A lot of people today carry the misconception of classical music being full of greasy, old men. That couldn’t be more wrong. In the past decade, there has been a subtle but undeniable change in the way we see orchestra ensembles and soloists; musicians are actually, believe it or not, getting younger.
Now, most people would think, “So what?” However, the idea that we are finding younger and younger Mozarts in the classical music industry is something that should be noticed. Think about it. No matter where you are, when you see the symphony or even a solo competition, you’ll find performers under 21 years old on stage.
How did symphony musicians and soloists get so young? Most of the time, a performer needs at least 25 years of experience to even be considered to play in a symphony. My conclusion to this apparent contradiction: Young prodigies are taking over the world of classical music. How are they doing it? There are more students interested in the style, and a huge chunk are demonstrating excellent technique and strong ambition. The result is young Mozarts taking over.
One the most well-known, prestigious music competitions in the world is the International Grumiaux Competition. Their mission statement says, “The aim of this competition is to train very young talented musicians and to prepare them for the stage, as well as to make them known in the musical world.”
Earlier this year, the Grimaux held their 2019 competition. Himari Yoshimura, who is only 7 years old, took first place in a category comprised of contestants born after 2008. Her piece, of course, was “Violin Concerto No. 1,” written by none other than Paganini, a composer notorious in the classical music scene for writing the most difficult pieces. Anybody who can play Paganini, old or young, deserves a lot of credit and respect. For a 7-year-old to even attempt to play a difficult piece by this man is mind-blowing.
Even crazier than her playing high level compositions, Yoshimura is playing on a kids violin. A kids violin is a fractional violin, one with four fine tuners. The fine tuners are supposed to help beginners learn how to tune their instruments, but it does not help the overall quality of the instrumental tone. Yoshimura also uses a pinky hold, which, on top of her use of the kids violin, practically says, “I am a kid who can play a Paganini piece.” Kids like her, who carry immense talent brought on by arduous practice and creative technicality, are the new future of the classical world.
Unfortunately, there are people out there who see this kind of talent as something their parents forced upon them. Debate rages on whether her level of virtuosity is worth the sacrifice at such as young age; at least a few people feel conflicted: many performers with over 30 years of experience can’t play Paganini. As someone on an internet forum put it, is it “sheer jealousy or is it genuine concern?”
Another young artist worth noting, who appeared in the Leonid Kogan Competition in May 2019, is Sieun Moon from South Korea. Ranked as first in participants who are between 10 to 13 years old, Moon played “The Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 15,” composed by H. Wieniawski. She is yet another young Mozart.
I go back to my dilemma about how all these kids with world class talent are popping up everywhere. Is their success really as simple as ambition and skill? The more I think about it, the more I come to another answer to my question: access.
It’s now much easier for students to gain access to instruments, lessons and great mentors than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Now, any child who dreams of becoming a world class musician has all the resources at their fingertips. The amount of time for practicing needed to become world class is, of course, the same, but people still need readily available opportunities. Sarah Chang, also a renowned violinist, had the chance to attend Juilliard at the age of 5.
I think having young music prodigies take over the classical music world is a wonderful thing, especially since it seems that the rest of the Generation Z are following in the footsteps of millennials. Some change is good, and it’s time for youth to appreciate their great musical predecessors and to creatively interpret different composers in their own work.
For children to take such complex pieces and tune them into their own perspectives is magical. It is time to witness the flourishing. Young geniuses are arising everywhere, especially in the classical music scene, and we need to take note of their existence to see how they change the world.