Some more questions about the Indy ‘winner’

Some more questions about the Indy ‘winner’


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2014

A Slipped Disc reader points out:
Supporters of this year’s Indianapolis Competition’s results are using Ms. Cho’s previous wins at Montreal and Buenos Aires to support and prove the integrity of the Indianapolis Jury. However, looking back on her previous wins, there is a clear trend.

2006 Montreal competition – 1st prize Jinjoo Cho.  On the jury was Paul Kantor, her teacher from 2001-2012

2010 Buenos Aires competition – 1st prize Jinjoo Cho.  On the jury was David Cerone, president of Cleveland Institute of Music 1985-2008, where Ms Cho graduated.

No reflection on ms Cho or her abilities, rather on a system that is compromised almost beyond redemption.

The more we learn about these competitions, the more they reek of nepotism, protectionism and potential corruption.


We have also received the following letter from the eminent virtuoso and teacher, Aaron Rosand:<

Dear Norman,Thanks for always printing the truth.  It’s a pity that the Indianapolis Competition was marred in the earlier rounds. All of the finalists performed admirably.  The Korngold and Walton Concertos performed by the top 2 prizewinners were exceptional and certainly worthy of winning.I will continue my battle to “clean up” international competitions and establish a rule that jurors cannot have a student past or present participate except being on the panel.  This system works well in the law courts and I cannot see why the same rule cannot be applied to competitions.

Please do continue your enlightening reporting that I have followed for many years.

Warmest Regards,
Aaron Rosand



  • We know these contests are rigged, but are you suggesting that she be stripped of her prize? If so, why stop with her? The whole competition system is corrupt. Why focus on this young gal?

  • Martin Malmgren says:

    For christs sake, she also won the audience prize in the Montreal competition back in 2006, so should we assume that there was bribery involved in winning them over, considering this ‘clear trend’ pointed out here? Moreover, the jury at that competition consisted of:

    Zakhar Bron (Germany)
    Andrew Dawes (Canada)
    Michael Frischenschlager (Austria)
    Paul Kantor (United States)
    Igor Oistrakh (Russia/Belgium)
    Gérard Poulet (France)
    Lucie Robert (Canada)
    Yuli Turovsky (Canada)
    Arie Van Lysebeth (Belgium)
    André Bourbeau (Canada) President of the jury

    Even IF indeed Paul Kantor was allowed to vote for his own student (which is not even confirmed or elaborated on above) then we need to prove that the rest of the jury had no integrity whatsoever and was swayed in Kantor’s direction.

    Again, until anyone elaborates further and adds facts rather than contributing with mere speculations, these postings aren’t proving anything.

  • Anon says:

    I’m not sure this advances the cause. If there is intended to be “No reflection on ms Cho or her abilities”, why put ‘winner’ in inverted commas in the headline?
    And the idea that having someone on the jury who was the head of a large institution where she once studied is indicative of anything is clutching at straws. I mean, so the head of the Royal Academy of Music in London or any other leading musician at a leading musical institution shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the jury of any competition with past or current students of that place? Daft!

  • Joe says:

    While I certainly can see how nepotistic the Indy Competition looks in comparison to the standards of, say, our legal system, I cannot rouse myself into outrage as readily as Mr. Lebrecht and others commenting here. These competitions do not seem any more corrupt to me than numerous other institutions that are arguably more important to building a future generation of classical musicians – the only difference is that we see the performances online, the results are worldwide news, and the names of the jury members are known to the public.

    For example, take a look at admissions to music festivals and admissions to music schools (and scholarships to both). Both are supposedly based on objective auditions, yet you find that there are strong student/teacher connections which, on the surface at least, appear to be blatantly affecting the outcomes of these admissions processes. Go through the rosters of any music festival with a teaching/training component, look at where the faculty teach during the school year, find out where the young artists, students and fellows are going to school, and I think you’ll see my point.

    I’m a 20-something year-old musician who has taken dozens of such auditions, and I think some of you would be quite surprised at the number of festivals my peers and I would refuse to even audition for because we think slots are reserved for the students of teachers that have a say in the selection process. Unlike IVCI, these auditions are not public and the composition of the admissions committees are usually secret. Comments and feedback from these auditions are shockingly infrequent – they just take the student’s $75-125 (or however expensive application fees are nowadays) and send them an email in a month saying “sorry we can’t take you, try again next year!”

    Let me make it clear that I don’t think this is any concrete proof of corruption. Since I have plenty to work on in my own playing, I avoid wasting my time whining about my rejections and instead aim for self-improvement. My point is that competitions, from my perspective, don’t seem any more corrupt than any other processes that claim to rank or select young musicians objectively.

