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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


(Pic: Avigail Bushakevitz)

Polished performance brings top honours to SA violinist Avigail Bushakevitz

With a polished and mature performance, 21-year old Avigail Bushakevitz of George won the Vodacom-sponsored 2nd Unisa National String Competition in Pretoria on Friday night.

Runner-up was 16-year old Durbanite Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell, the youngest competitor, while third place went to Cape Town violinist Vicente Espi (22). All three finalists automatically qualify for the 5th Unisa International String Competition in 2010.

The final performances on Friday brought to a close the week-long competition, in which 12 violinists and cellists from five South African cities competed for top honours.

Dot Field, Chief Communications Officer of Vodacom Group, said: “The performance of the three finalists augurs well for the South African contingent in next year’s international string competition. We congratulate the winners on their achievements and wish them well in their future careers.”

First prize in the competition was R50,000, second prize was R35,000 and third prize was R20,000. Cash prizes were sponsored by Vodacom.

This year’s competition broke new ground by being streamed live on the internet through the website of the Johannesburg-based radio station, Radio Today. This is the first time the competition has been streamed live. It was also broadcast live on the Radio Today 1485 AM waveband and the DSTV 169 audio channel, reaching listeners as far afield as Tanzania through the DSTV channel.

The live streaming of the performance follows the trend of many music competitions around the world in which this option is now offered to enable a broad-based international audience to share in the live performance experience. The broadcast will also shortly be available as a podcast on the Radio Today website,

Apart from the performances, the live broadcast included on-the-spot interviews with the three violinists, conductor Arjan Tien, and a random selection of members of the audience for their reactions to the concert.

Several special prizes were also awarded for performances in the first three rounds. Pretoria cellist, Jacques-Pierre Malan received three of these prizes for his performances in the first, second and third rounds. He received a total of R12,000 in prize money, sponsored by the James Verwey Memorial Trust and the Desmond Willson Memorial Trust. Fellow Pretoria cellist Pierre du Toit was awarded the R5,000 SAMRO prize for the best performance of a South African cello composition.

The special prizes in the violin category were awarded to Avigail Bushakevitz for her first and third round performances, for which she received R8,000. Vicenti Espi was judged the best performance of a Sonata in the second round and received R4,000 from the Desmond Willson Memorial Trust. Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell received the R5,000 SAMRO prize for the best performance of a South African violin composition.

The Unisa International Music Competitions is a member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Geneva. It is the only music competition in Africa to be recognized by the world body and fulfils stringent criteria to do so.

Comments from Caroline Smart who attended the competition:

We were privileged to hear three fine performances from excellent young violinists ranging in age from Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell (16) to Avigail Bushakevitz (21) and Vicente Espi (22).

Espi played the Bruch Concerto No 1 in G Minor Op 26. From a beautiful solo opening, he went on to give us a performance of sensitivity and grace.

From Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell came the fireworks of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No.1 in D Major Op 35. Looking stunning and every inch a seasoned concert performer, despite her young age, she impressed with her presentation and looked a certain winner.

However, the moment, Avigail Bushakevitz picked up her bow and began the first phrases of the Sibelius Concerto in D Minor op 7, it was clear that the winner was a foregone conclusion. While Jacqueline gave a perfect performance, Avigail created passion, soul, and depth - those all-important extra five years of physical maturity and life experience between them making their mark. At one with her instrument, often leaning into it gypsy-style, Avigail made her violin speak with a potential age-old wisdom she feels subconsciously but has yet to reach or understand herself.