Just in: Nielsen contest is wrecked by open jury row

Just in: Nielsen contest is wrecked by open jury row


norman lebrecht

April 22, 2016

The violinst Nikolaj Znaider, president of this year’s Carl Nielsen violin competition, has openly dissented from the choice of finalists.

Znaider said: ‘There was a clear majority for the three participants who ended up in the final. However, it is just not a decision I can support…. I support the result, because I’m jury president and has overall responsibility. In such situations you just have to agree to disagree.’

The three finalists are:

Luke Hsu (25) USA

Ji Yoon Lee (23) South Korea

Liya Petrova (25) Bulgaria.

But the result has been maimed in advance by the presdient’s announcement that he does not think any of them is worthy of the prize. This contest has been turned into a shambles.

The other juru members are:

Nikolaj Znaider, Denmark, President of the Jury (Violinist and conductor)

Noah Bendix-Balgley, USA (1st Concertmaster, Berlin Philharmonic)

Mats Engström, Sweden (Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra)

Kathryn Enticott, UK (Znaider’s agent)

Charles Hamlen, USA (Artistic Advisor, Orchestra of St. Luke’s | DiMenna Center)

Werner Hink, Austria (Violinist, Vienna Philharmonic)

Kathryn Stott, England (Pianist)

Eugen Tichindeleanu, Denmark (Concert Master, Odense Symphony Orchestra)

Jian Wang, China (Cellist)




  • V.Lind says:

    He can’t support it and then he can because…I have a lot of time for Znaider, who played one of the best Mendelssohn Violins I have ever heard, but on this one he ought to have put up, shut up or packed up. What is the value of us knowing he agreed to disagree? It hurts the competition and the young aspirants. How do you feel winning such a thing when in your heart of hearts all your life you know the great Nikolaj Znaider did not think you were really good enough? And that everybody knows that that is what he thought?

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      In the old days, there were very distinguished jury members of the finest competitions–even smaller ones people never heard of. It was for the service of and about the young performers–and should continue to be so. Back in the 1950s, a young 16-year-old pianist named Neil Sedaka (yes, the one and same legendary icon of pop music) won an all-High School competition in New York for his playing of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Sonata, Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 and other works. The jury? How’s Artur Rubenstein, Leonard Rose, Jascha Heifetz, Abram Chasins and more! The point being, we must always remember the character, dedication and fragile egos of the burgeoning young soloists looking for their dream.

      • Steven Holloway says:

        Although I think your last sentence a touch romanticized, Jeffrey, the early part of your comment is very valid. I remember well and, being a touch older, further back to when jury members were of such great renown. It is a point rarely mentioned, but an important one indeed, for it gave to verdicts a measure of decisiveness now lacking. The judgement of those jury members was for the most part unassailable, and I can’t somehow imagine, e.g., Heifetz or Milstein, Bachauer or Curzon, being accused of some hidden agenda. If they taught at all, it was relatively little and often out of a sense of duty, the duty to pass on a tradition of musical thought. Sometimes they more generally mentored a student for the same reason, and often did so a young musician who was not among their students. I think at random of first Percy Grainger and then Wilhelm Backhaus trying to ensure that a schoolgirl named Eileen Joyce in the Australian outback went to the best teachers for her. This is all part of a tradition that has been lost and a time when teaching was far more personal, a time before anyone of a certain competence could take music at university.

        • Jeffrey Biegel says:

          I totally agree with you, Steven. As a pupil of Adele Marcus, who passed down the traditions of Josef Lhevinne (and then some) to her students at The Juilliard School, this wisdom on the part of the late Peter Mennin, President of The Juilliard School at the time, assured that the traditions of the great Golden Age of the Piano would be handed down to the generations from the 1950s-1980s. It is, in my opinion, extremely important for us as we get older, to pass down the traditions to the next generations, and in competitions, know deeply that every move we make or word said (there should be no words said) can make or break a young artist’s goal.

  • cherrera says:

    I’m puzzled by the jury president making public his disagreement. It’s not like it’s the Supreme Court of the US, where dissenting justices get to write dissenting opinions, arguing why the majority opinion got it wrong.

    It’s one juror, one vote. The majority of other jurors did not vote with him. End of story.

    If he really feels strongly about his candidate, since his agent is also on the jury, all he needs to do is to convince his agent to sign the losing candidate for a multi-CD deal, whatever…

  • Robert Holmén says:

    A persistent problem with democracies is vocal factions maneuvering to invalidate the outcome of the voting.

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      There are normally rule books containing clauses referring to jury members. In the competitions I have judged, there is a specific clause stating that jury members must abstain from saying anything about a competitor or refer to any competitors throughout the competition. Obviously, it can affect the competitor if they read anything about them, and, would dilute the result, and possibly remove the jury member from the competition.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        So is this a case of the competition organizers being incompetent and failing to write proper contracts for the judges or is this Znaider guy just going insanely rogue?

        And either way, the organizers are publicizing his statement on their official contest website? A proper contest would would just “leak” the disagreement off-the-record to journalists.

