Preliminary Judges selecting the 15 semi-finalists

Benjamin Baker

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Benjamin Baker

Since winning 1st Prize at the 2016 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York and 3rd Prize at the Michael Hill Competition in New Zealand in 2017, Benjamin has established a strong international presence.

Described by the New York Times as bringing ‘virtuosity, refinement and youthful exuberance’ to his debut at Merkin Concert Hall he is much sought after as soloist and chamber musician.

Recent highlights include regular appearances at Wigmore Hall and on BBC Radio 3, his debut with Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the East Neuk Festival and with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in NZ, alongside solo recordings with the BBC Concert and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras.

Ben has undertaken tours of the USA, Colombia, China and Argentina and taken part in the Al Bustan Festival in Lebanon and the Sanguine Estate Music Fesitval in Australia.

This season sees the launch of his festival in Queenstown, New Zealand – At the World’s Edge Festival and solo appearances with  the Auckland Philharmonia, Fort Worth Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestras.  In 2021 Delphian Records release his recording with pianist Daniel Lebhardt.

Other solo appearances in recent seasons include the Philharmonia, Auckland Philharmonia, RTE Concert Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra Simón Bolívar of Venezuela, Krasnoyarsk Philharmonic, Albanian Radio Symphony, Royal Northern Sinfonia, London Mozart Players, Long Bay Symphony, National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain, Sinfonia Cymru, Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese L’Aquila, and Maui Pops Orchestras.

In 2017 he premiered a new Concerto ‘Stranded’ by Matthew Kaner for the European Commission’s celebration of Europe Day at St. John’s Smith Square and collaborated as soloist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company.

Sought after as a chamber musician, Benjamin has taken part in festivals across Europe and the USA including the Pärnu, East Neuk, Cheltenham, Steirisches Kammermusik, Northern Chords Festivals, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival with Anthony Marwood and Caramoor‘s Rising Stars series with Pamela Frank.

Born in New Zealand, Benjamin studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Royal College of Music where he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Rose Bowl. In 2013 he won 1st Prize at the Windsor International Competition and was a prize-winner at the YCAT International Auditions in London.  He was a Fellow at the  Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute in Chicago in 2016 and 2017.   His first CD for Champs Hill Records was released in 2015 and immediately went to No.12 in the Classical Charts.

Benjamin plays on a Tononi violin (1709) on generous loan from a private individual. He is also grateful for support from The Carne Trust.

Victoria Simonson

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Victoria Simonson

London-based cellist Victoria Simonsen has been described by The Strad as ‘a musician of rare quality’ and ‘beautifully sensitive and composed’ by The Times.

Victoria enjoys a varied musical life that incorporates solo, chamber music and orchestral work as well as recording film and television soundtracks. She also enjoys teaching and is a member of the cello faculty at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). In 2015 she was appointed cellist of the Rautio Piano Trio and their first CD together was released in 2018 on Resonus Classics.

A passionate chamber musician, Victoria has performed at festivals such as the IMS Prussia Cove, Manchester International, Kronberg Germany, Banff Canada, Chamber Music New Zealand and for six years she enjoyed notable success in the early Barbirolli String Quartet. Her chamber music performances have been broadcast on radio in UK, Germany and New Zealand and concerts have included Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room London. A highlight of 2016 was performing at the BBC Proms Chamber Music series in London as part of a twelve-cellist ensemble.

Victoria’s solo performances have included Queen Elizabeth Hall, BBC Proms Composer Portrait, Leeds International Recital Series and Victoria Concert Hall Singapore. Whilst a student, her awards included winning the Royal Over-Seas League Strings Competition, NZ Young Musician of the Year, Johann-Andreas-Stein-Wettbewerb, Leonard Rose Prize, Barbirolli Cello Prize, the prestigious Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, an ESU Scholarship, as well as being selected as a Countess of Munster Recital Soloist and for a Purcell Room Solo Debut (Park Lane Group).

Victoria is former Principal Cellist with Opera North and has more recently given televised performances at the BBC Proms as Guest Principal of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. She has also guest led English National Opera, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Northern Sinfonia and Irish Chamber Orchestra. From 2008 until 2017 she was a member of the Philharmonia Orchestra and toured throughout Europe, Asia, North and South America with some of the world’s finest conductors and soloists. She gave frequent workshops and coaching as part of the Philharmonia’s education department. In 2014 she was cello tutor for the European Union Youth Orchestra.

