New Zealand is once more punching above its weight in the international competition stakes.
Past Waikato University cello student Santiago Cañón-Valencia not only reached the finals of the Queen Elisabeth International Cello Competition, he came third, an almost unimaginable result for a 21 year old born in Columbia and trained in New Zealand.
Since its first beginnings, the Queen Elisabeth has been considered one of the world’s most challenging and prestigious competitions for instrumentalists, on a par with the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. David Oistrakh won the very first competition, back in 1937, Leonid Kogan the second.
Santiago’s achievement may not get as much publicity as Team New Zealand winning the America’s Cup, but for many musicians, it carries almost the same weight.
Wellington-born Benjamin Baker has also come third at a major event, in this case our own Michael Hill International Violin Competition.
At the age of 8, Benjamin was talent-scouted by Nigel Kennedy and moved with his family to England, to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School. The only Kiwi violinist in the initial selection of 16 players for the Michael Hill, chosen from 140 applicants, Benjamin was thrilled to return to New Zealand once again. In the final round, he played the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
In 2014, Benjamin turned heads as part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “Allegro” season, performing virtuoso violin music on stage as part of the ballet “Les Lutins”.