        It’s rather odd, unless they are operating on the idea that, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

  • M2N2K says:

    He is a brilliant violinist and I certainly respect him as a musician a lot, but this is a highly questionable move by Nikolaj – possible an indefensible one, particularly if it was done *before* the final round.

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    I’ve enjoyed his recordings and his concerts but these statements are appalling. I feel for the young musicians. The competition circuit is brutal enough without this kind of behavior.

    “He also insists that the discord won’t affect his future as president of the jury for future Carl Nielsen International Violin Competitions”

    This should be sufficient for the competition to find someone else for the role.

  • Hugh Jorgan says:

    Follow the currently ongoing US Chess championship instead, it’s a lot more rewarding and stimulating than these ludicrous instrumental “competitions” that have become as stale as last month’s salami.

  • David Nice says:

    Greetings from Odense, Norman, and congratulations: as the city boasts not only Carl Nielsen but also Hans Christian Andersen as a famous son, Nikolaj Znaider just awarded you the Fairytale Prize for Creative Writing, live on Danish television.

    I wasn’t privy to the jury’s decision-making, and I don’t know the provenance of the above quotation, but jury members are entitled to disagree with each other, and to stand by the majority vote, which Znaider has done. I haven’t heard a word from him dissing the finalists, and as far as I could see he supported them – and all other contestants – to the hilt. The end result – a joint first prize awarded to the polished and assured (and by no means soulless) Ji Yoon Lee and the communicative, imaginative Liya Petrova – was the right one from the two final rounds I witnessed: the South Korean played much the best Nielsen Concerto tonight, the Bulgarian’s Tchaikovsky was hyper-imaginative.

    Now stop using terms like ‘wrecked’ and ‘row’ and just report. This kind of angling is detrimental to the cause of a great institution, especially since it broker before the final.

  • Anja says:

    Znaider was once able to play very fast, but he was never a real artist and now he isn’t in a good shape anymore. That is why he tries to conduct, but he has absolutely no talent for that. He has always been extremely arrogant and was never able to forget about himself and concentrate on the music.

  • Finn Schumacker says:

    As David Nice has already reported, congratulations to Norman Lebrecht for receiving the Fairytale Prize for Creative Writing which was awarded unanimously by the 2016 Carl Nielsen International Violin Jury this evening in Odense, home town of Hans Christian Andersen. https://da-dk.facebook.com/Carl-Nielsen-International-Music-Competition-Festival-159540598314/

    The 2016 Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition came to a triumphant conclusion this evening with the announcement of two joint first prize winners, Ji Yoon Lee (23) from South Korea and Liya Petrova (25) from Bulgaria.
    Nikolaj Znaider spoke for all the jury when he said “It was impossible for us to separate these two excellent violinists, equally deserving to win. The jury is convinced that both artists have exciting careers ahead of them.”

  • Felix Ang says:

    Can someone start keeping track of these endless violin competitions—so we can have a scoreboard and statistics. In the past few weeks we’ve had the (two) Menuhin competitions, this Nielsen, Sibelius, and probably a few more I can’t name. And last summer we had both Queen Elisabeth, Tchaikovsky, and soon Shanghai/Stern, and “Krysa,” and probably ten others. Violin-playing is basically an international sport: 1) Traveling competitors (same players, different weather) and many repeat jurors (most of whom cheer on their little stars). The value of winning one of these competitions is has decreased from previous generations because there are so many of the damned things. Winning Indianapolis, QE, or Tchaikovsky really used to mean something, and now we have players winning first prize and Indianapolis (2010) and than a far lower prize at Tchaikovsky years later…further diminishing the luster of winning a competition. The truly talented ones don’t have lessons every day of the week, or an intonation coach, or an old Italian; that’s probably what made the old Russians so great–a sense of self-reliance from a young age. All I’ve learned from watching these streamed events is that there must be a lot of money for the organizers, otherwise what’s the incentive to commercialize serious violin playing? It’s a one-off concert show and they don’t even need to pay the wunderkinds! When will competitors start wearing patches of string companies’ logos.:.”I’m so grateful for the people at Pirastro for continuing to support my sound. I couldn’t have won it without these new Pirazzis.” Ugh

  • Alvaro says:

    Congratulations to Norman Lebrecht on his special prize!!!!

  • Peter says:

    What is all the fuzz about?
    Grow up. Znaider just stated the truthful fact, that the jury deliberation and voting decision was very controversial, and that he was not in favor of the three winners. It’s not one the most “presidential” moves but little we know what actually happened behind closed doors.

    As much as this might hurt the feelings of these three, it might also help to ease the pain of those who Znaider implies were denied their fair chance.
    At the end of the day Znaider is among all jury members the single most reputable soloist on the violin, simply going by “street cred”. And to me that gives his judgement more weight, even though every vote counts the same.

    Because that’s how it goes in real life, a place where competitions don’t really matter.

