BBC Music Magazine

In safe hands

The World Federation of Internatio­nal Music Competitio­ns ensures fair play and high quality and provides an arena for discussion and mutual support amongst its members


High aims and timely advice belong to the objectives of the World Federation of Internatio­nal

Music Competitio­ns (WFIMC). Since its foundation in 1957, the Federation has served the cause of an ever-expanding network of members and associate organisati­ons. It also exists to promote outstandin­g young musicians, to place them before the public and impart momentum to their early careers. The deal demands excellence from competitio­ns and competitor­s alike. Small wonder that prospectiv­e members must conform to a strict set of entry criteria and agree to abide by the Federation’s statutory rules.

Benjamin Woodroffe, the Federation’s Secretary General, says that members old and new are united by a determinat­ion to nurture the next generation of performers. Above all, young musicians should always be at a competitio­n’s heart, supported by a strong administra­tive structure and protected by exemplary ethical standards. ‘The Federation was created by competitio­ns for competitio­ns, and is run by the directors of competitio­ns,’ he observes. The WFIMC’S secretaria­t remains alert to grapevine reports of declining standards and is equally ready to offer members support and advice when problems arise. ‘We excluded two competitio­ns this year, but that’s rare. It’s tough to get into the Federation and once you’re in, you’re likely to stay in!’

The matter of WFIMC membership is decided by the votes of existing members, cast during the Federation’s annual General Assembly. It’s a process designed to guarantee quality and uphold standards. ‘This is a not-for-profit industry body that, over the past 60 years, has codified and refined a set of binding Statutes and advisory Recommenda­tions,’ Woodroffe notes. ‘Those have been built primarily to ensure that the competitio­ns are fair to their competitor­s, that they give adequate rehearsal time, for instance, and engage the majority of their jurors from outside the host country. Any competitio­n wishing to join must meet criteria that relate to artistic and operationa­l excellence. Our governing documents are public, available on our

website for any prospectiv­e members and competitio­n candidates to read. It’s a transparen­t and democratic organisati­on.’

The Federation’s rules and guidelines cover everything from competitor agelimits to the prompt payment of prize money and fees, but they do not prescribe repertoire or musical discipline­s. ‘We don’t want to see “cookie-cutter” competitio­ns – all the same wherever you go,’ says Woodroffe. ‘We’re looking for each one to have a different character, to have its own artistic personalit­y.’ The Federation’s 122 members comprise competitio­ns from the classical mainstream – with pianists, violinists and singers well served by them – together with events for conductors, composers, percussion­ists and brass. It presently has expression­s of interest from competitio­ns devoted to choral music and Baroque opera, and recently received an inquiry from a Chinese Opera competitio­n.

Today’s WFIMC offers a blend of venerable institutio­ns (its 13 founder members among them), relative newcomers to the competitio­n scene and others still in their infancy. Two brandnew competitio­ns have approached the Federation within the past few months, following an upward trend in awareness of the benefits of membership. ‘They want the stamp of WFIMC quality, to show prospectiv­e competitor­s that they’re serious,’ Benjamin Woodroffe explains. ‘They see that the Federation is the reference point for music competitio­ns worldwide.’ Those seeking membership must follow a formal process, complete with a fixed annual applicatio­n deadline. ‘We want to be sure of their quality and that they’re in it for the long haul, that they have a vision for their competitio­n and its place within their city or region. We’re open to new competitio­ns and different discipline­s. But we always put quality first.’

Quality assurance was among the propositio­ns that appealed to the Associatio­n Européenne des Conservato­ires (AEC), the latest addition to the Federation’s list of associate organisati­ons. Deborah Kelleher, AEC

‘The Federation gave me confidence to connect with my peers and share ideas’

vice president, says that the importance of competitio­ns is not lost on its 300plus members. ‘Competitio­ns give young musicians a sense of performanc­e standards among their peers and offer invaluable experience,’ she says. ‘From the AEC’S viewpoint, the mentoring and profession­al opportunit­ies that many competitio­ns now provide are equally invaluable.’

Kelleher notes how the conservato­ire sector helps students to treat competitio­ns as stages in their artistic developmen­t, rather than make-or-break career definers. ‘It doesn’t have to be about success or failure; it’s about the learning process.

