Writing a Cadenza: Creativity Unchained

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Cadenza writing has enjoyed a renewed surge in popularity over recent years. Pauline Harding talks to soloists, teachers and competition jurors about why the trend has been growing, and why more performers should take the plunge

The semi-final of the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition (SISIVC) 2016 has left a lingering impression in my mind: I can still hear the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra lilt through Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto, again and again. By the end of performance number 18, I could have been emerging from a 45-minute version of Groundhog Day, were it not for each soloist’s ‘cadenza surprise’. Sometimes this was subtly Mozartian and ended with a tasteful trill; at others, it gave Mozart a schmaltzy alter ego, pimped with chromatic pyrotechnics. The remainder wobbled undecidedly between styles, or battered Mozart to the floor with Piazzolla or some other musical bombshell. ‘All we said was that we would not accept the traditional cadenzas,’ David Stern, Isaac’s son and one of the competition’s founders and jurors, told me afterwards. ‘That was the only rule. It was at times successful, at times amusing, at times appalling. All of a sudden you didn’t have stock people performing stock cadenzas in a stock way: they actually had to think. We saw a side of every violinist that we hadn’t seen before, and that we may not have been able to see otherwise.’

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