3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition
Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music
July 25-28, 2018
"An international jazz violin competition? Really
?" That is usually came as a surprise to the applicants, and eventual participants themselves, that an international jazz violin competition should exist says a lot about the rarity of such an event. Yet as the bi-annual Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition has demonstrated, there is certainly no shortage of truly outstanding jazz violinists in the world. The first two editions of the competitionwhich debuted in 2014
surprised even the judges, so impressed were they with the level of talent on show. The third edition, held as before in the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music in Luslawice, was no exception.
With uniformly excellent performances, the twelve finalists, hailing from North America, Europe and the Middle East, provided good-sized headaches for the esteemed panel of judges, Mark Feldman
, Michal Urbaniak
, Erik Friedlander
and Dominique Pifarély
, as well as uplifting and inspiring entertainment for the audience in the formal concert hall.
Entertainment? From its earliest days jazz was a music of entertainment, a mantle it hasn't quite shrugged off. Over the decades jazz has also assumed an altogether more artsy, high-brow image, and the music presented by twelve world-class violinists during the three days of competition was much more than just an agreeable diversion. For the competition finalists, professional musicians all, it represents not only a way of life, but a livelihood. For the winner, 10,000 Euros and the chance to record a CD was motivation enough to do something fairly unnatural for the majority of musiciansthat's to say, compete.
Then there is the prestige that comes with winning such an event. The Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition may be the only one of its kind, but already, in just three editions, it has gained an international reputation. Most of this year's finalists had heard of the competition through word of mouth. Whilst competition is anathema to most musicians, a first prize in the bag from a prestigious competition is often the first item on their bios. So, there was a lot at stake during four days of intensive practise and performance.
The dual aims of the competition, founded by the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, are to promote outstanding young musicians (violinists, cellists and violists) and to promote the legacy of Zbigniew Seifert, the virtuoso Polish violinist who died aged 32, in 1979. Like nearly all this year's competition participants, Seifert was classically trained before switching to jazz. A key member of Tomasz Stanko
's first great quintet from 1968 to 1973, Seifert's tragically short solo career, nevertheless produced some incredible music, of which Man Of the Light
(MPS, 1976) and Solo Violin
(EMI, 1976) are two highly recommended entry points for anyone unfamiliar with the violinist's talent.
The recent, exciting discovery of a long-lost recording of Seifert's short-lived, jazz-fusion band Variospheres, resulted in the release Variospheres: Live in Solothurn
(Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, 2017). These CD releases and reissues, together with the English translation of Aneta Norek-Skrycka's Seifert biography, Man of the Light: The Life and Work of Zbigniew Seifert
(Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, 2016), are playing a significant role in promoting Seifert's legacy -not only to an international audience, but within his native Poland as well.
To an older jazz generation, in the pre-CD era, Seifert was well respected by his peers on both sides of the Atlantic. Those his time was short, Seifert recorded with the likes of Eberhard Weber
, Philip Catherine
, Joachim Kuhn
, Cecil McBee
, Billy Hart
, Charlie Mariano
, Jack DeJohnette
, the band Oregon, and John Scofield
, amongst others.
In a nice piece of symmetry, Scofield, along with John Medeski
and the 19-piece Konglomerat Big Band, paid homage to Seifert and his music with a gala concert in Kraków that concluded the 3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition in style.