  • Qwerty1234 says:

    While I don’t agree with Mr. Lebrecht on everything, he and I are aligned in what I seem to gather is a overarching belief of his based on his posts on the subject: competitions have become a meaningless endeavor at defining artistic excellence. Instead of artistic independence and personalized styles of playing we have many schools churning out technically refined playing that says absolutely nothing but is designed to stand out among others at these competitions.

    It also creates an absolutely false impression that if you are winning soloist competitions, the market will somehow take interest in you. I know many string players who are perplexed that they have to start doing orchestral auditions despite their success in the international competition circuit. Such a pity.

    Yes, some of the great thinkers and artists used success as a springboard for success but the reality is these are exceptions and are the result of digging deeper long after the success of competitions.

  • Milka says:

    If the so so violinist Znaider turned conductor is being quoted correctly it just goes to show what these violin competitions have become … a farce.

    • Tom says:

      Mr. Znaider is actually a very fine soloist who “delivers” in his performances. If I were to complain about anything, then it would be that he has a narrow repertoire and little taste for trying to expand the ever-slimmer offerings we get in live concerts these days. How many Brahms’, Mendelssohns, Mozarts and Beethovens can you take year after year? Let’s bring out the Lalos, Wienawskis, Paganinis, 20th century Brits, etc. etc. etc. again!

      I do wish, too though, that he wouldn’t try fiddling at being a conductor. He just doesn’t have the personality for it.

      • Milka says:

        His violin playing got him nowhere so on to conducting which will keep
        him at the starting gate forever and a day .As for the Lalos, Wieniawskis etc.
        it takes great imagination and understanding of the violin as an instrument
        of communication to play these works,while most contemporary fiddlers have a technical
        facility of sorts they lack the imagination so the safe endless same old same old violin
        concertos show up with the fiddlers all sounding alike . Its the system and mind set.

        • M2N2K says:

          His violin playing is superb and he became interested in conducting for the same reason many other outstanding instrumentalists became conductors (with various results), not because any problems with their solo careers. His was going very well because it deserved to be.

          • Peter says:

            That reason would be money. True…

          • M2N2K says:

            In some cases, money can certainly be among the reasons, but not necessarily the main one. As for Nikolaj’s conducting qualities, I have no opinion whatsoever because I have never seen him conduct. But I do know that he is a very fine violinist whose solo career was doing extremely well and deservedly so.

        • Tom says:

          I’m trying to think which outstanding soloists have become outstanding conductors, and am having a hard time thinking of any. Upon reflection, Daniel Barenboim and Osmo Vänskä must qualify in this category.

          There have been more disasters as conductors who were once great soloists, and thinking of names in that category is quite easy: Heinrich Schiff and Vladimir Ashkenazy immediately spring up among others. However, delivering a litany on this subject would be trite. Suffice it to say that the number of conductors in this category has been decreasing of late.

          • M2N2K says:

            An outstanding soloist becoming an outstanding conductor is definitely more an exception than a rule. But in case of Vladimir Ashkenazy, I have seen him achieving some very good results with orchestras – not because of his conducting skills but because most orchestral players respect him a lot as a musician and are usually charmed by his wonderfully sweet personality: that combination often yields high quality of music making.

          • Ciska Gomperts says:

            Jaap van Zweden is a good example!

          • M2N2K says:

            No, JvZ is not such a good example because he was never an “outstanding soloist”.
            He was, most likely, an outstanding orchestral player – but that is a very different category of musicians.

        • erik says:

          Milka…blablabla…I am here for you again.
          Show yourself.

  • Tom says:

    Mr. Znaider ought to know what not to say as a jury president. Perhaps the problem is that he is not used to speaking from stage, though he should be used to making statements to the press off stage so he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth like that. I wonder if he’ll ever make president of another competition after this.

    Mr. Soelberg – the eminence grise behind this…ummm… “carefully selected” jury – along with Mr. Znaider should also know better than to make fun of the press. It’s a battle that people who do not have blogs or column lines are bound to lose, but it seems they have yet to learn that lesson.

    I must agree that instrumental competitions have been relegated to the level of Dancing With the Stars or Britain’s Got Talent. If the competition required each violinist to play a piece no longer than 2 minutes, perhaps the entrants might get broader coverage on TV outside Denmark (how many viewers are there in a tiny country like that anyway?).

    Maybe Mr. Lebrecht should consider writing a book expose about the music competition racket. I wonder how many of these winners we will see regularly on stages around the world or hear in numerous recordings as used to be the case when someone won the Tchaikovsky, Queen Elizabeth, Thibaud or one of the “classic” competitions of which there were maybe 5-6 around the world 30 years ago.

    Liya Petrova is good-looking, so she’ll no doubt get at least one CD in which she looks dreamily off into the distance in a more or less revealing gown.

    • Qwerty1234 says:

      That’s disgusting. She can actually tell stories with her playing. Not worried about her.

      • Tom says:

        So can several thousand violinists around the world. I didn’t mean to sound sexist, but I have yet to see a male violin starlet dressed a la Chippendales or something like that on a CD debut cover. Had that been the case, I would have mentioned that scenario as well.