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Nikolaj Znaider Q&A's with theartsdesk

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Unquestionably one of the greats as a performer, Danish-Israeli violinist and conductor Nikolay Znaider divides opinion over his forthright views: either honourable and refreshingly candid, or troublingly indiscreet. After an hour and a half with him between the two finals of the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in Odense, I plump fervently for the former. Meanwhile, a certain online scandal sheet has jumped to conclusions and labelled the whole event as a "shambles" by misrepresenting what Znaider said about a competitor who didn't make it to the finals and about the three who did.

As a result, in another move which has split critics down the middle, Znaider graciously rewarded the author – citing Hans Christian Andersen as another famous son of Odense (Nielsen being the other) – with the "Fairytale Award for Creative Writing".

All this broke on the afternoon and evening of the very last day, after I'd had my interview. There was, in fact no signs of "shambles" or disgrace, just a jury majority over the finalists with which Znaider had not agreed, but of course accepted within the rules of the competition. Most of us were delighted with the result: joint first prize to Ji Yoon Li, the most polished artists and the one who for me made most sense of the Nielsen concerto, and Ukrainian Liya Petrova, who had showed most individuality in the Tchaikovsky Concerto the previous evening (the two pictured below by Knud Erik Joergensen).

Znaider might have been wiser not to say so at that stage in the competition, but he never named his preferred candidate, nor dissed the finalists. And he clearly had honourable views about how a competition, if competition there has to be, should be conducted. After complimenting him very sincerely over the best Brahms Violin Concerto I've ever heard live, at the Proms last year with Fabio Luisi and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra (which Znaider has also conducted), I opened our talk with the specifics of the event.  READ THE Q&A