Semi Finals Day One
Master of ceremonies Janusz Jablonski of Polish National Radio introduced the backing trio for the competition. Pianist Dominik Wania
, bassist Max Mucha
and drummer Dawid Fortuna
are three of the most respected jazz musicians in Poland. Collectively, they have worked with Tomasz Stańko, Zbigniew Namyslowski
, Janusz Muniak
, Maciej Obara
, Piotr Damasiewicz
, Anna Maria Jopek
, Ledsek Modzser
, Aga Zaryan
and Pawel Kaczmarczyk
, to name but a handfulin short, a who's who of Polish jazz spanning over fifty years of history. Suffice it to say, the twelve finalists were in excellent hands. On day one, six musicians presented three pieces each, one of which had to be a composition by Zbigniew Seifert. Tadas Dešukas
Lithuanian violinist Tadas Dešukas' background in jazz, rock, electronic, contemporary folk and classical came through in a fine performance on electric violin of very contemporary hue. Dešukas stamped his personal mark on Seifert's "Turbulent Plover" with a solo spare in notes but big on atmosphere, his long, woozy notes delivered with painterly gravitas. Without pause, Dešukas embarked on an unaccompanied exploration, where looped drone formed the backdrop to a solo of dark lyricism. Silencing the drone, Dešukas played a lulling pizzicato melody with deft touch. This arresting pizzicato bled into "Sprout," the rhythm section's infectious, slow-funk groove providing the canvas for Dešukas seductively measured solo. Wania followed suit, upping the energy levels, before handing back to Dešukas, who's snaking, bluesy improvisation once again eschewed show-stopping fireworks in favor of raw, from-the-gut emotion. Cécile Delzant
Italy-based French violinist Cécile Delzant studied at both the Royal College of Music of London and the Conservatory Giuseppe Verdi of Turin, yet despite years dedicated to studying classical violin, Delzant abandoned those studies to throw herself into jazz and improvised music, though folk music has also long been a passion. Opening with Seifert's fiery "Passion," Delzant gave a brief but articulate solo before handing the reins to Wania. The two traded back and forth, but it was really on the next two compositions that Delzant's musicality best shone through. On Billy Strayhorn
's "Lush Life" Delzant's unaccompanied intro grabbed the attention, her harmonically rich lines paving the way for a sumptuously lyrical rendition of the famous tune. With the ease of lovers strolling through a park on a summer's day, the trio locked into Delzant's mindset as the violinist tasted every note she played. This was balladry at its most beguiling. For her final piece, Delzant chose "Bluebeard" by renowned Kraków film composer and jazz musician, Andrzej Trzakowski. A generous leader, Delzant carved out soloing space for the trio, though in competition conditions, naturally enough, Delzant showed more of her chops than she had on the first two numbers. At this faster tempo, with the rhythm section really cooking, Delzant cut loose, although there was always the sense of her music breathing, as opposed to being out of breath. Youenn Rohaut
Like Zbigniew Seifert, French violinist Youenn Rohaut found early inspiration in the language of John Coltrane
. Michael Brecker
's long shadow also fell over Rohaut, as did that of Jean-Luc Ponty
, but arguably of equal importance in shaping his musical world has been the rich folkloric tradition of his native Brittany, plus Irish and Turkish maqam traditions. In what was perhaps a bold move, Rohaut chose two Wayne Shorter
compositions as frameworks for his musical vision, plus an untitled Seifert composition. A few technical glitches with leads took several minutes to iron out, which can have done little to settle any nerves he might have been feeling, but once he was underway Rohaut played with a confidence that made light of the competitive conditions.
A walking-bass rhythm and pizzicato melody on violin announced "Witch Hunt," sans piano accompaniment. Rohaut wasted little time in employing his pedal board to effect spacious, synth-like strokes, a characteristic soundscape that punctuated his quite lyrical solo. Musically more ambitious was Rohaut's interpretation of "Footprints," which, melodic head apart, bore little relation to the original. Once again, Wania sat out, allowing more space for Rohautand Fortunato explore, but Wania's acute harmonic sensitivity might have added depth to this essentially uncluttered rendition. The pianist returned for Seifert's tune, his comping alone lending wings to Rohaut, whose impressive solo, devoid of showboating, relied instead on narrative flow to captivate. The final word went to Fortuna, whose bustling, polyrhythmic solo made for a striking finale. George Dimitriu
With two albums as leader and as a member of Kaja Draksler
