Young soloist’s blistering Haydn concerto that won her the world’s most prestigious cello competition

24 January 2024, 21:17 | Updated: 25 January 2024, 10:38

Hayoung Choi plays Haydn
Hayoung Choi plays Haydn. Picture: YouTube / Queen Elizabeth Competition

By Kyle Macdonald

Think Haydn’s concertos are all refined classical affairs? Check out the power and guts of this thrilling performance, which won a young soloist a major prize.

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This was one of those occasions when a well-known piece of music is placed in the hands of a young soloist, and jaw-dropping magic happens.

Joseph Haydn was the chief musical innovator in the Classical era, and this concerto showcased his vision for what the cello could be as a solo instrument. It’s now one of the central works of the cello repertoire, adored and performed the world over.

But a great work always needs a great soloist, to make it their own – and that’s just what happened at the most recent Queen Elisabeth Competition for cello, which took place in Brussels in 2022.

The Queen Elisabeth Competition is regarded as one of the world’s finest competitions for instrumentalists and singers. Previous instrumental winners include violinists David Oistrakh, Vadim Repin and pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy and Boris Giltburg. So there’s no doubting its pedigree.

In 2022, for only the second time in the competition’s history, it was the year of the cello. And in walked the 24-year-old virtuoso Hayoung Choi.

Read more: These are factually the 15 best cello pieces in existence

Haydn Concerto n. 1 in C major Hob. VIIb:1 | Hayoung Choi - Queen Elisabeth Competition 2022

Her performance of the Haydn was a spectacular one. In the opening movement, she has a deep, rich tone with power and projection. There’s a thrilling cadenza too, with real guts and gusto. Choi also brings out the distinctive vocal character of the cello in the glorious lyricism of the composer’s lines.

Even if you know this concerto well, it was surely a performance that made you hear it anew.

Read more: The 11 most relaxing pieces of classical music written for the cello

Born in 1998, Choi began her musical education in Seoul, South Korea, before moving to the UK, where she attended the Purcell School of Music.

She plays a cello on loan from Florian Leonhard Fine Violins. The stunning instrument was made by Nicola Bergonzi in Cremona around 1785.

Bergonzi cello played by Hayoung Choi
Bergonzi cello played by Hayoung Choi. Picture: Florian Leonhard Fine Violins

A few years before her Belgian triumph, Choi won the 2019 International Krzysztof Penderecki Cello Competition, which took place in Kraków, Poland. There she played a cello version of the great composer’s viola concerto, indicating the range of the young soloist.

Choi is very much one to watch, and we look forward to hearing what she does next, and how she makes it her own, just like this Haydn.