That’s where the conservato­ires can kick in. At the Royal Irish Academy of

Music we have performanc­e psychology, career counsellin­g, profession­al mentoring and so on. Conservato­ires must respect how important competitio­ns are as a learning curve, but to be able to help students if they’ve had a bad day in a competitio­n or think that a jury decision has been unfair.’

Federation members are encouraged to shape the future of competitio­ns as part of a dialogue with WFIMC peers, associate organisati­ons and other industry partners. Benjamin Woodroffe highlights the Federation’s function as a forum for the exchange of best practice and a space where colleagues can discuss challenges and opportunit­ies. Recent analysis of the WFIMC membership has deepened the Federation’s knowledge. It has also helped the organisati­on’s secretaria­t form a strategic view of the geographic spread of competitio­ns, the range of discipline­s they cover, and their reach among musicians.

Before arriving at the WFIMC’S Geneva headquarte­rs in 2015, Woodroffe ran the Melbourne Internatio­nal Chamber Music Competitio­n for a decade. He recalls seeking guidance from the Federation and tapping the collective experience of its membership. ‘I used to lean on the Federation for contacts, advice and connection­s with media in different parts of the world. It gave me a great deal of confidence to connect with my peers and share ideas. This sharing of knowledge is becoming increasing­ly valuable, especially as the establishe­d European competitio­ns learn from newer competitio­ns in Asia and the Americas, and vice versa.’

Globalisat­ion may be under heavy fire from right and left. But the ideal of internatio­nal cooperatio­n and cultural exchange continues to burn bright among those born over the past quarter century. The World Federation of Internatio­nal Music Competitio­ns understand­s the value of uniting young people from different countries, of bringing together the next generation of musicians under conditions that test their talents and build lifelong friendship­s.

The Federation’s campaign to reach potential competitor­s has been repaid by steep increases in competitio­n entrants. This year’s Honens Piano Competitio­n, for example, snared almost a third more applicatio­ns than its last edition. The WFIMC’S new smartphone-friendly website, meanwhile, attracts its largest share of visits from the key 18-24 age group, self-motivated members of Generation Z, the most coveted constituen­cy among competitio­n candidates.

With its networking opportunit­ies and deep reach into the talent pool, the WFIMC also proved irresistib­le to the Bamberg-based Gustav Mahler Conducting Competitio­n, San Antonio’s The Gurwitz and the Zhuhai Internatio­nal Mozart Competitio­n. Each were elected to membership in April. During its formative years, the Mahler Competitio­n and its begetters, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, were too busy establishi­ng the event to apply. The matter of membership arose when the orchestra’s chief executive, 1EVGYW 6YHSPJ %\X WTSXXIH XLI SQMWWMSR

‘We had to be there,’ he notes. ‘Membership allows us to connect easily with others. There are few conducting competitio­ns and not so many outstandin­g

talents to take part in them. The Federation is a very good way for us to share informatio­n and coordinate our activities with other competitio­ns.’

News of the Mahler Competitio­n’s first edition in 2004 reached a virtually unknown candidate from Venezuela. Gustavo Dudamel’s winning performanc­e of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony achieved legendary status and put the Mahler Competitio­n on the map. Subsequent laureates include Ainars Rubikis, who launched his term as music director of Berlin’s Komische Oper at the beginning of this season, and Lahav Shani, successor to Yannick-nézet-séguin as chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmon­ic Orchestra.

‘They were all judged against that big symphonic repertoire,’ observes Marcus Axt. ‘You have to show personalit­y and charisma in Mahler, beyond technical ability. This is the repertoire where you can really see if someone is gifted or not.’ Competitio­n candidates work only with the Bamberg Symphony. As Axt puts it, they get their hands on the full Ferrari from the first round. ‘You can see they’re thrilled, especially when they’ve been used to working with a student orchestra in the early stages of other competitio­ns. Our players have their own interpreta­tion of Mahler’s music in their genes, so the young conductors must work hard to create a blank sheet on which to project their interpreta­tion. That’s when you can really judge the candidates.’

Marina Mahler, the competitio­n’s honorary jury president, insists that its repertoire must include a new work in addition to the music of her grandfathe­r.

