After hundreds of hours, just one chance to shine

From our diarist Anthea Kreston:

Tis the Season of recommendations and auditions. It’s the time of year when any teacher is flooded with requests by current and former students – summer programs, school recommendations, job references – all of these and more. Emergency lessons, help with making recordings, life advice. It keeps us all intertwined.

In music, we are never satisfied. There is rarely a “comfort zone”, or a final goal met. We are always learning new things, putting ourselves into situations where failure is a breath away. We work every minute of the day, pushing our arms and minds to the brink of collapse, and after thousands of hours, we have only 10 minutes in front of that committee. But if we decide to just stay in our “comfort zone”, not risk everything, isn’t that the end of ambition, of dreams and hope? And, what is music, if not something that creates so much potential happiness, that even the constant threat of imminent public failure is well worth the risk.

Last summer, while teaching at Curtis (their Summerfest is a great chance for younger students to get an adrenaline shot of the Curtis experience), I met and worked with an effervescent and talented young Macedonian violinist named Aleksandar Ivanov. He had a floppy teenager way about him, with an easy grin, and was a natural concertmaster. This week, he contacted me again. He was just passed through the pre-screening for an March audition at Curtis, and he needed advice.

Texts and emails have been flying back and forth – tips about how to prepare, what and when short-term and long-term goals need to be met. What his repertoire is, how long he has been working on it, his instruction, the performance opportunities. I suggested making a large wall-graph of his pieces and progress. He is working with his violin teacher four hours a day – he started the Tchaikovsky this past summer.

He is 18, born in Skopje, and is of Macedonian and Bulgarian heritage. His grandfather was one of the first Macedonian composers (at that time, Yugoslavia), his Uncle is the conductor of the Macedonian Philharmonic, and his brother wrote a concerto for him last year, which he premiered at the opening concert at the “Days of Macedonia Music” festival. It’s a real Macedonian Musical Dynasty. You may know that Macedonia, a land-locked country squished between Serbia, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria, has been in the news recently, having ended its decades-long struggle with Greece over its name. As of February 13, it is officially renamed the Republic of North Macedonia, paving the way towards NATO membership, which had been blocked by neighboring Greece.

In reading his bio, any musician will be able to understand that this is a person who has worked very hard since he was a small child. His first concerto appearance was at age 12, with Beriot #9, after which he has performed, with orchestra, Bruch, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chausson Poem, Wieniawski, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, and Beethoven. After garnering a number of international awards, he was invited to further his studies in Vienna, where he currently resides.

For the audition, he is preparing the Mozart G Major Concerto, Bach Solo Sonata in G Minor, Paganini 17, and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

And so, we will have the chance to accompany Aleksandar for his journey. He will be keeping a journal for us – his struggles and achievements. His path towards Curtis, with all of the expectations, the hundreds of hours of preparation, and his support system. He has 3 weeks, and a chance to go from a big fish in Skopje to a very small fish in Philadelphia.


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  • “very small fish” ? Just because someone attend XYZ institution doesn’t mean they suddenly become better musicians (unless that’s what you believe —chuckle chuckle—) simply due to where they walk.

    Maybe he should prepare for Kronberg! By far, that’s the top of the top

    Hard work pays off—if he’s good enough to get in, he’s already good!

      • It is by far the most competitive admissions process and the most selective music program. The level of students is beyond any other school if its kind.

        There’s is not school in America that it can be equated with.

        Ms. Kreston had once remarked how someone from a normal high school experience could still make it to Curtis. It is maybe not quite as simple today, but I would presume possible. Not so for Kronberg.

        Here is one point from the undergrature admissions page. (These initial requirements are far more difficult than the schools mentioned below response)

        Applicants should have successfully participated in one of the following, or similar, competitions (note “successfully”, meaning, laureate):


        Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition of Belgium
        Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists
        International Violin Competition Leopold Mozart
        ARD International Music Competition
        International Violin Competition of Indianapolis
        Montréal International Music Competition
        International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition
        International Tchaikovsky Competition
        Tonali Grand Prix


        Yuri Bashmet International Viola Competition
        Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition
        Primrose International Viola Competition
        International Johannes Brahms Competition
        Tokyo International Viola Competition
        ARD International Music Competition


        Grand Prix Emanuel Feuermann
        International Tchaikovsky Competition
        International Paulo Cello Competition
        ARD International Music Competition
        Tonali Grand Prix

        ———And the auditon requirements more rigorous than any other school:

        One etude
        One unaccompanied piece by J S Bach
        One sonata from the late 18th, 19th or 20th century*
        One concerto from the late 18th, 19th or 20th century*
        One character piece
        One piece written by a contemporary composer born within the past 70 years

        • You have indeed shown what a farce these
          admissions requirements are and how far down the art form has sunk to accommodate these requirements . Paganini would not
          have been accepted and more recently the
          likes of Kreisler would have been turned away . I am positive your readers could give you many names that would not have met the requirements of Curtis or Kronberg but went on to have illustrious careers.

        • Dear Gerry-
          Yes this is impressive! Wow. My friend teaches there – I would love to go take a look and see what it is all about….

  • Why would he go to Curtis ?What would it offer him
    that he cannot find in Europe …garnering international
    awards he is now in Vienna and if he is a clever young
    man that is where he will stay and learn more about his craft and make his useful contacts there rather than in
    an environment that outside of the school is inhospitable
    to what is called classical music .Perhaps being a big fish
    in a small pond is a more rewarding life than just being
    another hack in a big pond .

  • An 18 year old violinist working 4 hours a day with his teacher (and no doubt more on his own) to get into his school of choice …. I marvel at the dedication of these young musicians who aspire to get to the top and will pay the price (incl financially). It is humbling. I look forward to hearing more of his journey.

    • I suspect that his teacher is working with him through this push, just because he wants him to succeed. We very often do this for each other – he is also sending me recordings that I am helping him with. We do what we can for each other.

        • Hello Martin –
          It isn’t me who is spending the time (I only met him last summer and spent a week teaching him) – but I did ask him about this, and will let you know. Sounds like real dedication on both of their parts!

  • One piece of advice to (North) Macedonians: congratulations on solving the naming dispute, but please do *not* join NATO — it will cost you your dignity, independence, and money. Romania has been pushed into hosting US missiles; Bulgaria has been pushed into borrowing EUR 16 billion to increase defence spending; both countries are being used as puppets to undermine the ban on the permanent deployment of naval vessels from non-Black-Sea countries in the Black Sea (cf. Montreux convention). No supranational organisation has done more than NATO to undermine and frustrate attempts at peace and co-operation in the international community, often breaking international law in the process. As a British citizen, I am ashamed of the UK’s leading role in NATO’s war crimes, especially the illegal bombing of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, killing countless civilians… we should have had a referendum on NATO membership rather than EU membership, but our politicians are too cozy with the USA’s military-industrial complex (and its $$$) to allow such a thing to happen.

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