Rules for an Association of Clean Competitions

Rules for an Association of Clean Competitions


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2014

1 No judge shall have taught any student within the past two years.

2 Contestants must disclose all past teacher relationships.

3 Contestants must disclose any previous contact with any of the judges.

4 No more than four students shall be admitted of the same nationality.

5 No more than 60 percent of contestants shall be of the same sex.

6 A judge who recognises a contestant from a previous competition must withdraw from the round.

Any more?

paganini competition


  • James Lisney says:

    Various correspondents have suggested that a ‘cooling off’ period after a participant has worked with a jury member would provide for a fairer competition.
    For the life of me, I cannot see why this should be so. Can anyone explain?

  • Richard says:

    Nos. 4 & 5 are racist and sexist, while no. 6 is purely aberrant. “Any more”, indeed, we should ask from the author of this list.

    Does No. 3 also include accidental toilet meetups?

  • john says:

    After seeing the results in recent competitions, it is clear that if a contestant wants to go to a competition better make sure his/her teacher is on the jury. Otherwise is a complete waste of money and effort! However, if your teacher is the jury’s chairman rest assured you will get the first prize!

  • Ray Richardson says:

    2 Contestants must disclose all past teacher relationships.

    Not sure what this actually means. Why not simply “Contestants must disclose all past teachers”?

  • Alex says:

    I would actually be interested in a competition that would go even further than just the above rules. Certainly many have thought it but no one is prepared to say it out loud. New would be: a classical music competition where Asian contestants are not the large majority, but are excluded from the beginning. I know it’s racist and I am sorry, but to be honest I myself and many others I know just stopped caring about the constantly appearing, so called “discoveries” in classical performers. In the process they stopped being special individuals, role models, but instead are products mass – produced by the market. These artists eventually end up in some orchestra or vanish all together. This in my opinion plays an important role in the downward spiral of the classical music apreciation and music industry as a whole. No one can really make the difference anymore between “great” artists and “normal” artists. Moneymaking once again simply stands at the forefront of everything and the masses take over.

    • Andy Lim says:

      Alex, your suggestion sounds interesting!
      So instead of Norman´s nationality and gender limit proposition, complete races instead.
      Something like excluding black players in basketbal, track and field athletics. Asians in table tennis and Caucasians in wintersports??
      As a fact I do think the most interesting classical musicians are not Asian, but that does not mean that non-Asian means automatically non-boring! Especially today.

  • Andy Lim says:

    limiting contestants by nationality, gender is as unfair as preferences for gender and nationalities.
    Here in Germany, there are quite many jobs where officially “female and handicapped applicants” are announced to be treated more favorable and prefered at same qualifications! In music competitions, where the vast majority of contestants are female asians, does it mean that “male non-asians” should be treated favorably? In the US probably the skin colour of minorities in classical music could help if used politically to avoid any possible accusations of racism! Should Afro-American, Latin-American or Native-American contestants be favored? Think what a limitation would mean?
    Soon we will than seeing South Korean female musicians trying to get differnt passports to be able to enter competitions, like in the sport world it is happening already.
    To be realistic: do the audience really care how competition winners are chosen? I have the feeling that as long they look fysically good and are professionally presented attractively, the human collective audience pack just follow with their symphathy and support.

    • Andy Lim says:

      And in worst case- apart from nationality changes: don´t forget gender operations, if male musicians have bigger chances!

  • Farhan Malik says:

    One simple rule will solve many problems. All jury scores made public after each round of the competition. If the Olympics can do it then why not piano competition.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    It would be difficult and wrong to ban too many participants from one country or gender. But I would add that all players perform behind a screen. It’s impossible in the classical music world for someone not to be aware of a participant’s teachers. The contestants must remain anonymous throughout.

  • James Lisney says:

    Hi John!
    I can see the point of 2 (and ask the jury to comment on the same question); in my opinion, the remaining suggestions are either unpleasant or irrational.
    Can you explain why even a modified form of the first proposition makes sense?
    From my days in competitions, some time in the last century, it was obvious to many of us that the possible ‘ex-student’ benefits lasts for much longer than twelve months.
    Choosing from a wider range of musicians (rather than the narrow selection of current juries) will surely mitigate this problem.
    Am I missing something?
    Whatever our views on this particular issue, I am sure we can agree that this particular list needs considerably more thought before it will be of use to the world of music. Regards

  • Anon says:

    Restricting entries based on nationality or gender is unnecessarily discriminatory, and not far off restricting based on race or religion. None of these make a competition in any way “fairer”.
    And why should a judge who recognises a student from a different competition withdraw? You can expect that of the many top pianist on the jury for the Leeds, for example, several will be on juries of other competitions. And by the nature of the candidates, some will doubtless compete elsewhere. What’s wrong with that? (And what if there’s a competitor / juror who have met on a previous competition, but don’t recognise each other – would someone then point out that 12 years ago X judged Y in a preliminary round of 60 performers, and therefore the result of the current competition should be invalid)

    What’s needed isn’t rules; merely transparency. If a juror has students in the competition, they declare it; and the competitors likewise. That’s it.