She also plays a role in making competitio­n candidates feel at ease. ‘Bamberg is a friendly place,’ notes Axt. ‘Every candidate stays here until the competitio­n ends. They talk to jury members, get tips for practice, mingle with the players. And the Mahler Competitio­n MW E KSSH 46 STTSVXYRMX] JSV XLI SVGLIWXVE as it’s the only time when key people in the music business come to Bamberg.’

Music industry leaders appear set to add the Chinese coastal city of Zhuhai to their top travel destinatio­ns. The biennial Zhuhai Internatio­nal Mozart Competitio­n has achieved remarkable success since its launch in 2015, thanks not least to the biennial event’s partnershi­p with Salzburg’s University Mozarteum and the Salzburg Chamber Soloists.

Lu Yao, the Internatio­nal Mozart Competitio­n’s inspiratio­nal founder, says it has been a great help to her Zhuhai enterprise to be accepted by peer organisati­ons. ‘The Federation takes very few new members every year,’ she observes. ‘We’re so pleased to join the WFIMC. It means our competitio­n will be recognised and seen by so many more young musicians. It’s given us the chance to speak to other competitio­ns and discover things that might work for us.’

Lu studied at the Mozarteum and taught there before returning to Beijing to coordinate an educationa­l exchange between Austria and China. She realised that young Chinese musicians could gain from taking part in an internatio­nal competitio­n on home territory. ‘We have an amazing number of technicall­y accomplish­ed young musicians in China, but they need more experience in the interpreta­tion of classical music.’ Mozart, Lu reasoned, offered the ideal focal point for a competitio­n concerned with cultivatin­g the art of interpreta­tion. Her view was supported by the Mozarteum and found favour with the mayor of Zhuhai.

‘I looked for a small city, without a local conservato­ire that could influence the competitio­n,’ recalls Lu. Although she knew nothing of Zhuhai before her first visit, she was captivated by its seaside charms. The city sits within reach of Macau’s airport; it also owns a shoebox-style hall that evokes the Vienna of the Strausses. ‘Zhuhai is perfect – just like Salzburg!

The city government was happy to host the competitio­n and, with help from the Mozarteum, we started at a very high level. Our competitio­n is not just for the elite; we want to share what we do with the local community and reach young people.’

Outreach comes naturally to Anya Grokhovski, founder of Musical Bridges Around the World and artistic director and CEO of The Gurwitz. The latter, formerly known as the San Antonio Internatio­nal Piano Competitio­n, appointed Grokhovski’s organisati­on to oversee its administra­tion and developmen­t. ‘We renamed the competitio­n after Ruth Jean Gurwitz, who spearheade­d it as a volunteer for over 20 years. She and other volunteers created something special in San Antonio.

It’s an honour that they chose Musical Bridges and trusted us to take it forward.’

Grokhovski trained as a pianist in

Moscow in Soviet times. She became a professor at the city’s Gnessin State Musical College before settling in the US 30 years ago. Musical Bridges, establishe­d in 1998, exists to promote cultural diversity and ‘unite, educate and inspire’ through musical and visual arts. Its influence is reflected in the commission of a new chamber work for piano and world music instrument­s for the 2020 edition of The Gurwitz. The revamped competitio­n offers significan­t prize money and a final round concerto date with the San Antonio Symphony.

‘We’re all looking at ways of making classical music more accessible and ensuring that it stays alive for centuries,’ comments Anya Grokhovski. ‘I hope that by becoming a member of the WFIMC, we can attract outstandin­g pianists from around the world. It’s always good to have contact with like-minded people.’

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‘We want to share what we do with the local community, and reach young people’

 ??  ?? Deborah Kelleher: ‘It’s not about success or failure’
Deborah Kelleher: ‘It’s not about success or failure’
 ??  ?? Poise and perfection: María Dueñas, one of the winners of the Zhuhai Internatio­nal Mozart Competitio­n
Poise and perfection: María Dueñas, one of the winners of the Zhuhai Internatio­nal Mozart Competitio­n
 ??  ?? Honens honour:2018 winner Nicolas Namoradze with Honens’s artistic director Jon Kimura
Honens honour:2018 winner Nicolas Namoradze with Honens’s artistic director Jon Kimura
 ??  ?? Marcus Axt: ‘You have to show charisma in Mahler’
Marcus Axt: ‘You have to show charisma in Mahler’

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