's octet, Romanian violaist, violinist and electric guitarist George Dimitriu came into the Seifert competition with a wealth of experience. Add to that his classical training and tours with The National Opera & Ballet Amsterdam and it's fair to say that Dimitriu is a rounded musician. On viola, Dimitriu began with Seifert's "Singing Dunes," an impressionistic number of understated lyricism. Dimitriu showed great control in the sustained higher registers of that number, but it was with his own two numbers that he really came into his own. There was emotional depth in his delivery on "Future Nostalgia," an elegant tune tinged with melancholy. With the trio lending gently bouyant support, Dimitriu embarked on a beautifully judged solo with singable melody at its core. There were straight-ahead elements to "Manipulation," with bass ostinato, close-knit ensemble play and vamps throughout, with Dimitriu saving his most expansive and fluid soloarticulate, elegant and above all emotiveto the last. Surprisingly perhaps, given the circumstances, the composition finished with a drum feature over a joint viola and piano vamp. Marcin Halat
A graduate of the Faculty of Jazz and Popular Music in Katowice, Marcin Halat was a member of the renowned Atom String Quartet
from 2013- 2015 and was making his second appearance at the competition, following his participation in 2016. He released his debut, On the Way
(Sluchaj Foundation) in 2017, an album which provided two original tunes for this first semi-final. A sunny, folksy atmosphere colored "The Cheerful Time," an appealing tune that nevertheless had plenty of edge in the tensions between piano and violin. Halat's playing, bright, precise and flowing, brought a suitably uplifting response from Wania, although the most fertileand excitingground lay in their contemporaneous dialogue. Halat went up a gear on Seifert's "Coral," his bold attack maintaining a balance between tension and release. Once more, Wania, Mucha and Fortuna provided intuitive support, empowering Halat with their solid foundations and passionate interplay. With a fine sense of stagecraft Halat saved the best to last, the dramatic intro to "Invitation," a foretaste of the storm to come. Flirting between lyricism and abstraction, Halat then opened the floodgates to a tumultuous quartet passage, his searing violin at the heart of an energetic collective performance. The ending of this relatively short composition was sudden and more dramatic than the composition's opening, leaving the lingering impression that Halat had still much more to relate. Gabriel Terracciano
It was the playing of Joe Venuti
and, a little later, Zbigniew Seifert, that lured Gabriel Terracciano from the field of classical musicwhich he had studied for eight yearsto jazz and improvised music. His tastes, however, are much more eclectic, and he has played Middle Eastern, bluegrass, Latin, electronic and pop music as well. In 2014-2015 he toured Ghana with the Ghanaian National Symphony Orchestra. A leader of his own quartet, Terracciano can also be found in Brad Shepik
's Balkan Peppers. Despite a broad musical palette, Terracciano's performance of Cole Porter
's "Night and Day" and Cecil McBee
's "Compassion" were rooted in the swing, blues and post-bop traditions, his tone very much influenced by the aforementioned Venuti. On the former, an unaccompanied section mid-tune showcased his fluidity and technical control, while an animated back-and-forth with Fortuna, a tried and tested jazz convention, provided some fun. On the post-bop/modal "Compassion," Terracciano blended poise and passion, allowing the excellent Mucha an extended solo spot before reclaiming centre-stage with another arresting solo. Seifert's "Turbulent Plover" seamlessly followed "Compassion," with a hike in the quartet's energy levels. Wania's feisty improvisation set the scene for Terracciano, who played with Venuti's grace and Seifert's swagger.
Semi Finals Day Two Layth Sidiq
Iraq-born, raised in Jordan and currently based in Boston, Layth Sidiq is a classically trained violinist who has made an international career with his highly personal musical language -one that encompasses classical, jazz and Middle Eastern sonorities. Amongst many projects, Sidiq plays in Danilo Pérez
' group The Global Messengers." For this performance Sidiq presented two tunes from his debut recording as leader, Son of Tigris
. (2017) as well as Seifert's "Man of the Light." Haunting, Arabic melodic lines introduced "Aghaati" -Sidiqi's technical prowess matched by the emotional heft of his delivery. The cadence of Fortuna's rhythms mimicked Arabic frame drums, though Wania's intervention steered the quartet into more overtly jazz terrain -his playing clearly reflecting Sidiq's guiding microtonal colors. Sidiq's charging solo, part modal jazz burner, part keening Arabic exultation, commanded the attention. Without pause, Sidiq continued with "Eastern Waves," a ballad of aching lyricism where the drama in his playing was matched by the delicacy. Sidiq's keening wordless vocal, which concluded the composition, floated like a prayer on the wind. Seifert's uplifting "Man of the Light" provided an apt finale to Sidiq's set. The violinist's solo was thrilling, so it seemed odd to conclude with a drum solo over a violin- cum-piano vamp -the one almost clichéd jazz convention in an otherwise wholly original proposition. Francisco Palazón González,
