Dublin competition is won by chairman’s student

Dublin competition is won by chairman’s student


norman lebrecht

May 30, 2018

The winner of the 11th Dublin International Piano Competition, announced last night, is Sae Yoon Chon, 22, from South Korea.

He is ‘currently studying with John O’Connor and James Anagnoson at The Glenn Gould School, Toronto’.

John O’Connor is chairman of the competition jury.

This should not be happening.

In Dublin, or anywhere else.



  • Mark Mortimer says:

    A jury members’ pupil wins first prize- you joking right?!

    Didn’t Nadia Boulanger once remark to Charles Rosen (whilst fellow jurists at the Leeds Piano competition) ‘If you’re interested in music Charles don’t come to competitions’.

    • Anon says:

      If such “jury’s student” is a pianist of excellent quality who can silence all these quarrels, then it would not be a problem. However, Sae-Yoon Chon has never proved himself to be a pianist of such calibre. His Prokofiev was a disaster last year and last night. The boy’s touch is that of a high-school student, and he has no ear or sensibility to match with the orchestra when they came in two-beats earlier at the end of the 1st movement’s cadenza.

      The Dublin competition was never a top-tier competition, and it will never be as long as Mr. O’Conor sits on the throne. As one of the leading politicians in the competition scene, Mr. O’Conor is known to always boast about his students. People like him should never be invited to judge other international competitions so that his poor judgment and bias would never victimize other vastly more talented pianists than his own he is always so proud of.

      Mr. O’Conor, if you are reading this… You know exactly what I mean. Shameful.

      • Anon says:

        Could not agree more. Very weak Prok 2.

      • anon says:

        Very unfair to call his Prokofiev a disaster. It was hardly his fault that the low brass entirely missed their cue after the cadenza, and it likewise was not his fault that the string section couldn’t decide whether to follow the conductor or the brass section who were totally lost.

        • Jason says:

          Get your facts straight Anon. As a member of the low brass-we followed the cue from the conductor as we don’t have any cues or bars rest on our parts-just “cadenza”. We were not lost till the end of the mvt-you really haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. Ignorance and arrogance quite often goes hand in hand but at least have the courage to leave your name. It’s easy to be an anonymous troll Anon.

          • Anon says:

            Completely agree. Conductor’s fault or not, the job of the soloist is to make music “with” the orchestra. The orchestra has no choice but to follow conductor’s commands. A good pianist with actual ears would be able to make good decisions, and Chon did not make good decisions throughout the performance.

            In the comments section, people seem to only brag and defend about the blunder at the end of the 1st mvt cadenza… People, that is just ONE of the many things Chon did that makes his fabricated win so controversial.

    • anon says:

      bravo, well said. sae yoon chon has consistently if not always been a mere student – obedient, scared, and unaware of how to truly step onto a stage and define himself. technically meek, with the sound of a church mouse, this person is not the cause of the plague in our industry but rather just a symptomatic issue. he is the pupil of somebody who should have long been expunged from ever teaching and/or jurying in a competition setting.

  • Hilary says:

    Some lessons can be learnt from S.Korea as there’s a large number of successful classical musicians emerging from this country.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      That is very true, and one wonders whether the future of classical music is increasingly focused in East Asia. I read a while ago that the number of Chinese people learning to play the piano equals the adult population of the UK

      • Nick2 says:

        This may well be true. The number of Chinese kids learning the piano was estimated at 40 million in 2015 – an increase of 10 million in just 5 years, The country is also by far the largest maker of pianos with an estimated 80% share of the world market.

        The reasons are fairly simple. Increasing incomes and a massive growth of the middle class taken together with the only recently discarded one-child policy has meant parents wanted the best for their children. Posters on this forum may frequently dismiss the talents of Lang Lang and Yundi Li, but in China they are accorded almost God-like status, providing inspiration to families of the benefits of taking up an instrument.

        In South Korea learning the piano has long been seen by parents as an essential way of enhancing their children’s career prospects. About 30 years ago I remember the wonderful pianist Earl Wild, who himself performed and gave masterclasses several times in Korea, told me of a well-known American pianist (I regret I have forgotten his name) who was greeted by the usual long line of autograph hunters after a recital in Seoul. One mother with a young child of around 6 said she hoped her daughter could have lessons with him one day. Perhaps if you ever come to New York we might be able to work something out, was the reply. Less than a year later, mother and daughter turned up at his New York apartment. “We’ve come for the piano lessons you promised!”

