Participating in a music competition often means travelling half way across the world and discovering new cities, new food, new culture and languages. We asked a group of musicians to share some of the memories they made while far away from home because of a competition. 

Thomas Hutchinson, Dashon Burton, Dong Hwan Lee © Daniel Delang / Tatiana Daubek / Sonosu
Thomas Hutchinson, Dashon Burton, Dong Hwan Lee
© Daniel Delang / Tatiana Daubek / Sonosu

Oboist Thomas Hutchinson from New Zealand, and bass-baritone Dashon Burton from the USA, both travelled to Munich, Germany, to take part in the ARD International Music Competition, where they both won Second Prize in their respective categories.

Burton says: “Every time I am in Germany I am delighted by the appreciation for the arts, which is so encouraging. Everyone is expected to do their part in continuing a great tradition. The fact that most cities in Germany have opera houses and musical halls is definitely something to be greatly respected. My time in Munich opened a world of wonderful colleagues and glorious music on both sides of the pond.”

“The most striking difference to me whenever I travel to Europe is the sense of history,” says Hutchinson. “During my rehearsals in the Munich Musikhochschule, I played the Suite for Oboe and Piano by Pavel Haas, a Czech composer from a Jewish family who was a victim in the holocaust. Haas initially wrote this piece in protest of the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia after the Munich agreement, which was signed by Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in the very same building where the Musikhochschule is housed today.”

Baritone Dong-Hwan Lee travelled from South Korea to Norway for the Queen Sonja International Music Competition: “I am convinced that the Oslo Opera House is magnificent not only from the outside, but also from the inside, because of the stage and the acoustics. An amusing memory to me is the moment in which, overwhelmed with excitement for receiving First Place in the competition, I gave HM Queen Sonja a hug, while all the other competitors were preparing to receive their medal from her in a very solemn manner.”

Anna-Doris Capitelli, Meng Su, Ilya Rashkovskiy © Jo Titze / Sophie Zai / Ilya Rashkovskiy
Anna-Doris Capitelli, Meng Su, Ilya Rashkovskiy
© Jo Titze / Sophie Zai / Ilya Rashkovskiy

Italian-German mezzo-soprano Anna-Doris Capitelli travelled to Turkey for the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition, where she won Second Prize: “I enjoyed the variety of colours and people in Istanbul. Our neighbourhood was full of young people and had a colourful nightlife. Close to our flat was a big market, stretching along a few streets, selling fresh produce, fish, great sweets, and the sellers had such a passion for their products. It reminded me of my family in Italy. As a cat lover, it was also a highlight that cats are part of the everyday cityscape.”

Pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy travelled from Russia to Japan for the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, where he won First Prize: “So many things make the life of a travelling musician very comfortable and inspiring in Japan: the hospitality, the kindness of the people, the audience that really treats concerts as something sacred, and also their great knowledge about classical music. The concert halls are constructed to have the best possible acoustics, the pianos are always perfectly taken care of, the scenery is beautiful and the food is delicious.”

Guitarist Meng Su travelled from China to the US for the Parkening International Guitar Competition, where she won First Prize: “Everything was so fresh to me, the food, the Pepperdine campus, the California sunshine, the friendly atmosphere at the competition, meeting new friends from all over the world. The week I spent there left me with such a great impression of America and the American people that a few months later I moved to the US for my college studies.”

Ruibing Liu © Oliver Miche Photography | Menuhin Competition
Ruibing Liu
© Oliver Miche Photography | Menuhin Competition

Several international competitions place their participants with locally resident families, and this is something that always leaves a lasting impression on contestants.

13-year old violinist Ruibing Liu travelled from China to Switzerland to take part in the Menuhin Competition, where she won Third Prize: “The fountain on Lake Geneva is spectacular and can be even seen from the airplane, and the Alps can be seen from any corner of the street. I am particularly grateful to my host family, which was very friendly and full of love. We played music together, or played table tennis or on the trampoline. During the competition they came to watch and cheer for me at every round.”

Nobu, Kateryna Kasper, Ioana Cristina Goicea © Giorgia Bertazzi / Barbara Aumüller / Sheena Haywood
Nobu, Kateryna Kasper, Ioana Cristina Goicea
© Giorgia Bertazzi / Barbara Aumüller / Sheena Haywood

Pianist and composer Nobuyuki Tsujii (Nobu) travelled from Japan to Forth Worth, Texas, in the US, for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he won First Prize: “The one thing that has stayed with me about the Competition is just how warm and generous the host family was to me. Not only was the couple incredibly thoughtful in taking care of day-to-day matters for me, they made sure that I could focus on my piano practice whenever I wanted to, which I was very grateful for. I still think of them as my family in my second homeland.” 