Madrid-born Francisco Palazón González is a musical all-rounder. Classically trained, he has only recently, since 2013 in fact, begun to explore other musical styles, including jazz, manouche jazz and flamenco. Two original compositions plus Seifert's "Quo Vadis" made up his set. Palazón González' harmonically striking intro to "The Walk" foreshadowed a folksy tune that swung between vibrant rhythmic mantra and soaring improvisation. Wania's tumbling solo led the quartet back to familiar rhythmic ground and, after passionate collective discourse, a gentle touchdown. The lively "Outside," infused with Iberian flavors, saw both Palazón González and Wania take impressive solos. The violinist's dramatic riffing fueled a rhythmically charged finale, the Spaniard signing off with a delightfully acrobatic musical figure. It was arguably on Seifert' "Quo Vadis" that Palazón González gave best account of himself, notably in his captivating unaccompanied intromelodically and harmonically arrestingas well as in his impassioned soloing. Amalia Obrębowska
Amalia Obrębowska only turned her attention to jazz and improvisation in 2013, although her affair with the violin began at the age of seven. Classical studies followed, but since that turning point in 2013 Obrębowska has juggled both idioms. As of 2017, Obrębowska began studying in the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. For this semi-final appearance Obrębowska offered two original compositions plus Seifert's "Turbulent Plover." The first composition, "Mind Traveler" saw Obrębowska hand the initiative early to Mucha and Fortuna, before wresting control with a seductive solo of free-flowing lyricism, her voice seeming to add a subtle harmonic edge to her playing. A quiet pocket ushered in Wania, who delivered a dashing solo. A joint violin and piano vamp served as the canvas for another tremendous solo from Fortuna. Obrębowska's interpretation of Seifert's powerhouse "Turbulent Plover" inevitably drew an animated solo from Obrębowska, though there was little that was predictable about her highly personal voice, powerful yet eschewing facile theatrics. Obrębowska's beguiling, unaccompanied intro to "Promien" set the tone for an engaging quartet journey that moved effortlessly from ballad to more rhythmically dynamic terrain. At whatever tempo, however, Obrębowska exuded lyricism of the most persuasive kind. Benjamin "Benni" von Gutzeit
Born into musical family in Bochum, Germany, Benjamim von Gutzeit has played viola since the age of four, and has been an international touring musician since he was fourteen. Jazz soon caught his ear and he took Jazz Studies at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. A New York resident since 2010, von Gutzeit became the first violist to earn a Master's Degree from the Jazz Department of the Manhattan School of Music. He has been a member of the Turtle Island Quartet
since 2012. For this semi-final, von Gutzeit chose Wayne Shorter's "Juju," Arthur Altman's jazz standard "All or Nothing at All" and Seifert's "Love in the Garden." Beginning with the jazz standard, von Gutzeit laid down an early marker with extended, lightly dancing solos either side of one from Wania. A highly melodic player, von Gutzeit demonstrated great finesse on the ballad "Love in The Garden." Though fluid, von Gutzeit placed more emphasis on melodic embellishment than displays of dazzling technique, and left room for a brief, but nicely weighted solo from Mucha. Without pausing, an unaccompanied viola feature formed a bridge to "Juju." On this more up-tempo tune, driven by the rhythm section, von Gutzeit showed a little more of his chops with some rapid runs, though there was always the sense of his serving the tune and not the other way around. Returning to the leading melody, the violist closed out with a final flourish -elegant as ever. Greg Byers
The sole cellist of this year's semi-final, Greg Byers began studying the instrument at The Family Suzuki School of Rochester at the tender age of two and a half. Fast forward to 2010 and the Frost School of Music where Byers became the first person to double major in Instrumental Performance/Studio Music & Jazz on cello and bass, graduating Summa Cum Laude, no less. Byers leads his own projects as well as freelancing, and released his debut EP, Some Dark, Beautiful Morning
in 2011. For this performance Byers began with the cello-piano composition "Falling Grace" by Steve Swallow
