SHOW TIME: Clarinetist Zhou Lei competes in the final round of clarinet discipline of the Sixth Beijing International Music Competition on November 12 (ZHANG YONG)
When clarinetist Zhou Lei finished Claude Debussy's First Rhapsody at the Beijing Concert Hall during the final round of the Sixth Beijing International Music Competition (BJIMC) on November 12, the applause was deafening. As the only Chinese contestant among the six to make it to the final after three-rounds of selections, the 32-year-old major from the Military Band of the Chinese People's Liberation Army achieved the best result for the country in the event's clarinet discipline since 2009.
"I felt relaxed on the stage although it was my first time playing Debussy with an orchestra," Zhou told Beijing Review.
Later that day, the BJIMC committee announced the results. Wooyun Kim of South Korea and Anton Maiseyenka of Belarus tied for third place. Sergey Eletskiy of Russia took fourth place as well as an award for the best performance of new music. Zhou shared the sixth place prize together with two other contestants. Prizes for first, second and fifth place went unawarded, as per the competition's rules, which stipulate that the jury reserves the right to not award certain positions.
"Competing in the final round went far beyond my goal merely entering the semifinals," said Zhou, who failed to reach the second round in 2009. "What a surprise, and a relief!"
Established in 2006, the BJIMC has been accepted into the World Federation of International Music Competitions in April 2010 and the only international music competition for multiple disciplines that holds this honor in China. Currently, it consists of five events – flute, clarinet, cello, string quartet and opera – and the disciplines change each time. The opera and clarinet events were both held at this year's competition.
Zhou started an intense practice regime ever since he was informed about the competition in May. Recorded material from all contestants was sent anonymously to the Munich-based pre-selection administration committee in the summer before the competitors were selected.
The panel of judges all took notes while listening to the submitted material and graded each contestant as well as submitting their comments. The competition principal and the panel then collectively agree on the list of final contestants.
"For the sake of impartiality, the only standard for the jury is their ears," said Zhang Yong, initiator and president of Beijing International Music Competition. "That's how we ran the competition from the very beginning."
A total of 34 clarinet players and 47 opera singers aged under 35 made it to the finals this year, the final selection being trimmed down from 218 initial contestants from all over the world. Each of those contestants went through further rounds of selection that took place at the Beijing Concert Hall from November 3-13.
World-renowned artists from both disciplines, including Gerd Starke and Cord Garben of Germany, Francisco Araiza of Mexico, Jiang Binwei and Zhu Ailan of China, and Susanna Pescetti of Italy, were among the jury.
"This year's average level is obviously higher than four years ago, particularly the Chinese contestants," Gerd Starke noted.
"Getting involved in the competition is a boon for all the contestants and their peers," jury Jiang Binwei told Beijing Review.