The sentiment is shared by soprano Kateryna Kasper, who travelled from Ukraine to to Helsinki, Finland, for the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition, where she won First Prize: “My wonderful Finnish hostess was involved in the competition from the television side, so it was interesting to see the event from that side as well. I felt warmly supported by the people responsible for the whole organisation and by the audience. It was much easier for me in such a friendly atmosphere to prepare for the appearances at the competition and to go on stage with joy.”

Violinist Ioana Cristina Goicea travelled from Romania to Indianapolis, US, for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, where she won Fifth Prize: “My fantastic host familly became like my real family, and this connection will stay forever. The entire event was wonderfully organised, so hospitality is a great word to describe my first impression about Indianapolis. I also did a lot of sports during the competition, went with my host family to the fitness studio almost every day and this filled me with a lot of positive energy.”

Beatrice Rana, Glauce and Guido Sant'Anna, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas © Nicolas Bets / Glauce and Guido Sant'Anna / Javier Goicoechea
Beatrice Rana, Glauce and Guido Sant'Anna, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas
© Nicolas Bets / Glauce and Guido Sant'Anna / Javier Goicoechea

Pianist Beatrice Rana travelled from Italy to Forth Worth, Texas, in the US, for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where she won Second Prize and the Audience Award: “I will never forget the Forth Worth audience: it was an incredibly supportive public, more similar to the sports world rather than the typical classical music one. So much energy really helped a lot in such a nerve-wracking situation as a competition can be!”

12-years old violinist Guido Sant'Anna travelled from Brazil to Geneva, Switzerland, together with his mother Glauce Sant'Anna, to take part in the Menuhin Competition, where he won Sixth Prize: “We really loved Geneva, a beautiful, and organised city, with a special charm. The Swiss spring looks very much like our winter. Our host family was very kind and eager to help us. They even took us to the mountains where we saw snow for the first time.”

Guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas travelled from Spain to Malibu, US for the Parkening International Guitar Competition, where he won First Prize: “I still remember my sense of excitement as I caught sight for the very first time of the Pacific Ocean. Pepperdine University where the competition is hosted, has a truly breathtaking view of the vast ocean, which is a fantastic inspiration for music making accompanied by the warm, sunny weather. Today I return as a judge and I am excited to be a part of what I know will be a memorable experience for young talented competitors from all over the world.”

Matija Meić, Christina Jihee Nam, Risa Hokamura © Jazz Saletović / Helen Adams / Sho Yamada
Matija Meić, Christina Jihee Nam, Risa Hokamura
© Jazz Saletović / Helen Adams / Sho Yamada

Baritone Matija Meić travelled from Croatia to Finland, for the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition, where he won Second Prize: “Helsinki surprised me with a great climate in August, lots of fresh air, open spaces and very interesting architecture. The idea of accommodating contestants in private Finnish homes is a great one. It makes it easier for a contestant to budget, and it brings something authentic from the city and culture. My host and I had great conversations comparing and learning about the similarities and differences of our countries.”

15-years old violinist Christina Jihee Nam travelled from the US to Switzerland to take part in the Menuhin Competition. “I got to meet amazing and lifelong friends, the area was beautiful, and I learned so much about music. We had a lovely, welcoming host family and everything about Switzerland was so memorable. The most interesting part of Geneva was Jet d’Eau, a massive fountain where several of us competitors went to relax and enjoy the view. We would go paddle boating next to the fountain, we even walked on the stone bridge leading us right to the fountain itself, some of us going directly under the fountain getting drenched in water.”

Risa Hokamura travelled from Japan to the US for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, where she won Second Prize: “Food portions were really big in America, compared to Japan. I was really surprised that we could take home our leftovers. The people in Indianapolis were so kind and nice, and that really helped me during the competition. The town was so beautiful, immersed in nature, so I could go walking and relax.”

The Calidore String Quartet travelled from the USA to Munich, Germany for the ARD International Music Competition, where they won Third Prize: “The overwhelming public interest in a classical music competition was unlike anything we had experienced in the US. We were treated very warmly by the audience. We will never forget the German woman who would find us after each round to cheer us on with flowers, chocolates and notes, telling us how inspired she was by our performances.” 

Calidore String Quartet © Marco Borggreve
Calidore String Quartet
© Marco Borggreve

It's easy to see how music competitions enrich the lives of their participants not only from a musical point of view but also from a cultural and social one. And if you are thinking about entering one of the best music competitions in the world, you can find a treasure trove of information on our competitions finder page.