A violin competition is corrupted

The Wieniawski Lipinski Violin Competition took place last week in Lublin. President of the jury was Zakhar Bron.

This ought to ring two sets of alarm bells. The competition has been previously suspended from the World Federation of Music Competitions and the prolific Zakhar Bron – teacher of Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin and others – is notorious for rigging juries to ensure the top prizes go to his students.

In Lublin, two students of Zakhar Bron, Elea Nick & Issel Ines, took joint first prize in the junior section. Two others came second and fifth. In the senior group, first prize of course went once again to Bron students, Elli Choi and Eva Rabchevska. Third prize went to a student of Bron’s assistant and fellow jury member, Akiko Tatsumi. (The results have not yet been reported in Polish media, or online.)

zakhar bron

Earlier this year, prizes at a Zakhar Bron competition were awarded exclusively to his students. Pay Bron for lessons, get an international award. When will the music world put a stop to such farces?

Please note: the Lublin competition is not to be confused with the Wieniawski competition in Poznan, which takes place next year, with Vengerov as chairman.

 

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  • It’s worth bearing in mind that Bron is an outstanding and extremely hard-working pedagogue. He works relentlessly long hours teaching scores of students all over Europe.

    In other recent competitions where his students have won most of the prizes, videos of all of the rounds have been posted online for the world to watch, and other jury members have fully agreed with the result. It does seem incredible that a handful of teachers can dominate these competitions, but could it just be that their students are consistently on a higher level and better prepared?

    People should go to watch Bron’s classes in Salzburg and elsewhere before making a judgement.

  • I agree with Paul. Farce? “The proof of the pudding”, or the prize, is in the playing.

    The bigger farce is when contestants who play better in every respect than the prize winners are sent home in the preliminary rounds. That is probably not the case here.

  • One suspects he knows the game better than most, understands the abysmal violin world better than most.
    Success is based on the stupidity of others . If you ever heard him play you might
    come away thinking his musical insights are non existent. As to his teaching methods, one
    cannot but come away laughing ; in every violin contestant beats a heart that yearns only for fame and riches ,( the Paganini fever ) they come in droves and they do
    win prizes which have less value than toilet paper .

  • Bron is a strategist, one who knows how to sell its image to people who care about the competitions from the happy and sure end. But now he is losing the control of the situation ; his abuses are increasingly under the eyes of the honest people and now it leads more scandal and outrage. His students are set pretty well ( maybe it’s better to say ”packaged”) but rarely they stand for the musical  gifts .His student’s videos don’t account for those participants who have been excluded during the preliminary stages. The mechanism is clear: you put out of your way the dangerous antagonists and then you pass to the final round the predestined competitors to the success togheter an handful of middling participants that little can annoy. The game is over. Nowaday , it is almost impossible to consider the amazing qualities of Mr Bron since every person I know in this sensitive area contacted him only to get , soon or later, a podium in these events.

  • Norman Lebrecht argued that Bron is “notorious for rigging juries to ensure top prizes go to his students”. Whilst this is a definite possibility, which I personally suspect to be true, it’s also a half-baked claim to make. The most basic of statisticians would tell you that one must never ever conflate correlation with causation. What does this mean? Whilst there is a correlation (his students do well in competitions where he judges), this doesn’t translate to the notion that this trend is caused by the sole fact that he is a jury member.

    The case of Oleksii Semenenko, a student of Bron, illustrates this all too well. Whilst failing to win the top prize at Bron’s Goldstein Competition, he went on to win the 2nd prize at the Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition, arguably the 2nd biggest prize in modern violin competitions. However, Bron was nowhere to be seen, and he certainly wasn’t spotted rigging the competition. So why did Semenenko win 2nd prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition? For the exact same reason he was also a prizewinner of Goldstein competition; because he is an outstanding violinist.

