A competition for conductors to avoidmain
I’ve received a report from a disappointed contestant at the Bucharest Conducting Competition – not the usual loser’s whinge, but a detailed account of how bright, young talent is all too often abused at these closeted, corruptible events. The shining example of this year’s transparent Tchaikovsky Competition restored credibility to the sector, but there are still a lot of shabby events like the one below. Young conductors, beware.
The author, by the way, is a gifted and enterprising young maestro. I would welcome any comments the organising festival has to make in response.
The mastercourse and competition took place in Bucharest. The website is www.bucharestfestival.com. It was organized by a lady called Raluca Chifane and the course was given by Wolfgang Doerner, who was also the president of the competition’s jury.
Judging from the website, both the master course and competition looked ok. A master course of one week with a chamber orchestra and with the radio orchestra.
It claimed to have the support of the Romanian president and the teacher seemed ok (though I couldn’t find anything of him on youtube). Prior to the course I received a schedule that indicated conducting lessons almost daily. Arriving there I realized that for one week we were about 60 (!!) conductors for both the master course and competition. On the first day we were told that each one of us would get 30 minutes with the chamber orchestra and 30 minutes with the radio orchestra. This for €850 !!
Plus we had to pay our own travel costs and lodging. So, I went to Bucharest for 9 days to conduct a total of 60 minutes. When the lessons started, I came to the conclusion that the teacher was not particularly capable. Perhaps others may disagree but all the opinions from fellow colleagues that I could get were the same: “The teacher does not say much, when he says something it is not very clear neither very useful, but most of the time he simply does not say anything”. There was even one conductor who told him “maestro, I want to know your opinion” but the maestro did not give an opinion! Frustrated, the student decided better to leave the podium though his time was not over!
After a few rounds of the competition I discovered that in the third round there were only a couple of conductors who were not students of the Jury’s president!! And the Jury’s president was of course, the same maestro of the master class. Having drinks with fellow conductors more details came out. Everybody was allowed to enter the master class (upon €850 payment of course) but only 36 conductors were supposed to be allowed into the competition (upon a €150 fee). At the end, there were all 60 conductors allowed in the competition, why??: Turns out that some of our colleagues who wanted to join exclusively the competition (at €150) were told by the Director of the festival: “Your chances of getting allowed into the competition are much bigger if you also join (and pay) for the master course”… Unbelievable.
By then it was Wednesday. I was then informed that my 30 minutes with the radio orchestra would be until next Monday… 4 long days in Bucharest, 35 degrees celsius. Trying to make the best of it, I prepare for my 30 minutes and I show up then, only to find an overworked and exhausted orchestra that has been playing 7 full days with 59 different conductors. Of course, at that point not even Gergiev’s conducting would have made them react.
There I am, ready to start conducting Brahms first Hungarian dance. After a few bars communication was not really happening so I decide to stop and say the following: “You know this music very well and I only have 30 minutes so let’s try to make music, no talking. But first I would like to have a couple of bars of accompaniment, no melody so we can get the rhythm right” Immediately the maestro jumped to me to say “ You have to understand the psychology of the orchestra! Right now they are very tired and working out a separate section is not a good idea” (!!!???) I thought: “So I pay €850 for 60 minutes of something you could not call a lesson, and on top of that, I am not allowed to work out things because the orchestra is very tired!? So I actually paid €850 to play stupid standing on a podium!!”
The cherry on the cake… The first prize of the competition was supposed to be to conduct the final concert of the festival. The second prize €1500 and the third €1000. It was a bit confusing to learn later that the final concert was going to be the finals of the competition, with all four finalists. I guessed the first price would then be a later engagement… I asked around in the radio house to find out that there was no such engagement, they were not planning to invite any of the finalists… Mhhh???
What happened in the finals?? There was no first prize awarded. Instead of giving one second prize and one third price they decided to split the second prize in three finalists. These poor guys who endured a rather humiliating and dishonest situation, ended up “winning” €500 each. Smart solution that saves the “organization” the €1000 that they would have to give as a third prize. So, as you can imagine, it was the conducting master course from hell.
I was extremely angry and I think other young conductors should be warned. It is terrible to abuse young people for which €1000 plus travel and lodging costs represent a big financial effort. I really cannot understand how can someone be so immoral to take advantage of a young musician’s enthusiasm and will to learn. It made me really sad. Talking to many of my fellow colleagues (some of them coming from USA, Japan, Korea) I realized I was not by far the only one sad.