A view on Competitions from 25 years ago- by Renate Ronnefeld

First Prize- and then?
Renate Ronnefeld of the ARD International Music Competition talks about competitions

1 December 1999
Neue Musikzeitung/ Issue 12/1999 - 48th year

The jury does not know whether a prizewinner has great physical and mental stamina, how he reacts to criticism, especially from the press, whether he is affected by stage fright or simply bad nerves in his interpretations, how quickly he can learn and remember new works while at the same time having to go on concert tours, whether he likes to travel or quickly misses his familiar surroundings or his family.

Therefore, the question "Does the best artist really always win?" cannot simply be answered in the affirmative. A jury can only ever judge the performance of a young artist at a given time, the current state of his or her skills and artistic personality. What the future holds for the individual prizewinners and how they will deal with personal luck or misfortune cannot be foreseen at the moment of victory. The jury does not know whether the prizewinner has great physical and mental stamina, how they will react to criticism, especially from the press, whether their interpretations will be affected by stage fright or simply bad nerves, how quickly they can learn and retain new works while at the same time having to go on concert tours, whether they enjoy traveling or quickly miss their familiar surroundings or family. Some things can be made easier for young people by jurors or organizers, some doors can be opened. But after that, even prizewinners have to realize that from now on they will have to face the greater competition of their everyday, normal professional life.
Everyone should know that success at a competition can be a guarantee for a great career, but it does not automatically have to be. It is not only the talent of the musician that decides this, stupendous technique and virtuosity are not enough. To be able to stand comparison with other great artists, extraordinary musical intensity coupled with a strong individual artistic personality is a must. There are "competition beauties" who cannot assert themselves in normal concert life and fail due to adverse circumstances, the audience, but often also themselves.


Not winning a competition has hardly ever prevented a career, and winning one has only created or promoted one if the young musician's perseverance, stamina and willingness to make sacrifices, coupled with a little luck, work together. Above all, one must not forget that from that moment on, a winner of a first prize is not only compared with all the other prizewinners, but also with all the famous artists of his/her time.

A prize at a well-known competition can become a ticket to the career of one's dreams and quickly make the young soloist's name known worldwide. A prizewinner could then be overwhelmed with many, sometimes too many, concert offers. And if they don't have a responsible and wise agent or advisor at their side to help them make good decisions, choose the right concert opportunities for them at the right time and also take enough time for further repertoire study, their career can be over before it has even begun.
For a year or two, however, an prize can bring a certain advantage, as the new name will initially have slightly less difficulty in getting concerts or recordings. After this first chance however, it becomes more difficult to further develop the career. It is also extremely rare to get a contract from record companies for more than just one CD. This is the moment when the prizewinner realizes that from now on they have to take care of their own career. And that is always a difficult and often disappointing task.

The promotion of their prizewinners is one of the main concerns of competitions. Most of them try to find attractive concert opportunities in addition to the cash prizes on offer. A competition that is only held every few years has the opportunity to focus more intensively on building the careers of its prizewinners in the intervening period by first becoming a concert organizer itself. But annual competitions have a much harder time in this respect. They depend a lot more on external support from festivals, concert organizers and artist agencies.

In the past, there were still a few impresarios here and there who always championed a few exceptionally talented young musicians in addition to the already established artists on their roster. Nowadays, concert managers rarely play a really significant role in the development of an artistic career, with the exception of a few who always seem to have a small number of new names on their artist rosters and then use them in their series.

National or international festivals, which rely mainly on renowned names in order to attract music lovers willing to pay for their tickets, might also have the opportunity to include concerts or even smaller concert series with less well-known artists in their programs. In doing so, they could introduce highly talented young musicians to an audience that is sure to be interested and at the same time do development work for later years in their own interest. Some Festwochen have already adopted this idea, others are still too attached to their traditional programming and shy away from possible risk.

Most string and wind instrument prizewinners are thinking of a secure position in an orchestra besides their career as a soloist. However, when you realize that around 2,000 musicians apply for just 80 advertised orchestra positions in Germany every year, it is all the easier to understand how uncertain the prospects are, even for the most talented artists.

The German Music Council offers young German musicians excellent opportunities to gain experience for their future careers with their ensembles such as the Bundesjugendorchester (Federal Youth Orchestra), as well as other training opportunities. The same happens in other European countries and overseas, for example with the European Youth Orchestra, the Philharmonie der Nationen, the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra or the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie.

During the past 40 years, the number of international music competitions has multiplied. In 1957, 13 international competitions founded the World Federation of international Music Competitions in Geneva. Today, the number of competitions for young musicians worldwide has risen to around 500. On one hand, this means that organizers sometimes compete with each other, whereby the one with the greater financial resources is not always the more attractive. On the other hand, more and more young musicians are attracted by competitions, even those who are not yet or not at all suited to a solo career. And every renowned music competition is naturally looking for soloists for whom better concert opportunities can be found later on. In order to spare many applicants later disappointment, the requirements would have to be set very high, and this in turn would have to start with a better training at the various music schools.

In recent years, organizations and institutes have emerged in almost every country that have set themselves the task of promoting young musicians from all over the world. One of the oldest of these institutions is the "Young Concert Artists" society in New York, which organizes competitions every year, the winners of which win a large number of concerts. There is also a similar organization in London, the "Young Concert Artists Trust".

In Russia, the "New names" organization has existed since 1989 and promotes young talent, not only in the field of music but also in the arts in general. One of its main activities is the organization of around 2,000 concerts at which young soloists and ensembles are presented to the public, but also on radio and TV.

Similar activities are carried out by organizations such as the "Holland Music Sessions" in Alkmaar and Amsterdam or the "Musica Viva Society", which organizes countless concert series with chamber music on the Australian continent every year. The "Norwegian Concert Institute" and the "Jeunesses Musicales de France" do the same in their respective countries. In Germany, there are even concert series that specialize in young musicians.

There are many smaller and larger institutions, some based solely on private financial support, which look after prizewinners and help them to get performance opportunities in the first months and years after winning the prize. At a time when unfortunately more and more commercial aspects dominate our concert life and mainly the well-known "big names" are offered to the public, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young artists to assert themselves alongside them. Therefore, effective support for young musicians is and remains urgently needed.

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With kind permission of Neue Musikzeitung/ ConBrio Verlagsgesellschaft GmbH