The John Oliveira String Competition

Our violin master, Elmar Oliveira, honors his first teacher (and brother).

John Oliveira was an extraordinary violinist. He played in the Kansas City Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony for almost two decades.

The John Oliveira String Competition was created by his younger brother Elmar Oliveira to honor the musician, but also to honor John Oliveira as big brother, mentor and personal guide to a life enriched by and dedicated to music.

“I heard him practicing when I was still in the womb,” said Elmar, Lynn’s Conservatory of Music’s Distinguished Artist in Residence. “By the time I started formal lessons, my ear was already so developed, it was almost like all I needed was for my fingers to catch up.”

Elmar Oliveira head shot
Elmar Oliveira

Elmar was late to pick up a violin—nine years old, ancient in today’s gifted-toddler culture. 

“I developed quickly. At the end of a year, I played my first recital,” Elmar said. “A Mozart concerto.” 

John was 11 years older than Elmar, so was quite mature enough to take up where Elmar’s public school violin lessons ended. John taught Elmar how to be technically adept and how to create the right sound, mold a phrase, perform with presence.

Elmar won his first competition at 14 and went on to become one of the most celebrated violinists in the world, winning the Avery Fisher Prize and the Naumburg International Competition.

Some might say John’s lessons even chipped away at the Iron Curtain. In 1978, at the height of the Cold War, Elmar became the first American violinist to win the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. He told Violinist magazine that the gold medal could only be conferred on an American after Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev had been consulted. To this day, John’s protégé is still the only American to take the prize home from Russia.   

“His teaching went beyond violin,” Elmar said. “He was a great mentor and taught me to appreciate art, literature and all the best things in life. I decided to name this competition for him to honor the gifts he gave me.”

Open to violin, cello, viola and bass players in the conservatory, the competition helps students prepare for auditions for positions in symphonies and orchestras.

John Oliveira died of colon cancer at the age of 51.

Elmar Oliveira donates all the funds to cover the expenses of the competition, as well as the $1,000 prize money. If you’d like to partner with him, please contact Lisa Miller.


Trace Johnson Playing the Cello
Trace Johnson ’16

Competition winner learns inside story of Barber sonata

On April 29, the 2017 winner of the John Oliveira String Competition, cellist Trace Johnson, performed his first-place recital at the Amarnick-Goldstein Concert Hall. He performed Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata Op. 6, which is particularly personal for him and his teacher, David Cole. Cole’s father, Orlando, famed cellist with the Curtis String Quartet, premiered the composition with Barber in New York in 1933.

“It’s a piece that really has a lot of meaning for me, and something I have been playing for four or five years,” said Johnson, who earned his master’s degree in cello from Lynn in 2016 and is working toward his professional performance certification.

 “It was awesome to study this piece with Professor Cole, getting the inside story. It was like learning about a whole new side to an old friend.”

Johnson said competitions like the John Oliveira String Competition offer essential preparation for professional musicians.

“I’m fortunate that Lynn emphasizes performance. The only way you get better is by doing it, and there is no better way than performing in a competition.”

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