A new musical star is born

Michael Hill International Violin Competition finalists' concert
Town Hall, Auckland

It was clear from the passionate fiery passionate first cadenza the Romanian violinist Ioana Cristina Goicea was the winner of this year’s Michael Hill International Violin Competition. Playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, she demonstrated her technical and interpretative skills with the style confidence and panache one would expect from a virtuoso violinist twice her age.

She played with an electrifying energy, pursuing the music with a mixture of frenzy and wizardry, as though she were about to lose control. This was brave showmanship and revealed a new star in the musical firmament

Technically, she was moved effortlessly from the lightest touch of the bow to savage attacks on the strings.

She also showed she was able understood the music and was able to comprehend and convey the composer’s angst, with its mix of light, flowing music and an undercurrent of despair.

In her flowing red gown, at times she seemed to dance with the violin, responding to the dance rhythms of the music, the folds of the material moving in sympathy to the music.

Her confidence was also displayed in the way she played to the audience, a factor which was missing in the playing of second place-getter American Like Hsu who focused on the conductor during his engaging and eloquent interpretation of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Where Goicea delved into the composer’s inner turmoil Hsu became Sibelius’s man alone, confronting the forces of Nature. He displayed a thorough understanding of the music and its complexities.

In third place was New Zealander Benjamin Baker, giving an elegant and profound interpretation of the Brahms Violin Concerto, displaying an intellectual rigour. He may not have won but he was the first New Zealander to get to the finals of the competition and last year he was awarded the first prize at the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York.  

Accompanying the three players, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Giordano Bellimcampi gave brilliant performances as well, making it one of the best musical events of the year.


The 24-year-old winner is a graduate of the University of Music in Leipzig, and current graduate student of 2017 jury member Krzysztof Wegrzyn at the University of Music in Hannover.

Ioana Cristina is a former major prize winner at the Kreisler, Brahms and Postacchini International Violin Competitions.

She received a cheque for $40,000, a recording contract with the Atoll label, an intensive New Zealand and Australia performance tour, a custom-designed suit or gown – and a personalised professional career development programme.

 Sir Michael Hill, who founded the competition, said the idea for this competition was sparked 19 years ago and "since inception, has never faltered in standard or its ability to put violinists on the international stage.”

“Ioana was a competitor four years ago and at the time said wouldn’t return until she was capable of winning … she’s worked very hard and her playing has matured – she proved what commitment, perseverance and tenacity can do,” he said.

The fourth, fifth and sixth prizes were awarded to 23-year-old Olga Stroubkova from the Czech Republic, 20-year-old Sumina Studer from Switzerland and 24-year-old Kunwha Lee from South Korea.

Olga Sroubkova was awarded the prize for the best performance of the New Zealand commissioned work – On an Imaginary Folk Song by Karlo Margetic.

The prize for the best performance in the Mozart Quintet chamber music round was awarded to Luke Hsu.

This year’s internet audience prize was awarded to 20-year-old Sumina Studer from Switzerland.

The 2017 jury comprised: Pamela Frank from the US, Ilya Gringolts from Russia, Dong-Suk Kang from South Korea, Vesa-Matti Leppanen from Finland, Silvia Marcovici from Romania, Dene Olding from Australia, Krzysztof Wegrzyn from Poland and Robin Congreve from New Zealand.