  • Bernhard Kerres says:

    Thanks for a good discussion which Julian Rachlin also mentioned in one of the HELLO STAGE online hangouts.

    Why are all the jurors actually teachers, professors and from music academies? I am sure that they are really good in teaching and educating young musicians. But wouldn’t it be much better if a jury includes more artistic directors, orchestra directors, conductors, artist managers etc.? They – mostly – will not be biased against their own students. And they understand the future career perspectives probably much better.

    • Fabio Luisi says:

      Dear Mr. Kerres, that’s what I am doing at the Paganini Competition ( in March 2015. No famous violinists or big teachers, but agents, journalists, orchestra managers, conductors, a former winner of the competition and a concertmaster of an important orchestra.

      • Martin Malmgren says:

        Fabio, it’s a reasonable and admirable approach, though not un-problematical. Such a jury will indeed listen with ears attuned to different things than a violinist-only jury, but they may also lack a certain expertise that some would argue is desirable. It should be mentioned that some very eminent musicians have come out saying that they would never judge such a competition due to lack of such expertise (there was an interview with Sergei Babayan, teacher of Daniil Trifonov, for instance, who said precisely this). Having participated in one multi-instrumental competition with conductors/singers/instrumentalists/managers on the jury, I can say that though the result turned out very favorably for me, and though the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, I felt that the overall focus of the jurors was musicianship and not instrumental abilities. This is not meant as a negative comment – I’m just noting the difference. Let’s put it this way: I have been to piano competitions where the feedback sessions afterwards (no matter whether things went well or not) were helpful and where I perhaps learned something useful regarding my abilities (or lack thereof) as a pianist and as a musician, something I could use as a reference point in the future and learn from. In the case of the multi-instrumental competition, however…though I had a very positive experience of the event as such, I cannot say that I received much feedback that I could have use of in the future. Naturally, it all depends on who is in the jury, but I think it might a consistent trend, if you compare competitions where the jurors are all playing your instrument with competitions with a completely mixed set of jurors.

        I would also like to add that this basic lack of knowledge of the craftsmanship behind playing any given instrument/conducting/singing may give rather unexpected resuts. The Malko Competition in 2009 invited managers/agents/etc to the jury and the competition was won by a young fellow from a well-known musical family, but who – let’s admit it – was a novice when it came to conducting, at the time of the competition. Many worthy candidates, and indeed much more experienced conductors, were out of the competition early on.

  • Milka says:

    I don’t believe anyone wants to take
    away her prize.. she won ..that’s it .
    The way the game is played is
    raising eyebrows …all the competitors
    bought into how this game is played
    and took ..their chances.. a thought one can entertain concerning Ms. Cho
    is that perhaps she needs a good teacher ,there certainly is potential .
    The Montreal competition means zilch
    the list of jurors even less , they are
    all from the same cookie cutter school
    of violin fingers scurrying about the finger board like demented mice and if you play to suit their narrow outlook
    you win..simple,as that ….

  • Felix Ang says:

    Norm, you’re putting all your energy on the participants/winners. They don’t get to choose to win. Why don’t you pick on the jury directly? (Not that I think that’s necessary…but you’re conspiracy theories are really getting slimy. What did any of the winners do wrong?) #normisnotexceptional

    • Martin Malmgren says:

      Feliz, glad you’re pointing this out – indeed, the majority of Norman’s postings seem to have featured pictures of the winners (of both the Chopin competition and this violin competition) rather than the supposedly ‘evil jurors’. One cannot help but wonder why.

  • Christophe Huss says:

    Fun story, about reference to Montreal. Indeed, following the rules, here, Kantor was not allowed to vote (and has certainly not influenced anybody of that list). But the fuzz and the push at this 2006 competition was very heavily and quite openly done by other jury members (Mr. I. Oistrakh) for another contestant, Mayuko Kamio.
    It did not work at all, because Montreal Competition is quite well organized to avoid those manipulations from former times. Kamio did not win, and both her and Oistrakh (and Bron, if my memory is good) went abruptly away between the results and the gala.

    You may notice that the year after Kamio succeeded in winning the Tchaïkovski.

    This does not hide the fact that Jinjoo Cho proved to be one of the 2 or 3 uninteresting winners in 12 years competition history in Montreal, which revealed before all the others Beatrice Rana, Nareh Arghamanian, Yossif Ivanov, Measha Brugergosman, Joseph Kaiser, Philippe Sly, Marianne Fiset, David Fray…
    But for sure Jinjoo Cho was (and apparently still is) very well trained to win competitions. The most interesting musician in 2006 competition was Corinne Chapelle.