. A soulful opening, falling neatly between blues and classical idioms was lent impetus by Wania's entrance. Byers upped the tempo, playing with controlled passion. When Wania soloed in turn, Byers switched to walking-bass, playing with a Charles Mingus
-like intensity. Bowed cello drone announced Seifert's lament "Song for Christopher." With the drone on a loop, Byers embraced the haunting melody. Replacing the drone with a bass ostinato, Byers' bowingwith sympathetic, sotto voce support from the rhythm sectiondisplayed a sensitive side to a musician who wears his heart on his sleeve. The original composition "Rubidium Mind," by way of contrast, was a stormy affair, with Byers on electric cellostrapped to his shoulders, away from his bodyurging the rhythm section on. With a physical energy that translated to his instrument, Byers worked his strings feverishly, sounding like an electric rock guitarist. A closing rumble with Fortuna capped an eclectic performance of some substance. Mario Forte
Algeria-born but a true world citizen, the much-traveled Mario Forte was appearing in his second Seifert Competition, having finished third in the second edition in 2016. Associate Professor of Music at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Mario is now based in New York City and has been a key member of Richard Bona
's band, with whom he has toured widely. Forte also co-founded the Artempo Festival in 2015. Opening with a high-octane version of Seifert's "Turbulent Plover," Forte demonstrated not only tremendous virtuosity, but a bold harmonic concept as well, which kept Wania in particular on his toes. With such a short slot, Forte eschewed a breather and instead went directly into an unaccompanied violin solo, a bold, seemingly through-composed piece that veered between abstract and very concrete ideas. Without pausing, Forte ushered in the rhtyhm section for the final number, the original composition "Russian Doll." A fast-walking bass simmered as Forte and then Wania explored complex, post-bop terrain at breakneck speed. Switching to a swing rhythm, Forte employed his pedal board to effect a strangely synthetic sound -jazz-fusion for the twenty-first century. A looped pizzicato ostinato served as the foundation for a strummed/plucked soloagain, pedal-filteredthat felt like a completely unrelated composition. Still, for his breadth of imagination alone, never mind his virtuosic playing, this performance impressed on many levels.
The hall emptied and the judges retired to consider the twelve performances of the semi-finals. Several hours later all the musicians assembled to hear the results, announced by Michal Urbaniak. The five finalists selected to advance to the next day's finale were: Benjamin von Gutzeit; Layth Sidiq; Gabriel Terracciano; Mario Forte and Cécile Delzant.
Day Three: Final
The main hall of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music was fairly packed for the final -a completely different atmosphere to the more sparsely attended semi-finals. Janusz Jablonski once again introduced the judges and welcomed Agnieska Seifert-Beck, widow of Zbigniew Seifert, who rose to acknowledge the warm applause. Jablonksi also welcomed Daniel Trutt, whose family generously made available to the Seifert Foundation an archival recording of Zbigniew Seifert's short-lived band Variospheres in 1976, which was released as Variospheres: Live in Solothurn
(Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, 2018). Finally, Jablonksi introduced the Dominik Wania Trio, who had performed brilliantly over the previous two days. The formalities over, the final got underway before an attentive audience. Benjamin von Gutzeit
Von Gutzeit chose two jazz classics, Thelonious Monk
's "I'm in You" and Joe Henderson
's "Inner Urge." In between, the violist tackled Seifert's "Love in The Garden." On a feisty version of Monk's tune, von Gutzeit set down a marker with a swinging, extended solo. Wania followed suit before von Gutzeit and drummer Fortuna locked horns. Especially impressive was von Gutzeit's unaccompanied interpretation of "Love in The Garden" -looped drone and then pizzicato forming the backdrop to his soloing, that whilst technically striking, also spoke to the heart. "Inner Urge" served up von Gutzeit's most exciting soloing, though even at faster tempi the violist's articulation was always immaculate. An elegant solo from Wania led into a unison vamp that released Fortuna on another lively solo, before a brief return to the head. Layth Sidiq
Layth Sidiq wasted no time in warming up, launching into the lively original tune "The Fog," one of two original compositions. Drawing on the melody of an Arabic tune, Sidiq's seductive playing interwove Middle Eastern and Western tonalities to stirring effect. The finale, with bowed bass, rumbling mallets, high-register piano stirrings and softly singing violin, had an achingly poetic quality. Sidiq raised his own bar still higher on the unaccompanied "Letter to Paco," a moving tribute to Paco De Lucia
