David Stern: My father would have been proud of this competition

David Stern: My father would have been proud of this competition


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2016

In the wake of sceptical reports of the judging process in Slipped Disc, the competition co-chairman has issued this response, which we are happy to publish verbatim:

Official response from David Stern, co-chairman of the jury committee of the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition: 

When we were approached with the idea to start a competition in the name of our father, my siblings and I wanted to ensure the project would reflect the best of Isaac Stern’s legacy: musicianship, communication and artistic integrity. Music making is not a competitive sport, and a competition like this must be more than a showcase for empty virtuosity. In line with my father’s lifelong philosophy and devotion to his art, I endeavored to include chamber music, the creativity of requiring individually composed cadenzas for the G Major Mozart concerto, and a repertoire that would consist of a wide spectrum of stylistic understanding. The performance of a significant work of the Chinese canon obliged the participants to have broader respect for non-Western music. In today’s music world young musicians face huge challenges for them to be recognized, and an important event like this one must serve this new generation of musical talent while striving always for the highest artistic level. After much hard work and planning, I can honestly say that my father would be proud of both the process and the intent behind it.

The finalists of the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition represent a remarkably high level of artistry, and we, the jury and the entire Competition organization, stand behind these finalists with great pride.

We took three steps to ensure transparency and fairness in the voting process: 1. All scores for all eliminated competitors and eventually the winners as well will be open to public scrutiny, which is an unprecedented level of transparency in competition voting; 2. All performances are live-streamed and archived for anyone to watch; 3. All teacher/student relationships were disclosed in applications and published in student biographies, and at no time was there any discussion between the jury members.  It is very clear that the published results from the jury so far reflect the unimpeachable fairness exhibited in the voting in every round. I am convinced that any qualified jury at this high international level would have arrived at the same conclusions in judging these fine contestants. This voting system has been completely open and fair.

Great students work with great teachers, and we have both in the jury and competitor pool. Through the live-streaming and archived performances, we invite the public to view these fine, young musicians in this highly rigorous competition. They are a legacy of the musicality and human spirit which my father fervently embodied.

David Stern


  • Milka says:

    Spare us the baloney

  • David Osborne says:

    Oh dear, it almost sounds like he believes what he’s saying. Let’s be clear, this is the biggest scandal in violin competition judging since the 1967 Canberra Eisteddfod when I (aged 7 at the time) was pushed into 2nd place by a girl who broke down during her performance and had to start again. Just like with the Stern, the adjudicator was her teacher. And people wonder why I sometimes seem angry…

    • someone says:

      How tragic…
      Truly, a very sad story to hear.

      I’ve got a very bad memory of a competition, too.
      When I was at middle school, we had an annual competition in something.
      Many people thought that I would win it, but when the results were announced in front of all the students, it was discovered that somebody else won 1st prize and I was placed 2nd.

      It was a huge shock to me then.
      I was really ashamed and disappointed.
      It really hurt me and I think it affected my life quite a bit.

      The thing is that actually it was me who introduced the winner to my private teacher (somewhere outside school) several months ago and I urged her to study with him.
      She wasn’t very talented and wasn’t very good at it, but she liked it, so I felt sorry for her so I introduced her to my private teacher who was very good at it.
      I only studied for a month with him because I was talented but I didn’t like it, but she continued studying with him.

      And several months later, she showed amazing improvement and won the competition over me?
      It looked impossible to make such great improvement just after several months, but she made it, I had to admit that.
      I was truly shocked and felt so ashamed about myself.

      2 years later, I became a high school student and something happened.
      I was told by her friend then that she, the winner, actually cheated.
      It was an even bigger shock.
      Later, my brother got to talk about it to the school teacher who organised the competition then, he went to the same middle school and we had the same teacher.

      This time, he, the school teacher, was shocked.
      He sat down with no words and just looked at the ceiling for an hour, because he thought that I didn’t continue studying it any more because I was shocked by the competition results, so he felt so guilty.
      After that, I heard that he changed the rules to prevent cheating.

      But what really, truly shocked and bothered me were not the things I’ve mentioned above.
      The biggest shock was her friend’s attitude showing that cheating was nothing.
      She laughed when she was telling me about it as if it was nothing.
      I’d suffered for 2 years for it, but it seemed like a joke to her.
      It made me think that everybody never seemed to care about that kind of things and everybody was cheating, so I eventually got to think that I was wrong, not cheating was wrong, seriously.

      The results, the competition and loosing it, those kinds of things almost vanished away from my head now, and I’ve been through even bigger, much much bigger competitions after that, but the memory that I was deeply ashamed about myself and I’d once thought that cheating was nothing is still quite clear, and it still makes me feel not very happy.

      I personally have no interest in this violin competition because I’ve been too busy for a while so I couldn’t pay attention to that kind of things.
      And I haven’t seen any videos of any competitors yet, so at the moment, I’m not able to say whether it was fair or not.
      However, I couldn’t help but write a reply to David’s “tragic” story.

      Even a small and trifling competition can hugely affect someone’s life.

      • David Osborne says:

        Thanks someone, I was actually just having a laugh but good, if a little sad story nonetheless.

        • someone says:

          Thanks David,
          I laughed a lot too, or more precisely, I was actually rolling on the floor laughing after reading your story.

