For eight spellbinding days next month, 16 of the world’s finest young violinists will draw their bows in Queenstown and Auckland to vie for one of the most sought-after violin prizes in the world – the “Michael Hill”.
The quarter-finalists of the ninth biennial Michael Hill International Violin Competition have been whittled down from a whopping 140 applications.
Standing strong among them will be New Zealander Benjamin Baker, the hugely popular 27 year old who made his APO debut in October 2016, performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
Of his performance, the NZ Herald wrote, “Baker's was a finely observed interpretation, with a perfectly proportioned cadenza and a soulful Canzonetta showcasing the burnished tone of his 1709 Tononi instrument. There was also much to admire in his sonorous Kreisler encore.”
Born in Wellington in 1990, Baker started playing the violin, in the Suzuki Method, when he was three. “Mum wanted me to learn piano but I didn’t really take to it. In a last ditch effort she took me to a piano concert and there was a violinist playing with piano at the end. Apparently I wandered up on stage, sat at the violinist’s feet and was completely transfixed for the whole piece. I then kept on telling my Mum I wanted to play that guitar thing,” he says.
The first ‘thing’ would be a ruler strapped to a tissue box, learning how to stand and hold it, before he could move on to the real thing. By five, he was busking on Lambton Quay, earning enough money to sponsor a child through World Vision.
By eight, Baker had won a scholarship to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Royal College of Music. As a result his parents decided to move the whole family to London. It was a wise decision.
Since then, Baker’s given recitals and taken part in festivals across Europe, appeared as a soloist with various orchestras around the world, as well as the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Last year he won first prize at the Young Concert Artists auditions in New York and will be touring the USA while making his debuts in New York and Washington in January 2018.
In 2013 he won the Windsor International Competition and his first CD Arcadian Strings in 2015 won the Classic FM Next Big Thing Competition. The same year, he won the Michael Hill’s New Zealand Development Prize. If Baker makes it to the Grand Finale of this year’s Michael Hill, he’ll play Brahms’ Concerto in D major with the APO.
Rounds One and Two – Quarter Finals, Queenstown Memorial Centre
Round Three – Semi-finals, Auckland Town Hall.
Grand Finale, Auckland Town Hall