that embraced the confluence of musical cultures in Andalucía. Tender and visceral in turn, this self-penned composition showcased Sidiq's measured virtuosity. With a small shaker, Sidiq joined in the rhythmic introduction to Seifert's "On the Farm," a thrilling workout that saw Sidiq's most uninhibited improvisation. Stepping aside as a fired-up Wania took over, Sidiq returned for the head, visited briefly before a conclusion of dramatic abruptness. Gabriel Terracciano
Gabriel Terracciano opened his final account with a violin and drum dialogue that announced Coltrane's harmonically dense "26-2." Wania was the first to solo, over Mucha's fast-walking bass and Fortuna's industry, before Terracciano picked up the thread. Unfortunately, his pick-up was not properly placed, resulting in a slightly distant, tinny sound. This technical glitch, however, didn't detract from Terracciano's playing -adventurous but always melodic. For Carl Fischer/Bill Carey's "You've Changed," Terracciano adjusted his pick-up and restored his true sound. A nicely edgy exchange with Wania blossomed into collective lyricism, with Fortuna's brushes underpinning Terracciano's delightfully laid-back, Stephane Grappelli
-esque soloing. This composition bled into Seifert's "Man of the Light," where Terracciano's unaccompanied intro, impressionist, raw and bluesy in turn, drew appreciative applause from the audience. The rhythm section arrived with energy, Terracciano ceding to the ever-impressive Wania before the violinist unleashed his most expansive and thrilling improvisation of the competition -a strong statement to close with. Mario Forte
Choosing "Chinatown"one of Seifert's lesser known tunesto begin the final with, was a bold move from Forte, but perhaps in keeping with a musician who had stood out for his personal approach to the violin and to the jazz/improvised idiom. The up-tempo nature of the composition provided Forte with the opportunity to really extend himself, which he did to spectacular effect. In an uninterrupted performance, Forte built upon a delicate, unaccompanied pizzicato motif, injecting rhythmic gusto with the intervention of the trio. Pedal effects colored a contemporary, Pat Metheny
-esque melodic line. Switching back to unplugged terrain, Forte's dancing improvisation was spellbinding, his attack as uplifting as it was exhilarating. Forte's energy transmitted to the other musicians, with Fortuna delivering one of his most spectacular solos of the three days. When the heat had subsided, Forte triggered ambient loops of industrial insistence, eventually drawing from his strings both synthesized and acoustic sonorities that, aided by loops, dovetailed to highly atmospheric effect. Cécile Delzant
Last, but by no means least, Cécile Delzant once more offered a bold programme that, in addition to Seifert's "Man of the Light," also presented Ornette Coleman
's "Peace" and the original composition "Magic, My Child." A misunderstanding with the rhythm section at the outset, where Delzant played unaccompanied without support only implied a slight delay in the real business, and, once everybody was on track, Delzant launched the quartet with a mazy, hypnotic solo that fired Wania to similar heights. The comparative tranquillity of the intro to Coleman's "Peace" cast a quiet spell, with Mucha's bowed bass lyricism to the fore; raising the tempo, Delzant's offered an extended improvisation, utterly devoid of cliché. Seifert's "Man of the Light" brought forth tremendously flowing and exciting soloing from the violinist.
Who would be a judge? The difficult task of deciding the three winners took the panel of judges a couple of hours. Once more, the musicians assembled and, after congratulating all five finalists, Michal Urbaniak revealed the results. In no particular orderthe placing of first, second and third would take place the next night at a gala evening in Kraków-the names of Gabriel Terracciano, Mario Forte and Layth Sidiq were announced. Cheers and applause rang out form those gathered and all the musicians warmly embraced and congratulated the three musicians.
Gala Night: Announcement of Winner
The following morning a bus departed for Kraków with the musicians. There was the guts of the day to explore the handsome streets of the city before gathering at Kijow Centrum, a former cinema turned concert hall, for the announcement of first, second and third place in the competition. The emcee for the evening, as for the previous three days, Janusz Jablonski, introduced a number of dignitaries, including the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation's President, Aneta-Norek-Skrycka. As the event was being televised by Polish National Television all the speeches and presentations were, naturally enough, delivered in Polish.
