Tobacco ban denies violin prodigy chance of top music prize

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Chloe¿ Hanslip is only 12 but can translate "disappointment" into four languages. But it's not a word she's ever had much use for. Until now.

Chloe¿ Hanslip is only 12 but can translate "disappointment" into four languages. But it's not a word she's ever had much use for. Until now.

Chloë , from Frimley, in Surrey, is a child prodigy. She could play the violin before she could talk, and performed at London's prestigious Purcell Room at the age of four. When she was six she was presented to the Pope; two years later she was appearing at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Now, thanks to an obscure European directive, Chloë faces the first major setback of her life. This week she will be prevented from taking part in the final of a prestigious international music competition.

Last month she was nominated as one of the three finalists in the prominent Prix Davidoff competition, to be held in Germany this Wednesday. Previous winners have included the celebrated Russian Maxim Vengerov, one of the world's most talented violinists.

But Chloë will not be given the opportunity to repeat his success. She will not be travelling to Germany for the competition and she will not be taking her place in the spotlight alongside the other two finalists, both established musicians in their twenties.

The problem arose because of changing European laws on tobacco advertising, designed to protect minors. The competition, which is arranged by the Justus Frantz Orchestra, is sponsored by Reemtsma, a Hamburg company which makes and sells the Davidoff brand of cigarette. As she is under the age of 18, Chloë cannot be seen to be actively promoting a tobacco product.

"It was our mistake," admitted Patrick Smague, a spokesman for the Justus Frantz Orchestra said. "We were unaware of this new regulation until after Chloë was chosen. She was nominated for her musical ability, so she should still be very proud."

It is the first time in her short life that anything has gone seriously wrong for her. Not only is she an outstanding violinist, she is also academically precocious. Last year, while her peers were about to start secondary school, she was sitting her first two GCSE's, both of which she passed with starred As.

The Hanslips' home is situated on the same road as a large secondary school, and as the colourful mid-afternoon deluge of blazers, ties and schoolbags surges past the gates, Chloë watches them from behind the curtains of her music room.

"The violin is my life, it's like my baby," she explained. "I was just really ecstatic when I got this nomination. I was like 'wow, this is wonderful!' Then the very next day I heard that the chance had been taken away from me."

Chloë's parents bought her a violin at the age of two, after she began to annoy her 19-year old sister by picking out the notes of her sonatas on the family piano.

"Her sister became quite indignant, actually," said her mother, Averil. "She kept complaining: 'Mummy, she's playing my music.' We both started playing the violin together, because we were using the Suzuki method, where the mother has to learn at the same time as the child. After six weeks I was told to give up because she was so much better than me. She was two and a quarter."

Chloë was invited to attend the respected Yehudi Menuhin school in Cobham, near Guildford, when she was only five-and-a-half. Two years later she was accepted as a student by Zakhar Bron, a world-famous professor of music who teaches in Cologne, Madrid and Japan. She now spends her time following him across Europe for tuition and "master classes" and is only in England for two weeks of every month.

"This competition was a very big career opportunity for Chloë," said her mother. "In this sense you have to look at her as an adult, not a child. We are a non-smoking family, and the whole situation just seems so irrelevant. Chloë is anti-smoking anyway, but of course this isn't the problem.

"They are not worried about how it is going to affect her - they are worried about the perceptions of cigarette advertising combined with a minor."