• Kyodo

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Michiaki Ueno won the top prize in the cello division of the Geneva International Music Competition on Thursday, the organizers said, becoming the first Japanese cellist to receive the award.

The 25-year-old was awarded 20,000 Swiss francs ($22,000) for claiming first prize, while Bryan Cheng of Canada, 24, and Jaemin Han of South Korea, 15, ranked second and third in the competition, respectively.

“I was happy enough I was able to play a piece I love, but it is great the result turned out to be good,” said Ueno, who currently studies at the Robert Schumann Hochschule Dusseldorf, a music university in Germany.

He was formerly a student of Japanese cellist Hakuro Mori, professor at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo. The Geneva competition, founded in 1939, discovers, supports and promotes talented classical musicians up to 30 years of age and is considered a springboard to an international career.

In 2019, Japan’s Hinako Takagi, 32, won the first prize in the composition division.

Ueno performed Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra” in the final. He said this piece was one of the reasons why he decided to enroll in the competition as “the occasions to play this concerto are rare.”

Following an award ceremony, Ueno expressed gratitude to those who supported him and said his dream is “to become a cellist whose performances can be enjoyed by people all over the world.”

A 27-year-old cello student in the audience praised his performance, saying, “The piece Ueno has chosen is very complicated, technically as well as in terms of integration into the orchestra. This was a risky choice.”

The chair of the jury, Ivan Monighetti, said Ueno “has a very strong personality. He goes with full involvement in the pieces he plays. This is very impressive.”

Each edition of the contest focuses on two categories of instruments including piano, flute, string quartet, voice and percussion. Cello and oboe were in the spotlight this year.

The cello division was originally scheduled to be held last year but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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