Young winner lashes out at music competitions

Young winner lashes out at music competitions


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2016

The London-based Russian pianist Pavel Kalesnikov, winner of the 2012 Honens Prize and a BBC New Generation Artist, has taken to his blog to excoriate the corruption at the heart of most music competitions.

He, like us, believes it is wrong for teachers on the jury to vote for and promote their own students.


I, thankfully, well remember the times when I was playing in several competitions a year and didn’t dare to whisper a word (but very private ones) against one of the loathsome notable jury members. Neither did I realise the criminal stupidity of many competition organisers, and was letting myself being poisoned by the flood of waste regularly poured into my ears at one of those post-factum jury sessions.

… But the world goes on and Arie Vardi is again voting for his student in the finals of San Marino, as Pavel Gililov recently did in Bonn, and Zakhar Bron did in Shanghai, same as Boris Kuschnir – both there and in Moscow. 

Read full diatribe here.

This rot must be stopped.



  • Lars Rezortt says:

    The instrumental competition business is a highly profitable racket for juries and organizers, and will continue unabated as long as there are misled, naive or deluded fools who participate.

  • La Verita says:

    Even more pathetic are these young people who pursue the above-mentioned corrupt jury members as teachers, because they think that will help them to win these competitions. One such young pianist submitted his application to the Rubinstein competition prior to having lessons with Vardi; and, at his 1st lesson, Vardi had his application in his hand and gave it back to him, saying “You will not enter this competition, because I have another student who is entering”. (P.S., that “other student” miraculously won 2nd prize).

    • Sebastian says:

      Just saw the results of last San Marino Competition. The 1st prize winner already entered Hannover Hochschule fur Musik and is about to start his studies with Arie Vardi. He had previously lessons with Vardi and now this jury member is trying to cheat on rules of the competition which don’t allow participation students of the Jury. What is this? Dishonesty? Mafia? Or a crime? It is a crime against music, against spirituality and against audiences.

  • Sound Hound says:

    “Criminal stupidity of the organizers” is spot-on. For one example, the former Cliburn Competition director Richard Rodzinski, who became the best buddy of Yoheved Kaplinsky. He put her on the Cliburn pre-screening jury as well as the competition jury, and he wasn’t the least bit embarrassed that of the 30 selected competitors, 7 were Kaplinsky’s students. And every time Kaplinsky served on the Cliburn jury, one of her students made it to the finals. Pure coincidence? Oh yeah – right!

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Quick question, since I don’t understand how this works very well. To what extent does winning (or becoming a finalist) help the young musician start their career?

    • M2N2K says:

      Winning competitions usually leads to a few solo gigs and therefore may help start young musicians’ careers, but not to maintain them in the long term, because the value of that proud line in their bios rapidly diminishes after a couple of years.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Surely, these days, only really for a few major well-run competitions. And in any case, everyone knows that you didn’t “really win” and hence you won’t get much in the way of bookings.

      • Bruce says:

        The Cliburn competition used to offer a deal to regional orchestras, whereby a medal winner of the competition could be booked for a reduced fee for their first appearance. The idea was that if we liked them well enough, we would pay their full fee (whatever that might be) for a return engagement.

        Some of them were wonderful (I remember Aviram Reichert playing the Beethoven C minor concerto beautifully), but we never had a single return engagement of any Cliburn-winning pianist. Our management just used the arrangement as a discount booking agency for once-only artists.

  • Alvaro says:

    What would happen if animals didnt die and plants/rivers recovered within hours after an oil spill? What if a forest could be repopulated in 1 yr? Would anybody care about deforestation or pollution? Absolutely not, because its effects would be minimal.

    Music in intangible, nobody here or anywhere can PROOF that Bocelli sings good/bad, nonetheless these competition pianists. The corruption is not only in the competitions in this industry, ITS EVERYWHERE: in Conservatories, in orchestras, in agencies, and yes, in this Blog.

    Enjoy it, because its here to stay.

  • Barbarona says:

    And yet, without winning prizes, it is almost impossible to gain any respect or opportunities, as so few people know anything about music or quality, and people who do, don’t take the time to listen to new talent, or old. One of the major reasons classical music is so near to dying in the USA is this corruption.