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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page. She has written and produced two chamber operas, premiered in Utrecht, Netherlands. See her publication list for more.
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Bon Journal

National preliminary rounds of 48th International Vocal Competition in den Bosch, Netherlands

Every other year, the international vocal competition of classical singers is held in the city of Den Bosch, short for ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Around this time last year, I witnessed the finals of the 47th competition and wrote about it. This past Sunday I enjoyed a concert of the winners of the Dutch National preliminary or "qualifying" rounds, in anticipation of the next competition in 2010.

Dutch singers and anyone (of any nationality) currently studying or working in the Netherlands can compete in the national "voorronden" in the Netherlands. The winners ranged from age 26 to 32, mainly Dutch but also two Koreans, a Chinese, a Russian, and a Belgian. Other preliminary rounds will take place in Poland, New York, and Barcelona.

When asked about the programming of the presentation concert, Annett Andriesen, director of the competition said that it was good to end with the jolly atmosphere of Rossini's famous aria from the Barber of Seville. "You wouldn't end with Stravinsky, would you?" She pointed out that not all 12 winners of the Dutch qualifying rounds were available for this concert as three of them had other performance engagements.

I approached the Chinese baritone who sang "largo al factotum" from the Barber of Seville to find out more about him. He was from the North East of China and had been studying in the Netherlands. He was surprised to hear me speak Mandarin. I was surprised to see a Chinese singing the Barber of Seville in the Netherlands.

Singers get a lot of exposure participating in such an international competition. It's also ripe ground for talent hunters. The prizes are money, elite performance opportunities, and publicity. Contestants may choose from one of three categories of competition: lied/oratorio; opera; all round (lied, oratorio, and opera). Each singer should prepare 15 pieces.

When asked why she chose the famous and very familiar piece of "Gretchen am Spinnrade" by Schubert, the Dutch soprano said that she felt comfortable with it. Her portfolio consisted of both familiar and unfamiliar pieces, such as Mozart's "Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen - Zaide." We discussed the pros and cons of choosing popular vs unknown pieces. In the end, it's all about a balanced mix for the jury.

I chatted with the resident accompanist Andrew Wise, a British pianist who works in Belgium. With a background in accompanying and coaching opera, he explained that classical singers don't appear suddenly. "Singing is top sport," he said. "It's a classy act to have a career in opera, but it requires musicianship, acting (ability), and stage presence. One of the ways to develop these skills is through a competition."

While I attended this concert out of curiosity and love of music, my 17-year old companion did so for specific reasons. As a conservatory student in classical singing, she wanted to hear how others interpreted pieces she knew already as well as to broaden her own repertoire. She hadn't heard the Rachmaninov or the unknown Mozart piece before. Her own training consisted of two years of private lessons with a voice teacher which led her to auditioning at four Dutch conservatories. After the foundation year, she will audition again to get into the first of four years. To sing opera, she will continue on to a masters degree. Perhaps then she will be ready for the International Vocal Competition in Den Bosch.

6 October 2009

Related links:
47th International Vocal Competition in Den Bosch, Netherlands
Bon Journal Review
International Vocal Competition - official web site
Videos of master classes, etc.
Personal reviews