  • Mikey says:

    I’ve so it before, I’ll say it again:

    1) blind jurors (behind a screen)
    2) alternate jurors swapping in and out after every other contestant allowing for the removal of judges with potential conflicts
    3) full disclosure of every judge after every round
    4) judges sequestered from performers AND from other judges

    there are myriad rules that would help make every competition truly fair, these are but a start.

    Music is subjective. There is no absolute “right” or “wrong” choice of winner, despite what some posters on Slipped Disk would have us believe.

  • composer says:

    I fully agree with 1, 2, 3, & 6. This is a massive problem with composition competitions, as well. I once considered entering a competition of which one of the judges was a previous teacher of mine, and upon enquiring about whether I would be permitted to enter/whether I should anonymise, I was told not to worry, and that I should trust the judges to be fair. I also know of many colleagues who openly and brazenly enter competitions where they know the judges…

    I would like to add:

    7 In pre-screening rounds where tapes/recordings are used, the competitors shall be anonymous.

    8 In composition competitions, all scores and recordings shall be anonymous (very few such competitions are anonymous at the moment, but I see no good reason why the judges need to know the name of the composer to judge the merit of a score and/or recording. The connections between judges and competitors are comparable to those in performing competitions. Not just teachers, but also judges who have previously commissioned or premiered a work by a competitor, e.g. this year’s RPS competition).

    9 Entry fees to all competitions shall not be unreasonably high, and any charges for board and accommodation shall be separate, optional, and not subsidised from the compulsory fees levied on the candidates (i.e. competitors must always have the option to find their own board and accommodation, should they wish, unless the competition is willing to provide it for free). This shall be without prejudice to any requirements imposed by competitions for candidates not to have telephone/internet access (as in the case of the QE in Brussels).

  • Martin Malmgren says:

    My experience so far says that, in cases where jury members know various young musicians, there are two types of jurors of music competitions in the world; those who tell you “I’m going to be a judge in this competition – consider entering” and those who avoid mentioning forthcoming jury jobs, and if it becomes apparent in one way or another will suggest you not to enter. I was once suggested to enter a competition (interestingly, one that came under the scrutiny of Slipped Disc sometime ago…) by a juror who liked my playing but had never formally taught me, telling me precisely this – “do you know about this competition? I’m going to be in the jury, you should consider it…”. Naturally, the small interest I might have had in that competition vanished with those words.

    My experience also says that even in cases where no jurors have theirs students in the competition, it’s perfectly possible to have fixed results. Behind the scenes, you never completely know who is ‘exchanging favors’ with whom, who has been in touch with whom in advance, and so on. It’s not a grey area – it is for 95% of the time pitch black. The rules offered here will not solve any of that, and besides, nr 4 – 6 are pure nonsense.

  • Felix Ang says:

    Yeah, in Norm’s world we should accept to “distribute the talent.” Imagine how uninteresting the world of music would be if these rules applied to concert subscriptions, or faculties! Norm, the tides have shifted and you should get used to it.

  • Again, I call on Mr. Lebrecht to conduct his own competition and show the world how things should be done.

  • Joshua says:

    Fair point, but this is actually VERY complicated. “Teacher relationships” is a better term, but should be specified even further.
    Many up-and-comers do travel to other cities to just take one or more lessons with a great teacher there. But they would not list this teacher as one of their major teachers. Say a students takes 3 lessons with Professor X in Berlin. Was Professor X their teacher?

    I think each juror’s exact votes should be recorded, and then presented on the competition’s website forever. If something is questionable, then at least it will be transparent and the juror can be embarrassed.

    • Andy Lim says:

      People do take just 3 lessons with many different teachers to increase their chances at auditions/competitions etc. Same with masterclasses before competitions. The students know. The teachers know.

  • Peter Chun says:

    Mr. Lebrecht…

    You are WAY out of line… Racism, misogynistic, fascistic, unrealistic. You have created many controversy before—and you’re good at it. You’re not winning any friends w/ this one, at least not ones you’d want to keep.

    • Alex says:

      I don’t agree that the issue Mr. Lebrecht brings up in this discussion is out of line at all. Rather an important topic with serious consequences for many people. Unrealistic it may be in the US but in Europe, politically there would be place for such competitions and I am sure they would become a birthplace for many musical personalities that would last and develop over the next 30 years unlike the flood of Asian musicians/winners today.

  • Milka says:

    Simple resolution -No competitor
    will be given a cash prize ..
    only a gold edged certificate stating
    that the player was on this occasion
    excellent enough to be awarded a
    certificate . The requirements to
    be given a winning certificate will be to give two full recitals, all works to be
    chosen by entrant -the voting for
    each recital will be by audience ballot
    box count . The highest number of
    ballots wins and winner is given two recital dates in which they take all box office receipts and a reference to a booking agent who may or may not take them on . This should eliminate
    many pointless competitions and leave us with players who want to present themselves as musicians
    and not circus concerto players .
    Any takers ….. fat chance ………

  • Nikolay Grabovskiy says:

    If you want to make a fair competition then the only one thing is important – the best musicians enter the competition, the best musicians pass every round, the best musicians win prizes. The sex and nationality of a contestant shouldn´t matter. If in the final of the competition will happen that there are only Korean girls it is absolutely OK if they were really the best.