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Berlin — October 27, 2021

Valerie Fritz and Juri Vallentin win the inaugural Berlin Prize for Young Artists

The Berlin Prize for Young Artists is proud to announce the two winners for its inaugural competition: Cellist Valerie Fritz, and oboist Juri Vallentin. 

Postponed twice due to COVID restrictions, the finals for #BPFYA2020 were held on October 26, 2021 at Berlin's Musikbrauerei. The finals for #BPFYA2021 will take place in January. The winners were selected by a jury comprising pianist Tamara Stefanovich, violinist Mirijam Contzen, cellist Julian Steckel, Anne Midgette (classical music critic of The Washington Post, 2008–2019), Barbara Lebitsch (director of artistic planning at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg), and Jeffrey Arlo Brown (editor at VAN Magazine).

From left to right: #BPFYA2020 winners Valerie Fritz (cello) and Juri Vallentin (oboe), with fellow finalists Muriel Razavi (viola), Nina Gurol (piano), Christine Wu (violin and viola), and Gian Marco Medda (percussion). 
Of their selections, the jury said:
“This was not an easy decision to make. Each finalist displayed excellent technique, interpretative sensitivity, expressive depth, and a strong curatorial vision. It was a joy and an inspiration to experience their music-making. 

“We were particularly impressed by the strength of Valerie's program. Titled ‘360 Cello,’ she took us on a cohesive journey which deconstructed her instrument through 20th-century classics, contemporary audiovisual pieces, and even one of her own works for cello bow alone—all played with precision, drive, and a palpable sense of fun. 

“Juri's powerfully moving performance, ‘Inner Voices,’ spoke to the last two years of lockdown and isolation. He explored the connections between music and solitude in a series of works that stretched across centuries and genres, illuminating each work through meticulous preparation and raw, direct emotion. 

“We are so proud of all the finalists. It’s been a honor to accompany them on their paths, and we can’t wait to hear more from each of these singular artists.”

Five of the six finalists can be seen in a 2020 documentary produced at and in cooperation with the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg. (Unfortunately, Christine Wu was unable to participate due to COVID-19 travel restrictions). One finalist, to be announced, will also receive a solo recording opportunity with Outhere Music

The winners will receive their own professional websites, including photos and video trailers, along with career coaching and an appearance at the New Generation Festival in Italy. "We look forward to promoting outstanding young musicians in a way that gives them a foundation on which to build their careers," says Linda Krajnak of Bank Julius Baer, which facilitates the competition. 

Instead of flawless reproductions of standard repertoire, the Berlin Prize for Young Artists was created in pursuit of musicians who create unforgettable musical experiences: cathartic, disturbing, funny, revolutionary, cunning, and direct. "After the pandemic, it will be even more difficult for young musicians to establish themselves," says Hartmut Welscher, founder and publisher of VAN Magazine, which curates the competition. "Agencies and organizers will tend to rely on well-known names and standard repertoire, fees will be further reduced, and promoting oneself in the digital space will become even more important. With #BPFYA, we want to help six talented musicians with truly unique programming ideas find their way in this changing atmosphere." 

In 2020, over 300 musicians from 51 countries responded to the first #BPFYA call for applications. Nearly as many musicians applied for #BPFYA2021, the finals for which will be held in Berlin in January. 

Photos from the #BPFYA2020 finals can be accessed here. 

Press contact for further information: 

Olivia Giovetti
VAN Verlag GmbH

The #BPFYA2020 Finalists


Gian Marco Medda


In Patrick Hart’s “700 Club,” percussionist Gian Marco Medda plays a game he can’t possibly win, like the game of life itself. The performer, on drum set, must attempt to match the speed and rhythms of an electronic music track that accelerates to an impossible frenzy, its gestures a satire of rock-band “shredding,” its sound world redolent of pinball. “You have to play to the maximum of your abilities to chase the electronics,” Medda says. Medda’s virtuosity seems effortless, until it doesn’t. The piece is rigged.

That realization cuts to the heart of Medda’s program for the Berlin Prize for Young Artists. His vision consists in removing the layers of virtuosity and machismo which surround the image of a percussionist to reveal the instrument’s fragility: “I wanted to show a more introspective side of this drummer.” Medda threads this idea through works by Hart, Igor C Silva, Rafał Ryterski (who notes that “percussion is a social construct” like gender), and Vinko Globokar. In the final work, Globokar’s “Ombre,” the instrumental apparatus surrounding Medda is peeled away, until he is left with the most intimate of what could be considered a percussion instrument––the human voice.