Before the three violinists learnt of their final positions, Amalia Obrębowska was presented with the audience prize, as voted by those who watched the semi- finals. The popular vote for Obrębowska was well merited, and indeed, she could consider herself a little unlucky not to have advanced to the final. The third place prize in the 3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition went to Gabriel Terracciano. Second place was awarded to Layth Sidiq. First place went to Mario Forte. The three musicians each played a composition, backed as ever by the tireless Dominik Wania Trio. Perhaps, with the tension of competition gone, all three violinists played quite beautifully, and with a spirit of freedom. There then followed a short intermission, a breather before a very special concert.
John Scofield, John Medeski & The Konglomerat Big Band
Fittingly, the program of the nineteen-piece Konglomerat Big Band saw special arrangements of Zbigniew Seifert's compositions, with each arrangement by a different member of the band. The participation of John Scofield
was another nice touch, as the guitarist had recorded with Seifert on the violinist's album Passion
(Capitol, 1979). Scofield was in laid back mode on "Coral" and played a particularly seductive, bluesy solo on "City of Spring," with John Medeski animated on organ. Seifert's compositions translated very well to a big band setting, with muted trumpets adding a new dimension to "Song for Christopher" -one of Seifert's most beautiful works. The cantering rhythms of "Kilimanjaro" sparked a gutsy response from Scofield, though it was the sweeping brass arrangement that stole the show.
A Scofield and Medeski duet, "Dedicated to Zbiggy," was in fact a blues-edged reworking of "Summertime." Medeski, on piano, and Scofield, both took extended solos, though there was little in the way of interplay, with Medeski maintaining a vampish rhythm as Scofield soloed, and the guitarist laying out as Medeski stepped up. Scofield wove quietly mesmeric lines on an epic arrangement of "Where Are You From?, with Medeski feverish organ improvisation equally persuasive. A West African groove colored the intro to the vibrant "Spring on the Farm," which featured Scofield, and an excellent trombone solo.
"I was so lucky to get to play with Zbiggy, almost forty years ago," Scofield told the crowd between songs. "I'll never forget when I got the chance to play with him because it was really my first chance to play a kind of modern jazz that I was practising and working on, and he heard that in me." Scofield praised the competition organizers and the musicians themselves. "I think that the violin is actually the jazz instrument of the future, because it's maybe the most beautiful instrument. We need more jazz violinists." There was just time for a passionate version of "Turbulent Plover"so popular among the competition's contestants in the first three editionswith layered brass lines making for an a colorful arrangement. The encore, "Coral," a quite distinct version form the opening number, saw lively closing statements from Scofield, and Medeski on piano, but the final word went to the collective voice of the excellent Konglomerat Big Band.
Congratulations must go to Mario Forte. It was brave, having finished third two years ago, to enter the competition again, as the risk of greater disappointment was always a possibility. With perseverance and great self-belief, Forte triumphed, and most would say deservedly so; a highly talented musican of whom we are likely to hear much more in the future. Congratulations too, to Layth Sidiq and Gabriel Terracciano, for their outstanding performances. Equally, congratulations are also due to all the other contestants for making the 3rd Sbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition such a wonderful event. It's a rare privilege to hear so many world-class jazz/ improvising string players at such close quarters.
Judging by the record number of applicants for the competition, the increased number of contestants and the large audience for the final in Luslawice, the Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition is going from strength to strength. In an event of this magnitude, there are many people involved behind the scenes, including all those who work throughout the year for the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation. However, for the four days of this year's completion, the tireless efforts of organizers Aneta Norek-Skrycka, Magdalena Warejko and Tomasz Handzik, to ensure that everything ran as smoothly as possible, must be applauded. It is largely thanks to their efforts that the name of Zbigniew Seifert is gaining lasting international renown.
The 4th Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition will be held in 2020. For violinist, violists and cellists interested in applying, keep an eye open for updates on the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation website. This article is dedicated to the memory of Janusz Stefański and Tomasz Stańko
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation.