May 18

The Violin Competition

You wouldn’t know this, but a pet peeve I have is when people refer to me as someone who went to Juilliard. It’s an annoyance I let slide, because I think people don’t really know any better. You see, although I did go to Juilliard for a bit, attending the pre-college program, it’s actually not an accurate representation of my classical music accomplishments. A *lot* of kids went to Juilliard pre-college. But the violin program in particular was the most prestigious program there, as it was run by Dorothy DeLay, teacher for Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang and any number of other famous virtuosos that had their heyday in the last quarter of the 20th century. And as a freshman in high school, I was awarded second prize in their yearly pre college competition.

I was actually devastated. I had expected to win first prize, because I had heard that other woman perform, and her rendition of Lalo’s Symphonie en Espanol was, I felt, subpar and I still believe I deserved to win. The gossip amongst the moms had been that she was awarded first prize for political reasons – maybe because she was an older student who would be graduating sooner. And to this day, I hold a deep seated grudge against the judge – Alan Gilbert, who now apparently occupies the position of Music Director for “The New York Philharmonic”.

At the time, I remember my teacher told me a story as a kind of consolation. You see, many years before, another violinist had won second prize in the Juilliard pre-college competition, a young woman by the name of Kyung Wha Chung. She lost to another violin prodigy, Pinchas Zuckerman. By the 1990s Kyung Wha Chung was a household name amongst Asian violinists, a ravishingly beautiful woman whose violin genius as a teenager compelled her parents to move her to the United States, where she attended the Juilliard pre college program.

Although she was only awarded second prize in the pre college competition, she went on to match Pinchas Zuckerman at the Edgar Leventritt competition several years later. Not only was a tie for 1st Prize an unprecedented event. See, Kyung Wha Chung was also the first *woman of color* to win the award, (Tong Il Han, also from Korea, was the first person of color to win a few years earlier). Her win at the Leventritt opened up many opportunities, and Kyung Wha Chung went on to a prestigious and celebrated career, where she now sits on the violin faculty at the Juilliard School, with Itzhak Perlman.

In any case, the story was a good piece of consolation after all. Kyung Wha Chung was an idol of mine, and also for my mother (who is also named Kyung). And it was meaningful to now share this special connection. And after losing that competition, I went on to win a number of national and international competitions – subsequently giving up the violin as soon as I got into college to pursue Philosophy. Anyway, this is all to explain why every time someone comments on my achievements as “went to Juilliard”, I scream silently on the inside and smile.