Two Victoria brothers are vying for the chance to play a rare multimillion-dollar violin, in a contest hosted by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Nikki Chooi, 23, and Timothy Chooi, 18, are among 30 finalists in the Musical Instrument Bank 2012 Competition, which culminates in a live audition and interview in Toronto next month. The winners, selected by jury, will take home their choice of a rare, string instrument from the bank's 18 choices for a three-year period. Choices range from a $40,000 Shaw Adam cello bow, crafted around 1830, to a $7.5-million Bonjour Stradivari cello dating to about 1696.
"This program was really set up to acquire fine string instruments and to lend them to musicians who are on the cusp of an international solo or chamber music career," said Canada Council spokeswoman Joanne Larocque-Poirier. "So it's about developing one's career at a peak period."
Nikki was one of 14 musicians who took home an instrument in the last competition three years ago. He snagged a 1729 Guarneri del GesÃ¹ violin, valued at more than $4 million.
"I just remember that day, when all the winners got their instruments, I went back to my hotel and started playing open strings and was astounded by the sound of it - and what it meant as a tool for making music," he said on the phone from Philadelphia, where he graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music's program in violin performance this May. "It's made by one of the greatest violin makers in the world. And it was made in 1729, before Mozart was even born."
His first scheduled performance, fittingly, was with the Victoria Symphony.
"It was kind of nice to have my debut on the instrument in my hometown," he said.
Nikki has also performed solos with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and many more. He was named laureate of the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in Belgium, one of the world's most prestigious classical musical competitions, in May.
But he will soon have to return his violin to the bank - where it may be snatched up by his younger brother, who is eligible for the competition for the first time this year.
"There are some people who would choose the Stradivari, but for me, I find the Guarneri del GesÃ¹ suits my style of playing," Timothy said. "It has a really unique sound and it can project to thousands of people effortlessly. There's so much to discover about that instrument."
Timothy plans to play part of an A Minor Sonata by Bach at his audition, as well as the first movement of Jean Sibelius's Violin Concerto - a piece of music that moved a judge to tears at the 71st Orchestre Symphonique de MontrÃ©al Standard Life Competition in 2010, earning Timothy the Grand Prize.
The younger brother, who also studies performing arts at the Curtis Institute, says playing the instrument will be a boon at his upcoming debuts with the Edmonton Symphony and Illinois' Highland Park Symphony.
"Using those instruments for my upcoming debuts would really help me show my full potential and maximize my music for the audience," he said. "It will give them the fullest emotions and give them the best possible experience."
Last year, Timothy debuted with the Montreal Symphony, the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra, the Newfoundland Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and Washington's Youth Orchestra of the Americas.
Both Nikki and Timothy studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and were featured at the Victoria Symphony Splash as young soloists. They will perform together in Chicago with the Highland Park Strings in October and will repeat the program with the Edmonton Symphony in February.
Nikki is moving to New York City next month to pursue his master's degree in violin performance at the Juilliard School of Music.
The musical instrument bank was created in 1985, thanks to a $100,000 endowment. Since then, it has grown to include 18 instruments, valued at more than $29 million.
"It's run on generosity," said Larocque-Poirier. "All have been donated or loaned - or have been purchased with funds that have been donated." email@example.com
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