    This personal attack on Bron is unnecessary. This correlation is not a consequence of Bron. It’s a consequence of violin competitions. Petrushevsky’s and Kravchenko’s students just scooped top prizes at the Aram Khachaturian Violin Competition. Oleh Krysa’s Violin Competition had the first prize shared between two of his students. Miriam Fried was asked to drop out of judging the Indianapolis Violin Competition after too many of her past students were in the final. Nam Yum Kim sat on the jury as her student just won Queen Elisabeth this year.

    So why is it that the students of fantastic teachers do so brilliantly? Well, I have a fairly simple suggestion. Maybe it’s because good teachers attract good students, and when good teachers teach good students the results are, well let’s just say, pretty good.

    What Lebrecht has done here is dangerous for more than one reason. First, as previously explained, there is no empirical grounding in his claims. Secondly, and more importantly, he’s contributing to the creation of a dangerous environment which can only harm the standard and nature of violin competitions. By shaming, without any concrete evidence, successful teachers and successful students, he may be scaring many young and talented violinists from entering competitions as they may have an affiliation, weak or strong, with a jury member. This could deter many fine young artists from competing, because let’s face it, the likelihood of a talented young violinist having no affiliation to a jury comprising of the world’s most famous soloists and professors could be extremely low. Even if it doesn’t deter anyone, in many cases violinists win because they deserve to win, not because of the political configuration of the jury. So, why would one feel the need to take away their victory and devalue their years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears?

    • When a man organises a violin competition in memory of his teacher with the intention of reserving all prizes for his pupils, that’s not causation. It’s the other ‘c’ word that I used in the headline.

    • If Mr. Lebrecht does” scare” away talents from entering violin competitions he would
      be doing the world of music a great favor .
      The likes of James keeps this deplorable violin nonsense afloat .

      • Not all the laureates of the Goldstein Competition study with Bron, yet multiple students of his failed to win prizes at the competition. His students that won top prizes at Goldstein have proven very well in other competition where Bron is absent that they deserve to be winning top prizes. Semenenko came 2nd in queen elisabeth. Tarara won lipizer, enescu and is a prizewinner of wienawski. Hatorre is nothing short of a child prodigy….I could go on.
        Milka – I didn’t say that Lebrecht is definitely scaring anyone away. All I said, or at least what I was trying to convey, is that collectively we should try to avoid arriving at a situation where people may feel ashamed to compete or where they would be shamed for something beyond their control.

        • I certainly hope he was “scaring” away everyone who thinks of entering these
          dreadful and stupid contests … the contests prove nothing except that one has learnt to
          play the game and manipulate ones way to being thought of as an artist . I could name
          right off hand 10 top winners of the top competitions who as a group don’t amount to a hill of beans and who eventually end up being judges at the same competitions
          and thus perpetuate the same mediocrity that passes for artistry . I suspect the likes
          of Mr. Bron would disintegrate on the spot if they came face to face with a violinist who
          was perchance also an artist . Can one remotely imagine a Kreisler winning anything in these high powered competitions . Competitions may impress the great unwashed but
          has no place in the art .

          • Milka – you are completely right. Competitions have never produced or hosted great artistry.
            I mean look at all these people, clearly, as you mention, they are not noteworthy, let alone artists:
            1. David Oistrakh
            2. Leonid Kogan
            3. Boris Goldstein
            4. Julian Sitkovetsky
            5. Ilya Kaler
            6. Leonidas Kavakos
            7. Julia Fischer
            8. Joseph Silverstein
            9. Albert Markov
            10. Arnold Steinhardt
            11. Vadim Repin
            12. Miriam Fried
            13. Nikolaj Znaider
            14. Michaela Martin
            15. Viktoria Mullova
            16. Viktor Pikazien
            17. Shmuel Ashkenazi
            18. Gidon Kremer
            19. Viktor Tretiakov
            20. Jennifer Koh

            These are names taken from only 3 or 4 competitions. All of these people have individualy contributed heavily to the world of music. All in their own right are fine and world famous artists, and rightly so…I’m fairly confident each of these guys amounts to a tiny bit more than ‘a hill of beans’.

