Why we tolerate competitions, knowing they are fixed

Why we tolerate competitions, knowing they are fixed


norman lebrecht

July 27, 2014

Julian Lloyd Webber has earned himself a few headlines, declaring that ‘most’ music contests are corrupt.

He brings no new evidence, citing only the Tchaikovsky competition in the Soviet and post-Soviet years which was widely known to be fixed.

Slipped Disc has, from time to time, exposed corruption at competitions. We praised the last Tchaikovsky contest, as it happens, for its admirable transparency and for the calibre of its winners.

The troubling question is: why does anyone take competitions seriously? Most of these events are, as Julian says, rigged by teachers and other special-interest jury members. They are a breeding-ground for cynicism and bad ethics.

The reason die their persistence is, we think, quite simple. The whole world knows that the International Olympics Committee and Fifa are two of the most corrupt organisations on earth, a self-perpetuating pair of conspiracies of time-servers and bribe-takers. So why are they not abolished?

Because every four years they put on a brilliant show – the Olympics and the World Cup – a pair of shows the world and its media cannot do without. So we turn a blind eye to blue murder in the interest of passive pleasure.

That is not – quite obviously – the case with music competitions, which are often duller than betting on flies crawling up a window. But every now and then one of them produces a Trifonov or a Giltburg and the moral outrage is set aside.


We wish Julian’s outcry would make a difference but, given the lack of concrete evidence and the general indifference, it won’t.

UPDATE: Here’s another reason why it won’t.



  • baron z says:

    The corruption of competitions begins well before the competition itself. It begins with the selection of repertoire, then with the pre-selection of competitors by the competition staff or directorship. The jury is on the receiving end of that. Harp competitions, for example, tend to have outright favoritism to “traditional” “French”-schooled players, with repertoire heavily tilted to what they study and deliberately omitting what others study. One such competition is heavily larded with students who have studied with the director or who want to attend his school. Many of the competitors are nowehere near the necessary level of playing, thus narrowing the field considerably for a select group who are up to the desired level. Furthermore, by limiting or not allowing the competitors to choose their own repertoire, they are unable to display their true temperament or artistry. The best competitive player may be completely unable to program a coherent or interesting recital program. Frankly, I think competitions should be banned and turned into festivals or concert series.

  • Sergei says:

    “Competitions are for horses, not for musicians” (Bartok)

    • ruben greenberg says:

      I’m not sure competitions are for horses either. I don’t believe this is a fair thing to inflict on a horse.

  • Wladek says:

    Just look at the latest Wieniawski violin
    and tell me it ain’t suspicious ……..

  • Michael Endres says:

    The competitions I won or received prizes have been fair and transparent, with very knowledgeable juries .
    But the ones I had to leave empty handed were clearly corrupt ,rigged and run by an evil mafia.

  • ruben greenberg says:

    I’m not sure competitions are for horses either. I don’t believe this is a fair thing to inflict on a horse.