Fabio Luisi quits Paganini competition over jury fears

Fabio Luisi quits Paganini competition over jury fears


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2018

The distinguished Italian conductor was appointed artistic director of the Paganini Competition in Genoa in 2014 and served as president of the jury the following year.

He was busily preparing for the next competition in Genoa in April 2018 when, after a local political upheaval, the city’s new ‘Assessore e Marketing Territoriale’ for cultural affairs, Elisa Serafini, informed him that she was appointing additional ‘prestigious’ names to the jury.

In order to eliminate corruption, Luisi had cut out the usual roomful of incestuous jury members – the likes of Zakhar Bron, his pupils and his pals – and replaced them with objective conductors, musicians and critics.

Ms Serafini told him she was recruiting Igor Ozim, Dmitri Berlinsky, Roman Lasocki and Tatsumi Akiko to the jury. She was also appointing Zakhar Bron to be the competition’s ‘global ambassador’.

Fabio Luisi, one of the most honest maestros in the music world, resigned ‘irrevocably’ on Monday.

The Paganini Competition is now as rotten as the rest.


  • FreddyNg says:

    Perhaps this was in response to a visit from a Dmitri and Vladimir one late evening……?

  • L:F: says:

    As far as Igor Ozim is concerned terms like “rotten” or “corruption” cannot not apply: He sat on many juries and was known for never favouring his own pupils.

  • L:F: says:

    Sorry, I meant “Cannot apply”.

  • Virginia Indy says:

    Fabio Luisi is a fine musician, and an excellent conductor. We all thought, in 2014, that the Paganini Competition was finally in good hands. I am sorry to say that, after reading the names of the jury members for the edition 2015, I was more than disappointed. From seven members of the jury, only two were violinists! Switzerland presence was massive: Manager of his orchestra in Zurich Heiner Madl, the first violin of his orchestra in Zurich Bartlomiej Niziol, a manager of a Swiss artists management agency, Steve Roger, and then a journalist and critic Enrico Girardi, Pavel Berman, the only well-known violinist, and the manager of the theatre in Genoa, Giuseppe Acquaviva. It is true that Madl and Acquaviva studied violin, but is it enough to be part of one of the most important violin competitions in the world? Can you imagine such a jury in competitions like Queen Elisabeth, or Indianapolis? Luisi himself, studied and played piano. I found all this wrong, very wrong. And extremely disrespectful to candidates, hardworking young people, most of them with excellent command of the instrument… how they can be evaluated by somebody that never had a violin in his hands?
    And yes … Igor Ozim is a great teacher, a wonderful jury member. Berlinski was a Paganini Prize winner, among other major competitions, Lasocki studied with Szeryng.
    Probably candidates will appreciate more to be evaluated by people devoted for their entire life to the violin playing. It cannot be wrong …

    • Fabio Luisi says:

      Dear Ms. Indy, thank you for your comment. Indeed, the reason behind the choice of the memebrs of the Jury in year 2015 (and of 2018, which has not been possible due the intervention of the “Assessore” in Genoa) is a deliberate one, and a choice of philosophy.
      The idea behind this is: what is a competition for? and how does it differ from an exam in conservatory or music high school?
      While student violinists (in this case, but this idea applies to all instrumentalists) are used to be heard by other violinists – teachers and professors in their instrument – during their academic career, a competition should be a start in a professional career.
      Who can boost such a career? Professors? Teachers?
      My opinion and the opinion of the organization committee was that the best people to help for a professional start for a young musician are those who can hire him/her, and that is definitely not other musicians of the same instrument, no matter how well known.
      Therefore I choose people who really can boost a career: conductors, manager of orchestras, concertmasters, agents (artist managers), journalists.
      The importance of a competition is not how famous are the jury’s members, but how important are the prizes, and that persons who can invite the winner for concerts are members of the jury. They are capable in evaluating the skills of the candidates, and they know better then other instrumentalists if they, the candidates and eventually the winners, will be able to start a successful career. A famous violin soloist will not be able to invite a winner of a violin competition for concerts. I, as a chief conductor of my orchestra, am. Mr. Steve Roger, who was member of the jury in 2015, managed Mr. Yn Mo Yang in the following years, being able to advise him, connecting him to several important orchestras which invited him as a soloist. I myself invited Mr. Yang for concerts in Zurich and Copenhagen. Mr. Girardi, chief music critic of “Corriere della Sera” wrote about him, promoting his career.
      This is what a competition is about, not a continuation of an academic evaluation, but a complete different matter.
      I might not be a violinist, and as a matter of fact I am not. Nevertheless I can evaluate a violinist quite well.
      For your information, Mr. Madl is violinist and violist (he was member of the Wiener Philharmoniker). Mr. Acquaviva has a violin diplom. Mr. Niziol is a wonderful soloist, teacher and concertmaster of Philharmonia Zurich.
      I understand your point and I respect your ideas. The ideas I had – und still have – about a competion are different, and they are aimed at a career’s start, not a further academic evaluation.