  • Not all the laureates of the Goldstein Competition study with Bron, yet multiple students of his failed to win prizes at the competition. His students that won top prizes at Goldstein have proven very well in other competitions where Bron is absent that they deserve to be winning top prizes. Semenenko came 2nd in queen elisabeth. Tarara won lipizer, enescu and is a prizewinner of wienawski. Hatorre is nothing short of a child prodigy….I could go on. We should be applauding and supporting the young violinists for their fine playing.
    Milka – I didn’t say that Lebrecht is definitely scaring anyone away. All I said, or at least what I was trying to convey, is that collectively we should try to avoid arriving at a situation where people may feel ashamed to compete or where they would be shamed for something beyond their control.

    • I agree, Bron students are often great violinists. But thats exactly the reason, why they don’t have to go to competitions, where Bron is a jury member or even president of the jury. Come on, this is ridiculous and I am sure you agree.
      Can the winners be proud of their success? Can they celebrate knowing, that the competition is ruled by their own teacher?
      There are enough competitions, where Bron is not part of (as you mentioned Queen Elisabeth). Why taking so many of your own students to your competition? Thats not fair to other participants and brings a disgusting taste to music competitions.

      • Andrew, I completely agree with you. Ideally, all competitors should not have affiliantions with any jury member. But, we have very little say in changing this. So we have a number of options:
        1. Dismiss the competition and shame all involved.
        2. Disagree with the process and agree with the results.
        3. Disagree with the process and disagree with the results. BUT, instead of shaming the winners who you believe have wrongly won, you could celebrate the success of performances which you enjoyed. Isn’t celebrating talent and beautiful music what it’s all about after all?

        • James, I find it quite difficult to celebrate the success of the winners knowing at the same time that others – non Bron students – have invested a lot of time and money. They might not know about the politics in music competition and went to the competition full of hope. Such players who play fantastic and have a great talent but at the same time have no chance, as their teacher is not Zakhar Bron. Don´t feel sorry for the winners for being not celebrated. Feel sorry for those, who prepared for months and were kicked out in first round because they have not payed a lot of money for private lessons with Bron.
          I repeat myself: if Bron students are so amazing, they don´t have the need to go to a competition of Zakhar Bron. That simple!

          • I’m not saying celebrate the success of the winners if you feel they wrongly won. Actually we shouldn’t be celebrating “success”, we should be celebrating “music”. I was saying celebrate the performances which you enjoyed, irrespective of the results. If you disagree with who won, then celebrate the music of the person you thought should have won, as opposed to shaming everyone involved. I know all too well about having political disadvantages at competition. I’ve felt the pain and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But, that doesn’t mean any competitior should be shamed, or that his achievements should be devalued.

  • In the early ’80s I accompanied a competitor to the Lipinski/Wieniawski competition.
    We heard 10 year old Maxim Vengerov win the 12 years and under division. He probably would have won the senior division except he was not allowed to enter it. At the drawing of the competitors’ order of performance, I happened to sit next to Vengerov’s mother. There was no Russian translator, although everyone else was represented, and every number was called in every language represented. She and I fished around until we had a common language and I told her what number had been drawn for Maxim.
    The night before the opening of the competition we heard the last competition’s senior winner, a Bron student, Vadim Repin.
    That year, we and a Japanese competitor and her accompanist were the only Westerners there, it was all Communist.
    I would have loved to hear the Lipinski Concerto but hardly anyone chose it and the competitors who chose it didn’t make it to the finals. Almost everyone chose the Wieniawski hardest one, competitive to the core.
    Unfortunately, even though not Communist any more, Bron maintains his famous name and students flock to him. When they get there he teaches them, and they work like crazy, everything is totally prepared.
    On the outskirts of town is the concentration camp Majdanek and a huge grim pile of human ashes under a roof, with the sides open to the winds.

  • James has given us a list of 20 violin players all prize winners which can be translated
    to mean technically proficient but unfortunately living or dead they leave nothing in their wake .Their contribution to the art of the violin being zilch .

