After a vote so close that it required a tiebreaker, 15-year-old Zlatomir Fung won first prize at the 29th annual Irving M. Klein International String Competition, held June 7 – 8 in Knuth Hall.
Fung’s breathtaking performances included movements from Alfred Schnittke’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, No. 1; Bach’s Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1011; Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129; and Mark Volkert’s commissioned work, Melpomene.
“In the end, the jury believed that Zlatomir digs so deeply into the soul of the music that he’s playing with such amazing intensity, you feel you’re in the presence of one of those performers you encounter only once in a while,” said Mitchell Sardou Klein, competition director. “This was the youngest group we’ve ever had, and they were all extraordinary. It boggles the mind to witness such astoundingly polished, insightful, penetrating performances — from a bunch of teenagers.”
Fung takes home first prize, valued at $13,000. It includes cash and performances with the Peninsula and Santa Cruz symphonies, Gualala Arts Chamber Music Series, Music in the Vineyards, Noontime Concerts and other performances. First prize is given in memory of Marvin T. Tepperman. Fung also won the $500 Pablo Casals Award for the best performance of the solo Bach work.
The award carries the prestige that has helped many top soloists gain prominence in the competitive world of classical music, including David Requiro, Tessa Lark, Jennifer Koh, Mark Kosower, Vadim Gluzman, Alban Gerhardt, Wendy Warner, Frank Huang and François Salque.
Fung lives in Westborough, Massachusetts, and is homeschooled through the Oak Meadow School in Vermont. He studies chamber music, composition and theory at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School and is a student of Richard Aaron. His other cello teachers have included Ann Grabe, Nancy Hair, Emmanuel Feldman and Julie Albers. Fung placed second in the cello division of the 20th International Brahms Competition in Portschach, Austria, in 2013, and won the silver medal at the seventh International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Montreux–Vevey, Switzerland, in 2012. He has appeared on National Public Radio’s “From the Top” three times and recently played solo recitals in Lisbon and Portugal.
The 2014 Klein Competition awarded five other prizes. Charles Seo, 18, a cellist from Houston, won second prize, valued at $5,000 and given by Ruth Short in honor of Elaine H. Klein. The prize includes cash and a performance with the San José Chamber Orchestra.
Seo will begin studies at The Colburn School in Los Angeles this fall on a full scholarship. He just graduated from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. He studies with Brinton Averil Smith, principal cellist of the Houston Symphony and professor at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Seo was a member of Houston Youth Symphony for six years and has served as the principal cellist of its symphony orchestra. He has won scholarships from the Korean American Scholarship, John E. Guida and Music Doing Good foundations.
Violinist Angela Wee, 16, won third prize, valued at $2,500 and named in memory of Alice Anne Roberts. She studies with Masao Kawasaki and attends The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division in New York. Wee lives in Woodbury, New York, on Long Island and attends Syosset High School.
A pair of $1,250 fourth prizes was awarded. Luke Hsu, violin, 23, won the Harry Adams, given by Loretta O’Connell. He studies with Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and is from Katy, Texas. Kyumin Park, a 17-year-old violinist who studies under Kowoon Yang at Seoul Arts High School in Korea, won the other fourth prize, given in memory of Lavilla Barry by her husband Thomas. Park also won this year’s $200 Allen and Susan Weiss Memorial Prize for the Best Performance of the Commissioned Work.
Each semifinalist not awarded a named prize receives $750.
Klein winners also receive the opportunity to make presentations and conduct master classes at schools on the Peninsula and in San Francisco.
This year’s winners are among 117 Klein String Competition entrants — an all-time high — from 12 countries. The judges then selected eight semifinalists who gave 20 – 25-minute recitals Saturday, June 7, in Knuth Hall at SF State. Following Saturday’s performances, the distinguished panel of judges chose three finalists to compete in the final round held Sunday, June 8. Each of the three finalists performed a 25 – 35 minute program.
Among this year’s semifinalists, there were four cellists, three violinists, and one violist. They ranged from 15 to 23 years old; all but two are still minors.
In its history, the Klein Competition has awarded first prize to 17 violinists, nine cellists and four violists. In 1987, a judging gridlock resulted in two outstanding winners, both violinists.
This year’s distinguished jury included previous Klein winners Cathy Basrak (1995, viola), Jennifer Frautschi (1991, violin) and Robert deMaine (1989, cello) as well as Melvin Margolis, Donna Mudge, Alice Schoenfeld, Barbara Day Turner, Volkert and Alexander String Quartet cellist Sandy Wilson.
The Irving M. Klein International String Competition, presented by SF State and the California Music Center, has earned recognition as one of the leading string competitions in the world. The competition is named for the late cellist and master teacher who devoted himself untiringly to the development of young artists.