on the pre-selection jury and had no influence whatsoever on the choice of the 44 competitors for the Menuhin Competition London 2016. The pre-selection jury has been on the Menuhin Competition Website since we announced the Menuhin Competition London 2016 was open for entries in April 2015.

We did not find the pre-selection link when we searched the Menuhin site.

UPDATE 2: The Menuhin Competition adds:

The Menuhin Competition London 2016 states categorically that Brian Lewis has not been involved in pre-selection or on any pre-selection jury or jury with the Menuhin Competition since February 2014. The Menuhin Competition has an artistic reputation for fairness and integrity. Applicants are chosen by their merit, and not by their gender, race, nationality, where they study or who teaches them, when assessing the entries.

Accepting that Brian Lewis was not involved in pre-selection, it seems odd that all four US finalists should declare a connection to the same teacher or masterclass tutor.

Mr Lewis describes himself as ‘one of the most versatile and charismatic violinists on the current scene… an exceptionally dedicated and gifted performer whose passionate artistry has been heard and embraced around the world…. As a dynamic and engaging teacher, Mr. Lewis is committed to growing the legacies of the great pedagogues Dorothy DeLay and Dr. Shin’ichi Suzuki for future generations.’


Here is the connective information from the Menuhin site:

Marley Erickson

Marley Erickson, age 12, is a student of Simon James and collaborative pianists, Hiro David and Li-Tan Hsu.  She has been a part of the Coleman Violin Studio for almost five years.  As a winner of the 2015 Seattle Symphony Young Artists Audition, Marley is honored to solo with the Seattle Symphony this December.  At age 11, Marley made her solo orchestral debut with the Ottawa Chamber Symphony as part of the Brian Lewis Young Artist Program.  She attended BLYAP again this past summer.

Yesong Sophie Lee

Yesong Sophie Lee, age 11, attends Cedarwood Elementary School. She started studying violin with Jan Coleman at age 4, and is currently studying with Simon James and piano collaborator Hiro David in the Coleman Violin Studio.

This past summer, Sophie attended the Brian Lewis Young Artist Program. Sophie has played in master classes for Brian Lewis.

Takumi Taguchi

He has been a student of Simon James of the Seattle Symphony and piano collaborator Hiro David at the Coleman Violin Studio, having previously studied with Mihoko Hirata. Takumi performed in the 2015 Symposium with Brian Lewis.

Elli Choi

Elli Choi has already performed extensively throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East. Elli Choi has been a student in the Pre-College Division of The Juilliard School since she was 7. She studies with Ida Kavafian. … We understand that she has performed twice at a Brian Lewis Symposium.




  • Nicola Lefanu says:

    I don’t think this is a serious problem.

    I mean, Norman, if you were choosing contributors for a Gustav Mahler Festschrift there’s a high chance the list would include writers you’ve worked with or taught or been employed by in the past. Way of the world…..

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If they were all my students, Nicola, it would look a bit cosy. Not to say arrogant.

    • Interested Bystander says:

      Agreed. You’ll also note that 4 of the juniors come from Seattle and three were taught by Simon James. Obviously a v fine teacher and a community that appreciates music education.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        And nobody of equivalent standard from anywhere else in the US?

        • Ross says:

          Some teachers send batches of kids to a competition, and often travel with them. I would guess that there are other competitions that the kids from the Northeast enter more frequently.

          Obviously this Brian Lewis put the word out about the Menuhin Competition every time he heard a talented kid anywhere, encouraging them to apply. Often he would have heard them in one of his own venues, thus a connection to Brian Lewis.

        • tati says:

          there were some fabulous kids from the US who didn’t get into the competition! This situation is very fishy ! three kids from the same studio nobody has ever heard of ? please! someone pointed out this is not a “serious problem” – it’s a very serious problem! and the competitions allow it to happen!

      • Peter Tham says:

        I have heard that SImon James is a great teacher, but he is also a teacher at Brian Lewis Program and 2 of the students were there this past summer most likely preparing their audition repertoire with Mr Lewis himself. This seems highly suspicious and unfair.

  • Competition fan says:

    These centers of great teaching spring up time and again. Ivan Galamian, Dorothy Delay, Zakhar Bron and now maybe Bob Lipsett, Brian Lewis, Paul Kantor and the Jan Coleman/Simon James team?

