Emad Zolfaghari
Emad Zolfaghari took first prize in the 2023 Klein Competition | Credit: Martyn Selman

On the weekend of June 1–2, it will be time for contestants and audiences to gather for the semifinals and finals of the 39th annual Irving M. Klein International String Competition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). Attendance, as always, is free, but reservations are required (see links above), and donations are appreciated.

The competition was created in memory of the late cellist Irving M. Klein, a founding member of the Claremont String Quartet and father of the competition’s founding artistic director, Mitchell Sardou Klein, who this year co-hosts the event with violinist and 2016 Klein Competition laureate Alina Kobialka.

Klein told SF Classical Voice:

“It is a constant joy to encounter some of the world's most remarkable young musical artists at an early stage of their careers and remain personally and professionally close to them as they take their places at the top of their profession over the years and decades.

“Hearing them play with such musicality and inspiration is deeply rewarding, and discovering their personal warmth and musical partnership is inspiring.

“The annual competition is always thrilling, as each new musical voice comes into focus over the weekend of the performances. This year’s eight semifinalists are among the best ever. I look forward to hearing them on June 1 and 2.”

Mitchell Sardou Klein
Mitchell Sardou Klein | Credit: Jim Fung

Previous Klein Competition winners have gone on to become concertmasters and principal players at top American orchestras, famed soloists and chamber musicians, and teachers at major conservatories. Among them: Robert deMaine, Jennifer Frautschi, Zlatomir Fung, Alban Gerhardt, Vadim Gluzman, Frank Huang, Jennifer Koh, Mark Kosower, Tessa Lark, Joshua Roman, Robin Scott, Lara St. John, and Wyatt Underhill.

“The Klein” is open to string players anywhere in the world age 15 to 23. The eight semifinalists were selected from 140 applicants, representing 15 nationalities. They are:

Pearl de la Motte, viola, 20 (New York) — attends The Juilliard School and studies with Hsin-Yun Huang

Wanxinyi Huang, viola, 23 (China) — attends the Yale School of Music and studies with Ettore Causa

Hannah Jeong, cello, 17 (Texas) — attends College Station High School and studies with Brinton Smith

Evelyn Joung, cello, 16 (New Jersey) — attends The Chapin School and The Juilliard School and studies with Clara Minhye Kim

Yeji Lim, violin, 23 (Korea) — attends the New England Conservatory of Music and studies with Nicholas Kitchen and Young-uck Kim

Christian Luevano, bass, 20 (Pennsylvania) — attends the Curtis Institute of Music and studies with Edgar Meyer and Hal Robinson

Francis Tsai, violin, 18 (Alabama) — attends Hope Christian School and studies with Jennifer Liu and Eric Tsai

Amelia Zitoun, cello, 18 (Wisconsin) — attends Shorewood High School and the Music Institute of Chicago Academy and studies with Hans Jørgen Jensen

John Wineglass
John Wineglass | Credit: Randy Tunnell

They will perform unaccompanied works by J.S. Bach, a major concerto, a major sonata, and the world premieres of new commissioned works by John Wineglass.

The jury consists of Wineglass, Barbara Day Turner (music director of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra), Mark Kosower (principal cello of The Cleveland Orchestra), Hal Robinson (former principal bass of The Philadelphia Orchestra and faculty at Juilliard and Curtis), Daniel Stewart (music director of the Santa Cruz Symphony), Ian Swensen (violin faculty at SFCM), and Paul Yarbrough (violist and co-founder of the Alexander String Quartet). 

This year, the competition’s venue will be SFCM’s 131-seat Sol Joseph Recital Hall, as the 348-seat Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall is under construction, so tickets are severely limited. The events, however, can also be streamed on The Violin Channel’s website, the Klein’s Facebook page, Vimeo, and YouTube.

The 2024 first-prize winner will be featured as a soloist in April 2025 with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.

Klein also talked about his memories of the competition:

“1992 — our youngest semifinalist was a 15-year-old high school cellist from Wisconsin. He was far younger than any previous prize winners. He came out onstage and played a hauntingly beautiful, poised, and thrilling account of the [Antonín] Dvořák Cello Concerto [and] just amazed and stunned the jury and everyone present.

“This was our introduction to Mark Kosower. We have stayed in close touch ever since, bringing him back for various performances and following his career path, right through to his appointment as principal cello of The Cleveland Orchestra. Mark returns again, for the third time, on the Klein Competition jury in 2024.”

Mark Kosower
Mark Kosower | Credit: Lim Jong Jin

Klein continued: “In another early year of the Klein Competition, one of the semifinalists failed to show up for the announcement of who had been selected as finalists for the Sunday second round, thinking he had not played well enough to qualify.

“This was an obvious problem — he couldn’t draw lots for playing position on Sunday or schedule the additional rehearsal time with his accompanist for that performance. Another semifinalist who knew this person agreed to track him down. I asked to have him call me at any time overnight to settle this impasse.

“I got a phone call at 2 a.m. from what sounded like a loud honky-tonk bar and requested that this player show up for the finals. The slurred response: ‘You must be kidding me!’ He did show up for the finals, did not play his best, [and] went on to a fabulous career.

“So many of our laureates have become essentially Klein family members over the years, one of my greatest joys.”