This month on Bachtrack, we’re focusing on international music competitions and their impact on the classical music scene. Here, we round up nine major competitions from across the world and highlight what makes them stand out from the rest. 

Concours musical international de Montréal

Since its first edition in 2002, the Montreal International Music Competition has done much to not only offer young musicians a springboard for their future careers, but also to promote classical music more generally. The brainchild of the operatic bass Joseph Rouleau and politician André Bourbeau, its concert rounds with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal are attended by up to 6,000 people each year. In addition to the traditional concerts and rounds one would expect from a music competition, it also reaches out a hand to the public: past events have included violin lessons being given in the street, and a grand piano being placed at the Place des Arts, with an accompanying piano teacher on hand to give training to the general public. The contest itself addresses voice, violin and piano categories over a rotating three-year cycle, with competitors offered masterclasses over the course of the event. The next edition of the competition, focusing on voice, takes place from May 27th to June 7th, 2018.   

Hamamatsu International Piano Competition

Inaugurated in 1991 to celebrate 80 years since the founding of the Japanese coastal town in which it is based, the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition is held every three years. Though it is by nature a competitive event, its stated aim is also to build cultural bridges across the world, as is evidenced by the international success of a notable laureate from its first edition: the Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan. Held in the Act City Hamamatsu Main Hall and Concert Hall, the competition culminates in a prize winners’ concert at the end of the month. For those who claim the top prize, the resulting career opportunities are substantial, with the competition promising at least ten concert engagements in Japan and elsewhere, including solo recitals and performances with acclaimed orchestras. The next edition of the competition takes place in November 2018.

George Enescu Festival Competition

The George Enescu Festival is the largest international cultural event in Romania, and as such its accompanying music competition is an opportunity for young musicians to reach a great number of industry contacts and future fans. The festival began in 1958 as a means of promoting the work of Romania’s best-loved composer, and consequently his work features in the repertoire for competition soloists. The contest rates soloists in violin, cello and piano categories, but there is also a section for composition, for which scores of symphonic and chamber music can be submitted. As well as monetary prizes, competition winners also have the chance to perform at future editions of the Enescu Festival and Competition, as well as in concert halls in Romania and further afield. The next edition of the competition takes place in September 2018.

Menuhin Competition

When Yehudi Menuhin, violin giant of the 20th century, started his music contest in the sleepy English coastal town of Folkestone, many may not have guessed at the prestigious international event that it would become. Dubbed in some quarters as the “Olympics of the violin”, it is held every two years in a different city across the globe. Indeed, recent editions have pushed young violinists to their limits as far afield as Oslo (2010), Beijing (2012) and Austin (2014). The contest is only open to musicians under the age of 22, who in addition to traditional repertoire must master contemporary pieces commissioned especially for the event. When Menuhin died in 1999, pianist Gordon Back (who had accompanied soloists from the earliest days of the competition) became artistic director, adding masterclasses and education events to the competition’s programme. Laureates such as Tasmin Little and Julia Fischer have certainly benefited from the prestige that a win at the competition entails, and now prizewinners are offered a host of concert engagements, masterclasses and courses in addition to the traditional cash prizes. The next instalment of the competition takes place in Geneva in April 2018.

ARD International Music Competition

The ARD Music Competition, held annually in Munich, could be seen as one of the more august contests on the international scene, having been founded in 1952. Over the years it has developed into the largest international classical music competition in Germany, with around 200 participants from up to 40 countries regularly making it past the preliminary rounds. Run by the broadcasting company Bayerischer Rundfunk, the competition categories revolve each year, focusing alternatively on solo instrumentalists, chamber ensembles and voice. The 2001 edition saw something of a shake-up for the ARD. That year, the competition began commissioning new works for the performers’ repertoire, and also began organising an annual chamber music festival for the prizewinners and runners-up. The stature of past ARD laureates speaks to the potential a win at the competition really could offer: Dame Mitsuko Uchida and the celebrated pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach both took home prizes in their early careers.

Eva Marton Singing Competition

When the Hungarian soprano Éva Marton was a student at the Liszt Academy in her hometown of Budapest, she longed to be able to instil in other young singers a sense of confidence and purpose – from as early as possible in their careers. In 2014 that ambition became a reality with the first edition of the Éva Marton Singing Competition, run every two years by the Liszt Academy with the aim of providing a platform for budding opera stars. Open to singers in two categories – 18 to 32-year-old female and 18 to 35-year-old male – competitors who make it through to the live rounds must test their mettle with seven arias as well as a song by the Academy’s namesake over the course of the competition. There is of course a substantial cash prize for the top-performing participants, but concert opportunities and academy scholarships are also up for grabs. “We must give them wings so they can cope in life as swiftly as possible,” says Marton of her sense of responsibility toward young singers. The next edition of the festival takes place in September 2018.

Neue Stimmen International Singing Competition

Young singers who are serious about turning their talent into a livelihood will be heartened by the Neue Stimmen International Singing Competition’s no-nonsense tagline: “Creating Careers”. And it would appear that it’s a pretty accurate motto: notable past participants include the French contralto-turned-conductor Nathalie Stutzmann and the German bass René Pape. Started by Liz Moh in 1987, the competition offers participants the chance to win much more than prize money, with workshops and training sessions dedicated not only to many aspects of music performance, but also career planning, self-promotion and even interview training: the administrative issues that can make all the difference when building a career in music.

Leyla Gencer Voice Competition

Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer earned the moniker “La diva turca” due to her long tenure at La Scala as well as the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, where she was a forthright exponent of teaching through workshops and tutoring. Yet she was also committed to promoting new musical talent closer to home. In 1995 she founded the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition, which is held every three years in Istanbul and which is known to be a useful platform for aspiring opera stars, with names such as Georgia’s Anita Rachvelishvili and South Africa’s Pretty Yende filling the list of past winners. Gencer took a hands-on approach to the competition right up to her death in 2008, personally supervising the first four editions and later acting as President of the Board of Trustees for the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (IKSV), the organisation which now oversees the contest along with the Accademia Teatro alla Scala. As well as cash prizes, the competition offers winners a three-month scholarship to the academy, the chance to perform with the Polish National Opera and a concert at the Istanbul Music Festival. The next edition of the competition takes place in September 2018. 

Carl Nielsen International Competitions

Held every four years in Odense, Denmark (bar a special 1999 edition in New York City) no one else but Carl Nielsen could be be namesake for this international competition. The event was brought about by the Polish conductor Karol Stryja and the Danish violinist Peder Elbæk, who was concertmaster of the Odense Symphony Orchestra, with its first iteration being a violin competition of 1980. Since then the orchestra has continued to be the driving force behind the contest, providing not only funding but also accompanying soloists during the competition rounds and finals. Further editions of the festival saw the competition opened up to the clarinet (1997) and the flute (1998). Details of the 2018 edition of the contest are to be announced.