  • anon says:

    And was Sergei Babayan not on the selection jury for Tchaikovsky 2011? Do you want to start complaining about insiderism there?

  • Nadia Slayden says:

    The outrage goes beyond who Jinjoo studied with. The issue is that she was sub par in this competition and is so far below the level of the prior three winners of this competition, and that is not due to a low level of competitors this time around.

    Jinjoo was not even in the top 6 players in terms of technical accuracy. She had intonation problems throughout her first two rounds most notably in one of her caprices where almost every pitched was off center yet somehow she was awarded a paganini prize. I guess it would have looked bad if the winner hardly got any special prizes She had ensemble issues with piano, and then throw in a subsantial memory slip in the mozart concerto and it is beyond me how she could still hold the top spot with the level of a few other players.

    Her Korngold showed well but this work also required the least amount of maturity out of any of the other concerti in the finals. I could easily pick 7 players in this competition more worthy of that prize.

  • Martin Malmgren says:

    And of course, let’s not forget one thing – we can eliminate teacher/student-relations if we avoid inviting say, eminent violin teachers to a violin competition. But who said that competitors have no connection whatsoever with conductors? Agents? Managers?

    If we want a competition to be 100% clean, let’s face it: we might have to import the jury from another planet.

    • Martin Malmgren says:

      That was meant as a continuation to my response to Fabio, see above.

    • Max Grimm says:

      Martin, add to that the danger that with a jury composed of agents, journalists, managers, conductors, etc. there might be a risk that not the “best musician” gets selected but the “most marketable musician”.
      As for a method of jury staffing, what about a jury consisting of a musician from leading international orchestras (obviously not all from the same orchestra/country)?

  • Nick says:

    Norm has lost his tact. To me, he seems to be trying to ruin the careers of the winners. Is that really fair?

  • Realist says:

    Dear All,

    The only way to know for sure what is going on and achieve full transparency, no matter who is seating on the Jury, is to have the score cards of the Jury made public in a big screen immediately after they issue the vote. Next to each score there will be the name of the Juror, JUST LIKE IN ANY OTHER SPORT!

    The audience then can now the scores of each Jury, the average score, and know who is at the top, if there is a tie, etc.

    THIS IS THE ONLY WAY! Period. The rest is history! Let’s vouch for full transparency and we will know if a judge is giving a lower score to a player on purpose while another judge is giving the same player a perfect score!!!!!

    Imagine going to any match, or game, where there is a Gold, Medal, and Silver prize, and not have any clue who is winning until the final results…..

  • Naomi says:

    I find it hard to imagine that someone as knowledgeable in the workings of the classical music world as Mr. Lebrecht is would fail to understand that within such a small community of teachers and students it is inevitable that jurors and competitors will have known each other. Therefore, the only conclusion is that something else must be driving this incoherent stream of name calling and blaming. Is it a personal vendetta, unabashed racism, boredom, or simply a burning desire to appear as a courageous journalist charging at windmills? Take your pick. Either way, Mr. Lebrecht, keep your conspiracy theories to yourself and let us focus on the music.

  • Larry Wheeler says:

    It is indeed unfortunate that this otherwise valuable “inside track on classical music” has instead become the forum for spurious attacks on the very business it seeks to promote. For anyone to believe that a panel of top teachers can or will be persuaded against their own convictions is to believe nonsense. It is in the interest of any judge of any competition to ensure the future of their art by selecting, by consensus, the most qualified candidates. Those who profess to be seeking truth and justice in competitions need to step back and consider of whom they speak. Two names currently mentioned are Paul Kantor and David Cerone. It would be difficult to find two teachers with more honesty and integrity, not to mention success, and more qualified judges would be impossible to find. Jealousy takes many forms. The cheap shot is among the worst, as it defies response. Many here should be ashamed.

  • Realist says:

    Dear Matt, and All,

    It is true that one thing is to point out that there might be a relationship between the judges choice and the fact the 5 out of 6 finalist are students of the judges……. I mean of course they perform well, all competitors were good violinist, I think is fair to ask for someone to look into this. However, going as far as drawing a DEFINITE conclusion of corruption WITHOUT the proof is also stretching it.

    As they say, the proof is in the pudding, in this case the pudding is in the score cards and those are as secret as whatever is inside AREA 51.

    At the same time, the logic that because someone is a famous teacher/performer somehow protects from any speculation of fraud behavior is flaw. …..Just listen, I am not saying there was fraud, all I am saying is that someone’s status in a certain profession does not mean that they might not commit fraud…..Do you follow?