This programmatic idea contains shades of the biographical. Born in the village of Serramanna, in Sardinia, Italy, Medda started playing the drum set at age seven, inspired by his father’s Louis Armstrong records. In 2008, he embarked on a classical percussion career, finishing his diploma at the Conservatory Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina in Cagliari in 2017. The next year, Medda attended the Conservatory of the Arts in Bern, Switzerland, studying with Brian Archinal and Christian Hartmann. It was his studies in new music there which taught him the definitional flexibility of percussion, leading him back to the drum set. Paradoxically, this often-bombastic instrument helps Medda reveal a truer, more fragile self.


Valerie Fritz


When cellist Valerie Fritz was eight years old, her mother composed a piece for her titled “The Witching Hour.” Portraying a ghost waking up for a night full of practical jokes, the work includes special effects such as yawns, glissandi, and sul ponticello playing. In its expansion of the instrument, this early “commission” is not so different from Helmut Lachenmann’s solo cello masterpiece “Pression,” which forms the core of Fritz’s program for the Berlin Prize for Young Artists. It also includes works by Ligeti, Simon Steen- Andersen, Arturo Fuentes, and Fritz herself.

Fritz was born outside Innsbruck, Austria. In her childhood, music was “always there,” she says. Both her father and her mother–– who, besides composing, gave Fritz her first formal training––are musicians, and the family frequently gathered to play string quartets. Unlike many musicians’ children, though, Fritz was not set on a preordained path. It wasn’t until she finished high school and began playing with the European Union Youth Orchestra that she realized the role the cello would continue to play in her life: “I noticed this unifying element, this feeling of making music with others, was something I wanted to experience more.” She joined other ensembles such as the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra and the Vienna Youth Orchestra. In 2017, Fritz began her studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Giovanni Gnocchi.

Given her love of communal music-making, it may seem strange that Fritz is performing in the finals of the Berlin Prize, where musicians are required to curate a completely solo program. But each performance of a work by a living composer––whether by her mom, or by Fuentes––is its own form of collaboration, resulting in what she terms a “joint interpretation.” Dialogue allows her reading of a piece to bloom. In traditional competitions, “everyone plays the same thing, trying to do it better than the others,” Fritz says. “That’s not creative enough for me.”

Nina Gurol

Although pianist Nina Gurol is 24 years old, she has known some of the music on her Berlin Prize for Young Artists program for a decade. The very first composer whose music she discovered was that of Johann Sebastian Bach; she interprets his Prelude and Fugue in C sharp Minor (from Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier”) in her concert. At the age of 12 or 13, Gurol gave the world premiere of a composition by the Cologne-based, Blind composer York Höller; she will also perform Höller’s Third Sonata in Berlin. The music of both composers has accompanied Gurol’s entire artistic development, a sign of the depth of her engagement with the oeuvres that speak to her. The taking of care with things, not age, defines maturity.

Born in Leverkusen, Germany, Gurol began piano lessons at age six, as did both her siblings. She was the only one to stick with it. “I’m the middle child, maybe that’s when I’m eccentric,” she says. As an eight-year-old, she was introduced to the music of György Ligeti, whose musical omnivorousness seems to have rubbed off on Gurol: Besides the works by Höller and Bach, her Berlin Prize program includes pieces by Ravel and another eccentric, Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya. In 2015, Gurol entered the Conservatory for Music and Dance in Cologne, where she currently studies with Gesa Lücker. In 2016, she was awarded the Mieczysław Weinberg Prize for outstanding interpretation of a contemporary work at the TONALi16 piano competition; she regularly performs solo, in chamber music formations, and in concertos with orchestras.

Despite this flurry of activity, Gurol clearly intends to deepen, rather than only broaden, her engagement with the repertoire. In comparison to Bach and Höller, Ustvolskaya is a relatively new composer for the pianist. That hasn’t changed her approach to the compositions. “Ustvolskaya’s music will definitely be a part of my life for a long time,” she says. “It reflects a bit of who I am.”


Muriel Razavi

Words, as Syrian poet and diplomat Nizar Qabbani wrote, are like sparrows: They don’t require entry visas. The German-born, Iranian-American violist Muriel Razavi rallies Qabbani’s dictum toward a world without aesthetic barriers: “I want to cross boundaries towards ultimately eradicating the existence of borders in music.” This includes not only borders of musical genre and era, but also borders that cut across the disciplines of literature, performance, and visual arts.

