María Dueñas, a violinist from Spain, took first place in the senior division of the 2021 Yehudi Menuhin International Competition. Right from the first rounds, she set herself apart from other competitors with her Paganini Caprice No.5.
The beginning of this piece starts with various arpeggios running up and down the violin. The original intent of the composer was for the arpeggios to sound like waves of music coming towards the audience. Therefore, many violinists choose to express these arpeggios using a full bow.
However, Dueñas separated each arpeggio into two bowings, accenting the top and bottom notes of each arpeggio. This brought out an intensity that the original composer may not have intended.
After the intense arpeggios, there is the very difficult running passage that most other violinists play with care, precision and time. She shocks the audience with an insane speed that compares to that of a whirlwind. In contrast to her unconventional approach to this piece, her other competitors take conservative tempos and make traditional musical decisions that try to stay true to the composer’s original intent. However, after listening to her performance, it is hard not to be bored and disinterested in the humdrum business-as-usual performances of others.
Her style of playing is considered extreme and even aggressive. Although very unique and fresh to the audience, it defies traditional and conventional approaches to the music, which some juries and teachers deem incorrect.
Each composer has their own ideas and style of playing directed toward the music they wrote. Dueñas playing may be upsetting to some musicians because she doesn’t follow the intended styles that composers want in their music. Therefore, her competition results are either a hit or a miss. In the scenario where the entire jury appreciates her fresh approach to the music, one that transcends the norm, she is given the first prize.
On the other hand, if the jury were to deem her interpretation as incorrect and disrespectful to the music/composer, she may not even be awarded any prize. This occurred in the 2019 Canada Concours musical international de Montréal Violin Competition, where she was eliminated in the first round.
Right or wrong, at the end of the day, she is not only a violinist but also an artist. She isn’t restricted by any conventions of the composer, piece, or time period. She creates her own rules and sings her own voice.
Her fresh and brave interpretations are fueled by her passion and love for music, which is precisely what touches and inspires the audience. This was what made her memorable and what got her multiple popularity awards such as the Audience Award in this year’s Menuhin International Competition, voted by the online viewers.
Dueñas will continue to tour the world for competitions and recitals, bringing more works of her own to the classical music realm. She will be coming to the Hollywood Bowl on August 18 to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.