Tune up, tune in: Cello competition moves online

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Rather than postpone the much-anticipated Bader and Overton Canadian Cello Competition because of the pandemic, Tricia Baldwin and her team at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts decided to dive headfirst into online streaming instead.

So Baldwin and Isabel technicians recruited musicians and started experimenting with different makes of microphones, different locations, and different streaming software to try and find a sound richer than the “car radio sound,” as Baldwin described it, often associated with online streaming.

“(Most streaming) doesn’t have the depth and beauty of sound, especially with stringed instruments,” she said, adding that they’ve shared what they’ve learned with other concert groups and vice versa. “When you don’t have that roundness and third dimension of sound, it’s not a beautiful sound.”

The eight cellists in this week’s competition were all sent the same brand of microphones, microphone stand, and USB interface for the competition. Each performer was to go through a rehearsal beforehand to ensure the equipment was set up properly. If a glitch does happen during the live-stream, there will be a backup recording just in case.


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And getting the sound just right is also paramount since the competition is to be live-streamed through the CBC Music site (cbc.ca/music), and, in the future, a recital on CBC Radio. The semifinals will be live-streamed beginning at noon on Wednesday and Thursday. Three finalists will perform, along with a pianist, in the concerto round on Saturday. It also starts at noon.

“We are most grateful that the CBC has picked it up, and that we will be able to see the wonderful music that these cellists can produce and how remarkable it is,” Isabel Bader, one of the sponsors of the competition, said Tuesday.

The cello competition will be hosted by Yolanda Bruno, who won the Isabel Overton Canadian Violin Competition in 2017 and is now with the Toronto Symphony. Part of her prize package, too, was the recital, which was broadcast on the CBC’s “In Concert” radio program.

“It’s a cool part of the winnings, because it gives such huge exposure right across the country,” explained Denise Ball, the executive producer of “In Concert” among other classical music-themed weekend shows, “and 300,000 people tune in.”

One of the CBC’s mandates, she said, is to help develop young talent, and the cello competition is an ideal fit. And young musicians could certainly use a boost these days, she said.

“It’s so hard now, just in this whole period of uncertainty with everything shutting down,” explained Ball, who quickly embraced the idea of broadcasting the competition when Baldwin first suggested it.


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“I just despair for so many of these young musicians who are just getting the motor going, starting that trajectory from being a student into what they hope will be full-time performers.”

Ball thinks the Bader and Overton Canadian Cello Competition will set a standard to which other competitions must aspire.

“I think the thing about this is that Tricia has really embraced these new possibilities in terms of technology, and has absolutely established for other competitions internationally, most of which have been cancelled, of how you can do it, and how you can do it right,” Ball suggested.

Baldwin, meanwhile, has been impressed by the resumes of the young Canadian musicians — Dominique Beausejour-Ostiguy, Bryan Cheng, Olivia Cho, Leland Ko, Jonah Krolik, Andreas Schmalhofer , Michael Song, and Tate Zawadiuk — taking part in the competition.

She feels that the success of the first competition may have lent credibility to this edition, as the entrants have studied or are studying at many of the top music schools in North America and abroad.

“The videos that were uploaded for the preliminary were just a beautiful group of musicians,” Baldwin said excitedly. “When you’re listening, it’s kind of jaw-dropping.”