    Perhaps too early to tell, but certainly pedagogy takes a healthy combination of tradition and innovation and these dedicated teachers sure have and have had the students to indicate that we will have great violinists for many years to come.

  • Charles Avignon says:

    The transparency of this is absurd! There were no other students coming out of NYC, Boston, San Fransisco, Bloomington, Philadelphia, Miami? There are strong teachers with young prodigies everywhere. Four students with the same connection to one teacher is a little on the nose. What a shame, and how obvious!

  • Music Fan says:

    Instead of jumping to conclusions and shaming these kids and their teachers because of this one coincidence, how about we listen to their performances at the competition and then form our opinions? Arguing over this matter when we haven’t even heard their performances yet seems a little unfair to them!

    • Violin Lover says:

      The problem is, the others that were unfairly omitted will not have that opportunity. How they perform at the competition is not the point. The point is, the most deserving players are the ones that should have the opportunity to participate, and that process should have been unbiased. Anyone with competition experience can see these facts and see through Menuhin’s cover up.

    • Terence says:

      Not as unfair as it is for those whose performances we will not hear because they did not get chosen.

      Your logic is faulty Music Fan.

      No doubt the performers chosen will be very good or better .. but it the selection process which is at issue.

      The process is also to some extent unfair to those chosen if there are doubts over their selection.

      • tati says:

        you’ll definitely hear some of the ones who didn’t get in because they will end up with careers , the three Seattle girls – first round?

  • Sick O'rumors says:

    [redacted]The connections here are very loose. No one seems to have studied with Brian Lewis for an extended period of time. Playing for someone in a master class is hardly a rock solid connection. Like Music Fan says, let’s listen to them during the competition and judge them on their merit, not their apparent connections to someone who didn’t even help select them!

  • Milka says:

    If one could but name a single truly great violinist that has emerged from these
    dreadful competitions then it would be worth it , by that I mean not the hacks who
    only saw away to amaze and astonish but as some past virtuosos a winner who contributes
    to the literature. As Avignon notes the transparency of this nonsense is indeed absurd.
    Reminds one of a certain Bron .Favors can be returned in one fashion or another .
    The note on great pedagogues is indeed laughable. How violinists will hustle
    for a buck is a study in itself .

  • tati says:

    norman, there is no way it’s a coincidence! if he wasn’t officially on a panel, then he was there “unofficially ” 🙂

  • Competition Fan says:

    Milka, addressing your first sentence, the answer specifically relating to laureates of the Menuhin Competition includes the fine violinists Tasmin Little, Isabelle van Keulen, Nikolaj Znaider, Ilya Gringolts, and Julia Fischer.

    Laureates of the Queen Elizabeth range from David Oistrakh to Vadim Repin, Nikolaj Znaider (again), Baiba Skride, and Sergey Khachatryan, to name a very few.

    Great pedagogues are motivated by a sense of duty inherent in passing down the wisdom of preceding generations, not by other less important factors. That said, valuable contributions are made in private studios and classrooms by inspired, loving teachers who may never have heard of Leopold Auer or Joseph Joachim. Perhaps somewhere, a future Menuhin laureate is playing Lightly Row…and loving it.

    Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
    Victor Hugo

    • Milka says:

      Competitiion Fan might ponder that all the names given note by Fan have contributed zilch to the art itself . Their appearance means absolutely nothing to the art , being
      at best low grade entertainers using the violin as the vehicle of entertainment . They are
      not even foot notes .The observation concerning pedagogues
      speaks volumes to the ignorance of the art . Within the last 100 years only two violinists
      have influenced the art to any degree leaving the rest sawing away for dear life in hopes
      of getting a piece of the pie $. One wonders of which Menuhin are the organizers thinking?the phenomenon of the youngster or as Ysaye predicted the collapse of
      the grown man , in any case it sadly is all about $ ,not the art .

      • Anonymous says:

        In what world has David Oistrakh contributed zilch?! This is beyond laughable. Please name me ten artists that have contributed more than him. Other than Heifetz maybe, he is indisputably one of the greatest artists this world has seen (since the technology to record performances have arose).

