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

BBC Music Magazine - - Music Competitio­ns -

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.’

For more info, visit www.wfimc-fm­

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

Deb­o­rah Kelle­her: ‘It’s not about suc­cess or fail­ure’

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

Mar­cus Axt: ‘You have to show charisma in Mahler’

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