      • Linus Roth says:

        Dear Maestro Luisi,

        it is sad to see the Paganini Competition loosing you, though it is for the most understandable reasons.

        I believe and agree fully that a violinist later on in his career gets judged and therefore invited to perform concerts by conductors, managers, artistic directors of orchestras and concert promoters. To invite these people to be part of the jury is the best what can happen to any candidate!

        Certainly not only violinists can evaluate violinists. My experience is that non-violinists see more the complete picture of a musician and don´t become obsessed about how someone holds his bow or puts his fingers on the string. As long as it sounds good it can´t be that wrong anyways.

        As Artistic Director of the International Leopold Mozart Violin Competition Augsburg I ´m following the same model: the jury will be made up of not only violinists, but also of other instrumentalists, conductors, and people of the music industry.
        And we have a new rule which I consider indispensable for any music competition, – but strangely it seems we are the only one(?):

        “Students and former students of jurors and the artistic director are excluded from competing.”

        With best wishes,
        Linus Roth

      • Saxon Broken says:

        What a fabulous reply Mr Luisi. I can see very clearly the reasoning behind your choice of jury members.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        What a fabulous reply Mr Luisi. I can see very clearly the reasoning behind your choice of jury members..

      • Virginia Indy says:

        Dear Maestro Luisi, I’m honored that you found time to reply to my comment giving an extensive explanation that can help many people like me to understand better how competitions might improve their role in music life. I consider you one of the leading conductors today and as Italian I am of course very proud! I know that I am taking advantage of your time here, but I still have a couple of questions:
        – what is a competition for? I think that the competition is a great showcase, it introduces the winner to audience and to managers of theaters, agencies, labels. In my humble opinion it cannot help much for the career itself, since in two/three years it might have another winner, and in such a short time the competition is not able to launch a proper career.
        – Don’t you think that the risk of choosing the wrong person is bigger with a jury of no specialists? Even with honest, well intentioned and in bona fide jury members…
        – I never understood (and this question goes also to Mr. Lebrecht) how, for instance, Mr. Bron can convince the majority of jury members to choose HIS student. Why they should do this? In order to give him more prestigious, fame, power? what gives he back? all of them are teachers, or performers, and each has his/her own interest. It would be good to know more about this …
        Thank you again for your time.

        • Emil Chudnovsky says:

          I say this as a competition veteran and a two time Premio Paganini laureate: playing for a jury of those capable of advancing a performing career was always my dream. Sadly, it was rarely, if ever, a reality. But in any contest where such a jury lineup existed, I always knew that even if didn’t win 1st prize, I had the chance to catch the ear of someone – a conductor or a manager- who could offer a concert or a recording.

          Playing for a jury of teachers, by contrast, often resulted in some very helpful, and occasionally diametrically opposed, comments on specific violinistic moments in my playing. Certainly helpful for improving myself, but hardly for improving my professional outlook. And often as not, such panels could only reach consensus on the least controversial, most objectively clean performance, resulting in oftentimes forgettable winners having a streak of bookings followed by oblivion.