Choi Ha-young is first Korean cellist to win Queen Elisabeth Competition

Korean cellist Choi Ha-young performs during the Queen Elisabeth Competition for cello in Brussels, Belgium, which came to an end on June 4. Choi was named the winner of the competition. [DEREK PRAGER]

Choi Ha-young became the first Korean to win the Queen Elisabeth Competition for cello, which came to an end in Brussels, Belgium, on June 4.

The cello section was added to the prestigious competition in 2017, which was founded in 1937.

A cash prize of 25,000 euros ($27,000) was awarded to Choi. The second prize went to Chinese cellist Yibai Chen and the third went to Marcel Johannes Kits from Estonia.

In the final round, each musician performed a concerto of their own choice and an unpublished work by Jorg Widmann, which was written for the competition.

Choi performed Widmann’s “5 Albumblatter” and Witold Lutolslawski’s “Concerto.” The Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied her under the baton of Stephane Deneve.

Three other Koreans made it to the final twelve — Mun Tae-guk, 28, Yoon Sul 27 and Jeong Woo-chan, 23.

While 24-year-old Choi might be a relatively new face to many Koreans, she’s been quite active in Europe. Born in Germany, Choi studied under cellists Chung Myung-wha and Chang Hyong-won as well as Alexander Boyarsky at the Purcell School for Young Musicians in England. Choi debuted as a professional solo cellist in 2006 through the Kumho Cultural Foundation’s Kumho Prodigy Concert, which discovers and supports talented young musicians. She has won first prize at several other international competitions prior to this one, including the International Johannes Brahms Competition in Austria at age 13. Choi has been using Giovanni Paolo Maggini’s cello from the 1600s since 2017, supported by the Kumho Cultural Foundation.

Though it’s only the second edition for the cello section, the competition, named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium who died in 1965, is one of the three most prestigious contests for classical musicians. The other two are the International Chopin Piano Competition, which pianist Choi Seong-jin won in 2015 and the International Tchaikovsky Competition. The latter is held every year in alternating categories — violin, piano, voice and cello. There was a section for composition until 2012. Violinist Lim Ji-young was the first Korean to win the competition in 2015 for violin.

Park Bo-gyoon, minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, congratulated Choi on Sunday, saying that her feat was a "confirmation of Korea's status in the field of classical music" and that "Korea is indeed a culturally attractive country."