    When Fraud is discovered in any field, is it usually the people that are at the top and with the least amount of suspicion that surface. If that would happen in the IVC or nay other competition then it would be heartbreaking and I do hope with all my heart that is not the case.

    Score Card Transparency is THE ONLY WAY in all competitions, does not matter who is on the Jury…

  • Fidelio says:

    Nadia Slayden’s posting above is right on the money. I’m glad someone else is also turning the topic of conversation to Jinjoo’s subpar playing level. Her intonation, is absolutely abominable. I watched her performances of the Paganini Caprices, Waxman Carmen Fantasy, Mozart (with the huge memory slip) and Korngold. There’s lots of technical problems everywhere.

    I know Laurie Niles on just posted a blog supporting the playing level, corrupt judging, questioning Norman Lebrecht’s journalistic integrity and painting Aaron Rosand in a negative light: It is important to point out for transparency, her website has been sponsored by the IVCI and is one of the (few) ‘media’ outlets on the Internet that covers the competition.

    Frankly the woman does not know anything about the violin or music. One can easily come to that conclusion after viewing this video of her playing Saint-Saens, and as the Greek philosopher Plato once suggested, not all opinions are of equal merit and value:

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I don’t see that she impugns my integrity, but her post is so tedious I may have nodded off before that bit. It does appear, however, that Laurie has been sponsored by a discredited tournament and reflects its tenuous grasp on reality. In the cause of her own integrity, she should have declared an interest.

    • Joe says:

      Please post a live recording of you playing the Saint-Saens; I need to determine the merit and value of your opinion. Thanks in advance!

      • Nancy Lessner says:

        Unfortunately it is not just that Laurie Nilles cannot play the violin. She has a pretty dismal music education and her professional experience tops out at performing with community orchestras.

        It is hard to believe she has the ear to accurately assess the fine players in these competitions.

        After all her review of Ji Young Lim’s Brahms concerto was entirely about her “bow planes”. Anyone who’s attention goes to this in a well played Brahms concerto probably should keep their opinions about music to themselves. is a GREAT resource but this is hardly the woman who should be writing reviews.

        • xxx says:

          Fidelio, yes, please post your own recordings so we can make a fair assessment. What you said abt LN was a low blow and has no logic to it.

          Nancy lessner, community orchestra and a dismal music education? Please check your facts. And that’s just not a nice thing to say. Why be so cruel and unbalanced? Your criticism about her review is inadequate; why focus on such a petty detail?

  • Gabriel (Gabe) Acyst says:

    For the 2018 Indy competition they should have a panel of men who like big butts, for they cannot lie.

  • Joshua says:

    You took that way too far. She is a very fine violinist. There was nothing “sub par” about her playing.
    Perhaps there were more compelling musicians in the competition. Actually, yes, there were.
    Miss Cho has a certain formula for competitions which comes from having participated in many other contests. She is that safe player that wins when other musicians polarize the jury. I wouldn’t put her in the same class with Mr. Hadelich, the previous winner, but she is still an excellent, world-class violinist.
    But you know what? Miss Cho won the Gold Medal at the Indy Violin Competition and nothing you say can ever take that away from her.

    I would be curious to hear your opinion about the Leventritt Competition in which Chung and Zukerman shared the first prize.

  • Emily E Hogstad says:

    If we’re going to shame “winner” Jinjoo Cho, let’s also retroactively shame “winner” Augustin Hadelich, since his teacher was Joel Smirnoff, and Joel Smirnoff was on the jury that awarded Augustin the gold.

    The shocking smoking gun here:

  • Nadia Slayden says:

    Of course she is a fine violinist as are all of the competitors. Fine is very subjective though and she is not fine enough to be the 1st place winner of such a prestigious competition. Competitions on this level are designed so that the winner can launch a major solo career. Jinjoo neither has the chops nor the musical sophistication to meet the level of what is expected of the solo concert violinists on the circuit today.

    In general yes she plays very well, but in a competition of this calibur the frequency of her imperfections is unforgivable. Yes it is a high stress situation but these various rounds are designed to find those who can hold up to the rigorous demands of juggling repertoire at the highest level that top soloists do on a regular basis. The frequency of her intonation problems and memory problems raises red flags. (She also suffered a major memory slip in her final round of the montreal competition, but obviously I would not expect this to factor into any decision at indy)

    I also find her musicianship to be rather tacky and uninformed but that is just my opinion. While I respect that the judges should really only be judging what they hear at this competition it is a little bit troublesome that a player who has been on the competition circuit for nearly a decade suddenly is “good enough” for this type of solo career that indy is designed to launch. Her playing has not changed that much, but her luck has.