Play the Joseph Joachim, reach the world

Oliver Wille, one of the two Artistic Directors of the Joseph Joachim Violin Competition, talks about the upcoming 2024 edition

The Joseph Joachim Violin Competition is one of the most prestigious music competitions in the world. Every three years since 1991, it has offered outstanding concert experiences in Hannover and the opportunity for young violinists to recommend themselves for a career as a soloist in the international music scene.
First prize winners include the current Artistic Director of the competition and internationally renowned musician, Antje Weithaas, the Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi, the Serbian-French violinist Nemanja Radulović and the US-American Maria Ioudenitch, whose debut album has just been awarded the Opus Klassik.

WFIMC: 2024 marks the second edition of the Joseph Joachim competition under the two Artistic Directors Antje Weithaas and Oliver Wille. Mr. Wille- what’s new this year?

Oliver Wille: There are quite a few things to mention, but let’s begin with the Preliminaries. Already for the last competition, we chose musicians from the NDR Radiophilharmonie Orchestra for the preselection. With this, we avoid any kind of conflicts of interest, as they are not connected to any of the applicants. They also have a slightly different perspective than, say, professors. Next, we reduced the number accepted to the first round to 26, and we added the Bartok Solo Sonata to the mandatory pieces, along with a work by Schubert. 
With Schubert, we all know, you cannot simply do what your teacher told you. You have to find your own, very personal way of playing his music, and that will be interesting both for the candidates and the jury.

In the main jury, you have a singer as chair…

We were very lucky to be able to reinvite Anna Chumachenko and Robert Levin, two people who were with us last time and who we appreciate a lot. But we will once again have a mix of violinists and non-violinists, so this time there is soprano Juliane Banse as chairwoman, and Stephan Zilias, who is the music director of our opera house. His name in our jury is in a way a political sign for Hannover: Joseph Joachim used to be concert master of the opera orchestra, and with this appointment we make the opera part of the competition as well. Zilias not only conducts at the final, but he will also offer a concert for the winner with the opera orchestra.

Once again, you invite a lot of presenters and festivals.

We are very lucky to have almost everyone on board again from the concert presenters. We even found a few new ones. So I think there are over 30 opera houses, festivals, orchestras. Unlike many other competitions, however, we really want to bring the two worlds- competitions and concert presenters- together. This means, the jury only reduces the number of participants and picks the main prize (the Joseph Joachim Prize). But the presenters and festivals all name their own favourites from anyone among the eight semi-finalists. Plus, everyone who reaches the final will receive an award of € 10.000.

There is a lot of repertoire to prepare for the candidates, and in many different disciplines…

Actually, each round has two parts. The jury votes only after everyone has played twice. In the first round, it’s 30 minutes Solo, then later on 30 minutes with piano. In the semi-finals, they play a recital (with a theme they have to set and explain by themselves) including a movement of a Haydn String quartet. Then they get to play-conduct the Munich Chamber Orchestra in a movement of the Bartok Divertimento as well as a Violin Concerto by Mozart. And lastly, they perform a large concerto with conductor, as well as a commissioned work by composer Enno Poppe.


"The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s."
Joseph Joachim (1831-1907)


Is there a reason why you don’t include a Russian concerto in the Finals?

There is, but it has nothing to do with Russia. We choose concertos connected to (performed by) Joseph Joachim, and he simply never played Tchaikovsky. Schumann and Brahms wrote their violin concertos for him, and he was the first person who played the Beethoven Concerto outside Germany, so these works are most important for us. New this time is Dvorak, another piece he performed often.

Compared to the main prizes, the audience award (€ 2000) and the chamber music award (€ 3000) seem rather small. Is chamber music less important for you?

To the contrary. The Chamber Music Prize is actually given by the members of the Kuss Quartet...

They decide?

They decide. So it’s only one part of a big package. We realize that what we ask for is a big challenge for young people, because they have to do so many things, and for sure, they will not be equally good at everything. That's simply not possible. So some will be great in chamber music, some will be good soloists, some will be good at leading an orchestra with their personality. 
Chamber music is just one part, but it plays and important role in the process. I would like to put it this way: without being a good musician, and without being able to perform in the quartet, I think you will not even make it to the final.

Wille Weithaas

Oliver Wille and Antje Weithaas, Artistic Directors of the Competition


Does the jury know the winner of the Chamber Music award before they decide on the Joachim Prize?

No, they don’t know. Everyone should make an independent judgement.

So you're really looking for a well rounded, perfect artist. But how do you make sure that this jury, which does not even consist only of violinists, which is also very diverse, that they can really find that person?

That’s an interesting question. I think the biggest influence we can have is in choosing the right jury. Antje Weithaas and myself, we will not be part of any decision. We will not even be in the room when they vote for the preselection. We only tell the jurors of our ideas for the competition: it’s not about who can play most perfect and clean. We want them to find an artist who can touch your heart, but still has a certain standard of playing. 
This is probably the biggest problem- accepting that some of the most interesting and creative minds may not have the level of an international violin soloist. This balance is what the jury has to discuss, and that’s why they are allowed to talk. They should first give their points, but then they talk. We have a double voting system- both yes/no and points. If there is no clear decision with the yes/no vote, we look at the numbers and discuss.

This means that juries may have discussions after every round?

It’s not forbidden, like in other competitions, where there is no talking. But I don’t believe in this anyway- I don’t think people always abide by this rule. People like to talk.

So you have a First Prize (the Joachim Prize), but even if the jury makes a controversial choice, there is still plenty of other opportunities for the semifinalists and finalists.

Yes! In fact, in our last edition, the top two violinist received the same amount of concert engagements.
I think when planning a competition like ours, we have to look at the big picture: what does the concert life for today’s violinists look like? Even for great soloists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter or Frank Peter Zimmermann, chamber music has become a big part of their career. They perform together with others at countless festivals. They also lead orchestras. Anne-Sophie Mutter founded her own orchestra now, which probably ten or twenty years ago she would not have done. I think our concert life has changed, and we are trying to react to that.

The 2024 Joseph Joachim Violin Competiton will take place in Hannover, Germany, from 16-28 September 2024. Application deadline is March 31, 2024.

©WFIMC 2024
Foto:©Giorgia Bertazzi