Victoria grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, and her early love of music was encouraged by her concert-pianist mother. In 2002, having won the NZ Young Musician of the Year and performed concertos with all the major symphony orchestras, Victoria commenced her postgraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music, England, supported generously by Creative NZ and the Patricia Pratt Scholarship. Victoria studied cello with Ralph Kirshbaum and Karine Georgian and composition with Anthony Gilbert, culminating with winning the Gold Medal and the Audience Prize. She later continued her studies as a string quartet fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and with Julius Berger at the Leopold-Mozart-Zentrum der Universität Augsburg in Germany. Victoria gained further inspiration through masterclasses with renowned cellists such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Anner Bylsma, Bernard Greenhouse, Gary Hoffman, Luis Claret, Philippe Muller, Johannes Goritzki, Colin Carr, Raphael Wallfisch and Jens Peter Maintz.

Victoria is exceptionally grateful to Miss Barbara Hilda Knapton, Mrs Kathleen Mary Cavill and the Countess of Munster Musical Trust for enabling her to acquire a cello by Giovanni Grancino, Milan 1687.

Semi-final and Final Round Judge

Dene Olding

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Dene Olding

Dene Olding is recognised as one of Australia’s most outstanding violinists. He is currently first violinist for the Goldner String Quartet and the Australia Ensemble (resident at the University of New South Wales) and Concertmaster Emeritus of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

As a soloist he has worked with all of the Australian Symphony and Chamber Orchestras in a range of repertoire. He has performed over forty concertos and worked with some of the world’s leading conductors including Edo de Waart, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Stuart Challender, Sir Charles Mackerras, Jorge Mester, Gunther Herbig, Werner Andreas Albert, David Porcelijn and Vladimir Ashkenazy. He gave the Australian premiere performance of Lutoslawski’s Chain 2 with the composer conducting, Elliott Carter’s Violin Concerto and the Violin Concerto of Philip Glass. In addition, he has performed world premieres of violin concertos by Carl Vine, Ross Edwards , Bozidar Kos and the Double Concerto for violin and viola by Richard Mills, written for himself and his wife, Irina Morozova.

Dene has also held the position of Leader and Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and is often sought after to lead/direct concerts with many other orchestras. He has also been the Artistic Director of the Mostly Mozart Festival at the Sydney Opera House, Music in the Hunter and the Sydney Festival Chamber Music Program. He appears regularly at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music and at many festivals in Australasia and Europe. In 2010 he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival as soloist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Dene attended the Juilliard School In New York from the age of fourteen as a scholarship student of Ivan Galamian and Margaret Pardee. He graduated in 1978 with the Master of Music Degree and was awarded the Morris Loeb Prize. Other studies included master classes with Nathan Milstein and further lessons with Herman Krebbers and Gyorgy Pauk. In 1985, he was awarded the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to further his musical studies and during that year, became a Laureate of the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Violin Competition.

Solo recordings include a sonata disc of Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart for ABC Classics with his father, Max Olding, the CD premiere of concertos by Frank Martin and Milhaud and concertos by Samuel Barber and Ross Edwards (Maninyas) – winner of the 1994 A.R.I.A. award for “Best Classical Recording” and the prestigious Cannes award. He has also recorded the Hindemith violin concerti with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Werner Andreas Albert for CPO. His numerous chamber music CD’s have also received acclaim. The recordings of  the chamber music of Edward Elgar with the Goldner Quartet and pianist Piers Lane for the Hyperion label was selected as Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Month” and spent time on the “Classical top 10” in the UK.  Beethovens complete string quartets with the Goldner quartet for ABC Classics was chosen Classical album of the year by Limelight magazine and his recording of rare Rachmaninov violin works with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy also received praise from The Strad magazine.

In 2011, he gave the premiere performance of the Carl Vine violin concerto with the Australian Youth Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House.

As a founding member of the Goldner String Quartet and the Australia Ensemble, he regularly tours to Europe, Asia and New Zealand. He has been awarded the Centenary Medal of Australia, a Member of the Order of Australia and has received numerous awards and accolades for his performances in all spheres of music-making. Dene is passionate about the future of classical music and sees his former role as Artistic Adviser and frequent jury member for the Michael Hill International Violin Competition as making an important contribution to that end. He manages to combine a passion for Aikido and sailing with his busy musical career and spending time with his wife, Irina and son, Nikolai.