For Razavi, rhythm and meter are in constant exchange with artforms rooted in other sensory modes. One can only hope that each exchange coalesces into something definite and meaningful, a statement intertextual and interwoven. A sign of her years spent studying with Tabea Zimmermann (who famously insists she is “a musician who plays the viola”), Razavi does not rely on one instrument as sole emissary. It is one glittering thread in a resulting tapestry of artistic vision.

Yet on the viola, Razavi’s perceptive, empathic tone catches the light and reflects it. The prismatic effect highlights additional elements, from electronic accompaniment to political subtext; from Persian architecture to Silk Road patterns. In 2017, her penchant for seeing the terrain of her performance beyond the borders of music earned her the Fanny Mendelssohn Advancement Award for innovation in music. Her view of music as an integrated expression of the human experience has made her a regular with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and she is now assistant principal violist with the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to her studies with Zimmermann, Razavi’s musicianship has been guided by Wilfried Strehle, Nils Mönkemeyer, and Tatjana Masurenko. Complementing her dedicated music studies, she also holds a BA in Middle Eastern History and Culture and an MA in Religion and Culture. Under Daniel Barenboim, she is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on Re-Orientalism in Music.

Christine Wu

Music is a wayfinding tool for community; a physical event that can move people in a way both individual and collectively. The compass of violinist and violist Christine Wu’s young career is calibrated with community as its true north. There is a community with her fellow musicians and audiences. There is also a sense of community with the works that form the cartography of her repertoire, which advocates for a more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural narrative in the music industry.

Confronted with countless Tchaikovsky Concertos and Franck Sonatas early on in her music studies, Wu recalls evading recommendations to learn certain pieces of similar warhorse status, fearful that hearing the same works in a vacuum would lead to a jaded approach. “Effusively indebted” as she is to the works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, Wu’s approach is grounded in hours of research and the pursuit of less ubiquitous works. Though this alone isn’t her sole criteria in choosing repertoire: Every work must speak to her on a meaningful level before she dives into it with curiosity and rigor.

“It is imperative for us to advocate for constructive change within ourselves, in society, and especially in the arts,” Wu says of such a focus. Her goal isn’t to break down the existing canon, but rather to broaden it, and her musical intelligence roves relentlessly, with fields of association free-ranging not only geographically, but also in multiple dimensions.

This includes instrumental dimensions. Her initial focus on the violin has led to solo performances with orchestras from the internationally-renowned Dallas Symphony Orchestra to the heartfelt, community-rooted Mesquite Symphony Orchestra, as well as concertmaster appointments in various ensembles. She studied the instrument with Jaime Laredo, Masao Kawasaki, Nicholas Mann, and Sylvia Rosenberg. Throughout all of this, however, Wu also has honed her proficiency as a violist—another key point on the map of her musical career.

Juri Vallentin

At the foundation of a performance lies the connection between musician and audience. As such, Juri Vallentin makes connections first, with music a close second. His performances reflect the multifaceted relationships between music and space, between performer and observer. When necessary, he’s happy to break with classical conventions in order to further that connection.

Juri began his musical studies as a singer, before switching first to the recorder and then the oboe. Both vocal music’s intrinsic connection between body and instrument and the influence of his recorder studies come to bear in his musicality on the oboe. A blend of intellect and intuition led to him being the first oboist to win the International Tchaikovsky Competition in St. Petersburg. His talent for connection was recognized with the audience prize at the German Music Competition in Leipzig. Currently, he is a member of the Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover and the Staatsoper Hannover.

The qualitative aspects of Juri’s musicality are paired with his mathematician-precise technique, initially honed at Nürnberg’s Hochschule für Musik with Kai Frömbgen and Clara Dent-Bogányi. He continued his education at the Paris Conservatory under Jacques Tys, a product of Marcel Landowski’s reforms of the French music education system during the 1960s. This connection was not lost on Juri, who embodies Landowski’s view of music as a “discipline of sensitivity.”

A natural polymath, Juri tempers sensitivity with knowledge, saying that “music is a phenomenon that is directly linked to our environment and society.” His matrix of artistry covers genres and eras, roaming through philosophy, math, and science, as well as the oboe’s relatives across time and space. His aptly-titled debut album, “Bridges,” was released on the Leipzig-based label Genuin in 2018. An educator now himself, he was appointed professor of oboe at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe in 2021.

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