          I’ve been so upset since yesterday because of somebody very ungrateful, but feel better now.

          Thanks again for telling us your “tragic” story.

          • David Osborne says:

            Sorry to hear of your troubles someone, and thanks for the kind words. I will say this about my story though. To be fair, she wore a much prettier dress than I did…

          • someone says:

            Now, I see.
            I think she deserved 1st prize.

            If she wore a much prettier dress than yours, at least you should’ve smiled more.
            By the age of 7, children should’ve realised how life works.

    • David Osborne says:

      Oh. It would appear my attempts to introduce a little humour and levity to Slipped Disc are backfiring. Milka in particular sounds if anything even more angsty than usual. But then again, Butterfly Lovers can do that…

      • Milka says:

        David be assured that Milka who has been around the block more than once with the best enjoys a good laugh,there is never anger just observation,Stern must write the bs nonsense he does otherwise where would he be ,Ma must show up every where-
        its the nature of the beast. Though I must admit the Butterfly violin concerto crap irks
        more than it should . Most people suck up to wherever they can make browny points,
        either for money or what they deem as stature in whatever field ,it’s the game .So now we have the Stern Shanghai International Violin nonsense with if this wasn’t bad enough the attachment of some sort of human achievement award,- be sure cover all bases.
        Mr. Sterns’ masters are a clever lot if a bit transparent .

        • David Osborne says:

          We can certainly agree on that. Other Slipped Disc-ers would no doubt be surprised to learn that at one point albeit briefly, I actually had a job. Working in Melbourne’s finest classical record store. You can rest assured, we banned ‘Butterfly Lovers’.

  • Mark says:

    The man publishes all of the scores, is culturally sensitive towards the host country, and discloses all student-teacher relationships. What else do you want him to do? Newsflash – if you don’t hire teachers to judge competitions then you don’t have them. Star soloists and chamber musicians(who also are very often teachers) schedules are generally far too complicated and busy to be able to come together for one or two weeks to judge a competition. It’s a generally messed up system and competitions are not always the best way to judge talent, but it’s the system we have, and good on Mr. Stern for doing his very best to make it as fair as possible.

  • Milka says:

    Perhaps they will give the Humanitarian award to Ma . The comment on the performing of
    a “significant work of the Chinese canon ” is beyond laughable .There are people in this world who have little respect for themselves as they climb the ladder seeking success at
    whatever cost to their creditability . There was years ago a comment made at a famous
    gov. hearing “have you no shame ” it might very well apply here .

  • Frank says:

    Can anyone clarify if there were any restrictions on Jury members voting for their own students?

  • Mickael says:

    Do they also canceled highest and lowest marks, as this is also quite common in a lot of competitions?

  • Nick says:

    Given that Isaac Stern happily promoted younger artists whom he favoured and also ensured that the careers of others were hampered, this competition in his name seems pretty much true to form.

  • someone says:

    Again, still, I haven’t got much to say on this issue, whether this competition has been fair or not as I haven’t seen any of the competitors yet, but anyway, I’ve heard the stories about Isaac Stern a lot, too.

    Maybe, we need an “Oistrakh” competition.
    David Oistrakh was famous for being very fair even to the students of other teachers, too.
    Actually, there is one already.

  • Christopher says:

    Unfortunately it would seem that David Stern thinks that by releasing a statement people will forgive the jury for having teachers voting for their own students, releasing marks unashamedly which don’t correlate with performances OR jury feedback, and this will reestablish the prestige and reputation that the committee wished this competition to carry in connection with Isaac Stern and his great legacy.

    Hearing and seeing both first-hand as well as from reliable sources in and around this inaugural Shanghai Isaac Stern Competition, I am disappointed in these results, but I am even more disappointed in David Stern; how can the son of one of the greatest violinists ever to grace this world allow the name of his father to be tarnished by ignoring and discouraging talented young musicians, and instead turn a blind eye to the jury taking bribes and unashamedly voting for their own students…?

    I heard that the first live rounds were a) closed to any public except “invitees” which were students and “professionals” that the competition invited themselves; b) including only one single ticket per contestant to give to whomever they choose for their own 2-3 hour “session”; and c) not even open for contestants to attend. There were also contestants who stopped on stage during the first closed live round who were admitted to the quarterfinals. The competition also only uploaded less that 10 minutes of the entire 45 minute program of the semifinals, which does not adequately represent to the public how each individual played.

    Of course, it is not surprising to say that I also heard that someone backstage overheard on Semifinal Day 2 the jury speaking about the “final 6” already being agreed upon.

    I also heard that (apparently ultra-conservative) Shanghai Conservatory violin professor Yu Lina made some very aggressive and derogatory comments to a competitor whom she (obviously) disliked, commenting on the sexuality and appearance of said competitor, and calling the competitor a “hopeless violinist.” I’ll leave it at that to sink in for you.

  • Barbarona says:

    It’s true enough. Isaac Sterns was an abusive, unethical man, and so, he would hardly care about a competition’s integrity. He ruined the career of the great Oscar Shumsky by refusing him access to Carnegie Hall for a debut recital. Jealous of greater violinists, and from what I hear, abusive to his family, he was one of the least respectable of musicians.