    • I’m sorry Milka, but your final comment is so fittingly illiterate as a statement that it really demonstrates your sincere lack of understanding in music.
      Who could possibly say with a straight face that David Oistrakh contributed “zilch” to music as he left nothing in his wake? He’s one of the greatest violinists and finest musicians the world has ever been fortunate enough to see!! If Oistrakh didn’t contribute anything, then do you mind telling me who did?

      • Kreisler Heifetz , none of which your 20 have the same standing . One forgives your first sentence out of kindness for the uninformed.

        • Kreisler was from a time before competitions. Even when heifetz was in his 20s he was living in a time before competitions.
          Anyway, just because many great artists didn’t go to competitions, which is certainly true, that doesn’t mean that prizewinners of competitions aren’t and can’t be artists.
          I’m surprised you completely ignored the Oistrakh comment. Ida Haendel and Ginette Niveu are another two brilliant examples of great artists who have been helped by competitions.

        • Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however misguided it may be. I don’t dispute the greatness and even supremacy of Heifetz and Kreisler, but to say that Oistrakh, Kremer, Kogan, Silverstein and some others on the list made no lasting contribution is beyond laughable.

          As for teachers and competition juries, there ought to be a simple rule: You can’t be on the jury if someone you taught in the last X number of years is a competitor. How hard would that be?

  • And guess who won the Tibor Varga-Sion Valais competition this year, where the president was Pavel Vernikov?????? His student of course 😉

    • Thanks MIKI. After reading your comment, I googled the competition result and found out the 2013 winner was also a student of Pavel Vernikov.

  • Kreisler was from a time before competitions. Even when Heifetz was in his 20s, he was living in a time before competitions.
    Whilst you are right, it is true, many fine artists haven’t gone through the competition process. However, this doesn’t mean that competitions can’t or haven’t ever produced or hosted any fine artists.
    I’m surprised you completely ignored the Oistrakh comments. Neveu and Haendel are another two brilliant examples of incredible artists that have participated successfully in competitions.

  • If Oistrakh , Neveu , Haendel Kogan and all the 20 others had not appeared before the
    public it would have made little difference in the history of the art of the violin. Kreisler
    and Heifetz are the only two who had a profound influence on the art , while the Kreisler influence in a sense died with him being unique the Heifetz influence in its worst aspects
    has servived . It was Heifetz who warned his star pupil not to enter these competitions and
    not listening to the master the pupil got shot down by Oistrakh and co. Not much
    has changed .

  • In any serious competition the teacher of any competitor should be excluded from the panel – not only from judging his/her own pupils, but from judging anybody.

    • Seriously: Kreisler was a giant in the history of violin playing. Probably no other violinist – not the ones we can hear on recordings – has a personality as large as Kreisler.

      Oistrakh is probably the most perfect violinist of all times. His way of playing, his style would appropriate even now, after half a century has passed.

      I still have to understand what the legacy from Heifetz is. The fellow was a violin player, but his style has not aged well. It sounds older than Queen Victoria.

  • The answer was simple- after hearing the consummate skill of Heifetz most all
    violinists wanted to play with that mastery of perfection . Kreisler was out of consideration his playing being unique to itself . To this day conscious or not of the Heifetz legacy most violin players want to be the second Heifetz mistakenly believing he was only about technique .I can’t recall anyone wanting to be the second Oistrakh.

    • When I was growing up in Poland, in the 70s, everybody wanted to be Oistrakh!!! Hardly anybody got close.. But when I got to this country and studied with Camilla Wicks, who was called female Heifetz – I wanted to be like Camilla. To this day.

  • Zakhar Bron, of course, feels compelled to return at least some of the money that has sucked to his students during his prodigious masterclasses. The problem is not the business, but the collateral damage. If to be damaged is the Talent, then it is a crime of which you’ll have to finally apologize. But then, finally, that satisfaction with these winners if now the whole world knows who bought their merit to the market?

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