In conversation with Felix Hong, winner of the Prix d'Europe 2017

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(Blog post by Chris Maskell)

Every year, the Académie de Musique du Québec stages the Prix d’Europe competition to give young classical musicians a chance to net a substantial scholarship to study music abroad. With previous prize winners including clarinettist David Dias da Silva, pianist Xiaoyu Liu and flautist Ariane Brisson, the bar is clearly set high for those competing for the $25,000 Grand Prize. However, this didn’t discourage pianist Felix Hong (B.Mus 2016, Art. Diploma 2017) from entering this year’s competition. After strong performances in the preliminary rounds, Hong competed in the finals earlier this month to ultimately receive the Grand Prize. Prof. Ilya Poletaev, who taught Hong for five years at Schulich, attributes this success to his “love for music and a deep need to communicate on a very personal level.”

To learn more about this monumental experience, we spoke to Hong in an email exchange about the Prix d’Europe itself, the role of competitions in career development and his future plans.

Winning the Prix d’Europe is a big accomplishment – what does receiving the Grand Prize this year mean to you?

To me, receiving the Grand Prize is a mark of how much progress I’ve been able to make during my past five years of music studies at Schulich. Also, it means that I was able to convey my musical thoughts in a convincing way while developing as an independent musician. I've known about the Prix d’Europe ever since I started at Schulich, and I’m glad that I finally entered the competition in my last year here. I am extremely honored to receive the Grand Prize — it was an incomparable experience.

What role do you think competitions play in developing the careers of emerging musicians?

I think nowadays competitions are becoming much more important events — especially for pianists — because it gives us a chance for public appearances and recognition. Personally, the qualities I develop most through competitions are the motivation and improvement I get through the preparation process.

How do you think studying with Ilya Poletaev at Schulich helped prepare you for the competition? What was your preparation process?

I’m glad that when I was working with Ilya, we never prepared specifically for a competition or a certain performance. He let me know what my strengths were and what was still missing in the pieces during lessons and run-throughs, so I was able to apply his feedback to future situations. The preparation process is not so different from practicing, except that whenever I get overwhelmed by stress, I go home immediately to watch some NBA games. I am also thankful for the incredible work done during rehearsals and in the final round by Karnsiri Laothamatas, my orchestral reduction pianist.

As the goal of the competition is to provide the Grand Prize winner with money to study in Europe, do you already have plans in place for how to use the award?

Coincidentally, I’m starting my Master’s degree at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London this fall. This award is going to be a huge help with the high living cost in London. I’m extremely grateful that the Prix d'Europe provides this opportunity annually to young musicians who seek to study abroad, and alongside the financial support, I also look forward to the engagements in Montreal that the Prix d'Europe provides!

Hear Felix Hong perform as part of Prix d’Europe in Concert on March 10, 2018 as the featured soloist with l’Orchestre symphonique des jeunes de Montreal.