        • Milka says:

          Oistrakh may have pleased you as a player… as an influence of any sort to
          violin literature, or its advancement a total zilch , already he is gone into the mists of time
          and if he had not existed at all, it would have made little if any difference to its history .There
          were only 2 in the past century who left a mark on the history of the instrument.

          • Anonymous says:

            Can’t tell if you’re being serious. Find me one Professor of violin at a prestigious conservatoire that would agree with you. Oistrakh changed the world of music, especially in the region he was from. Today, he certainly isn’t forgotten, he is the favourite violinist and greatest inspiration of many.

  • ViolinDad says:

    While there are certainly worthwhile questions to be asked about the Menuhin selection process, which did produce some “interesting” results, I fail to understand why this causes you to cast aspersions on Brian Lewis.

    Mr. Lewis is not the primary teacher of any of these young people and he had no involvement in the selection process. One of the children was a participant in the 2014 Menuhin (as were other students of Mr. James) and another has been a participant on “From the Top”. I have heard three of them in person, and they are in deed among the best in their age group in my experience. All four of them have had success in a variety of competitions and selection processes.

    The “2015 Symposium” to which you refer is arranged by Juilliard and while Mr. Lewis is the artistic director, he doesn’t teach the participants, they are taught in master classes by other artists.

    All children playing at this level participate in a variety of summer camps, the fact that two of them were at the same camp, taught by Mr. Lewis and a handful of other teachers, speaks volumes about this terrific camp.

    There are many qualified young violinists, who did not apply for the 2016 Menuhin, for a variety of reasons. These violinists were selected among the ones who applied, and some political considerations seem to have been taken. However, if you visited some of the high level summer camps and/or youth orchestras, you would find that the 3:1 ratio is fairly representative of the distribution of qualified young violinists.

  • Tal Schifter says:

    This is totally absurd. I had a former student who was a finalist in the 2012 Menuhin Junior Competition (Brian Lewis was not on that jury ) in China and she had done the Symposium at Julliard in 2009, 2013, and 2015. She applied to the senior division and didn’t get chosen. I know for a fact Mr. Lewis was not the person judging the DVD’s of those accepted into the competition. Not everyone applies to all competitions. Because judging music is so subjective you will always have sour grapes who bring up conspiracy theories. That’s life. Get over it and move on.

  • Anonymous says:

    If I were to not apply to a competition where a violinists I had a masterclass with was involved, then I wouldn’t be able to apply to any competitions at all. The music world isn’t so big, and the likelihood of the young generation’s new talents not coming across someone involved in a competition before they apply is surprisingly low. The famous pedagogues and performers attend festivals all over the world all the time. They perform with many many young artists and give masterclasses to hundreds of violinists, many of which I know for a fact they don’t remember. It should not raise eyebrows that one or two violinists accepted to the competition, especially when they’re as good as the four people you’ve named, have come across the same person suspected of being involved in the competition. If he was their full time teacher, that would be something else. This is a meal out of nothing. It’s completely unnecessary.

    • Milka says:

      Is that why they all are such boring players -all from the same cookie cutter ?

      • Music Fan says:

        Dear User Milka,

        Please do think about what these kids might feel if they see this post and your comments. Also, is it fair to them to already judge them as “boring” ? I would assume that the violinists chosen to compete were chosen because they were exceptionally talented or promising, though that is completely in the hands of the opinions of the pre-selection jury. We should have more trust in the jury, as well as in the kids!

        Thank you.

        • Milka says:

          The reference was not to the up coming tournament .. couldn’t be …
          referred to the past… one could view this sort of affair as child victims subject
          to adult ego past time. The poor things are drilled to a high level of technical perfection
          then played against each other for prize money.Ever go to a dog show ?
          Kids are groomed from an early age by dreadfully ambitious parents , teachers,
          all used to feed the ambitions $ and egos of adults .

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think that these players are boring at all. I’ve never once participated in a competition, and trust me, I’ve been to quite a few, where two performers played the same way. Each new competitor brings something new to the table. A new story, a new idea, a new way of doing something. In actual fact, competitions have produced some of the most exciting performances. Just now at Sibelius, some of Emmanuel Tjeknavorian’s performances were absolutely exhilarating. What I found nice, was that despite not playing flawlessly, he wasn’t punished for a couple of lapses of intonation, and was rewarded for his unique, charming and beautiful style of playing.

  • mysty says:

    well well look who has won 🙂