        • Mark Mortimer says:

          Nick- nice Earl wild anecdote- sounds like him.

          I think we might be being collectively unfair on Young Yoon Chon. He may be a perfectly accomplished young pianist & superior to the other contestants in this particular contest- whilst sincerely doubting that he’s another Perahia or Pollini ( I haven’t heard him & am probably never likely to but my guess- a product of the modern conservatoire system which gears them to be competitors rather than individualists).

          The most important point is that music competitions are well past their sell-by-date. Maybe in the 60’s & 70’s they were great- you might think Chopin 1960/65 or Leeds 1972 or Tchaikovsky 58/62 as great contests (when btw- the juries were very distinguished- much more than nowadays). It seems to me- just from casual observation of international competitions results- that most of the top prize winners are Asian. Well fair enough- because for many years it was Russians & a handful of Americans- things change for better or worse- can we name a significant Asian pianist on the international circuit 50 years ago- a real challenge? Do they play any better than their Western counterparts? Without being racist- the answer is certainly not. But the Asian market ( as suggested many times on this thread) provides greater opportunities for kids to learn an instrument & be successful at it. Mr O’ Connor’s Dublin competition is merely a self fulfilling prophesy (I’m sure he’s a good musician & can spot a good pianist when he hears one). We all know that competitions are totally corrupt (with a few notable exceptions) & that Asians win because the Classical music business desperately needs their money in an age of increasingly diminished interest. A possible model would be to scrap all competitions (save a few) & go back to the old way of conservatoire graduates playing to a room of experts on their instrument (maybe the odd agent on the panel) & if they past the test- they’ve got a performing career on the plate. If they don’t shine at the Wigmore Hall debut- one of those things- the music business has always been tough. Just seems fairer to me.

      • buxtehude says:

        @ Mike: Whether or not the future of classical music, the future staffing of western orchestras — NL made that point here a while back in a series of pieces from China. As the financial and even the social position (note the reception at airports!) of orchestral players becomes more precarious, highly-trained Asians will travel here to bolster the ranks.

        And it’s not just upward mobility — look how our classical music is loved in say Korea, and Japan. What I’d like to know is, what’s happened to the native classical heritage of these countries?

    • Christopher Oakden says:

      There are indeed (from China too) . They play excellently, brilliantly, while they are still working with a teacher, no question, but then it all seems to fall away. I see it in my job all the time. Do you do know many who are still playing wonderfully (or even at all) beyond their mid-30s? It’s hardly surprising actually when you realize what horrific pressure they are subjected to. Of course this is not going to happen in the case of Yeol Eum Son or Yuja Wang…they are absolutely the genuine article. Not too sure about the majority of even the top prize-winners at all these ghastly competitions though. I’ve seen it too often and for too long.

      • Nick2 says:

        Isn’t it natural that of those who study music when a child, the vast majority make it at best a part-time hobby when they have a full-time job and start a family? I am certain the same is true in every other country. The point surely is that however they are taught – and I agree some will be more or less force fed – a huge majority may retain an interest in classical music and may become future audiences for concerts and recitals. When we talk about many tens of millions learning to play instruments in China and goodness knows how many others in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere in Asia, that surely bodes well for the development of new audiences.

  • MavisP says:

    Nepotism is one of the milder forms of Irish finagling over many years. Why should a piano competition in Dublin any different?

    • V.Lind says:

      As this is — by various accounts reported here — a huge and widespread problem, is this just another instance of its being possible to slag off the Irish when to do so against almost any other group would be considered racist?

      • Skidegodt says:

        Ah shure bejayus – go on – shure don’t we Oirish actually be lovin’ it …

      • APYMA says:

        Thanks Norman for remarking upon it. Will the opinion formers now wake up to O’Connor’s stifling grip and excessive influence on the Irish piano scene, discouraging new entrants and initiatives by others – younger, fresher and more talented than him. We wait in hope for him to be moved aside. It’s time.

  • CGDA says:

    Prague Spring International Competition 2018:

    Wasn’t the winner an ex student of one of the judges?


    If you teach, if you are sponsoring your instruments: don’t be greedy and don’t choose to be a judge in an international competition! It just doesn’t give credibility to the event and to the people.

    • JohnB says:

      In the Prague Spring Competition 2018 not only the winner of the french horn category (Alexandre Collard) was a student of a jury member (André Cazalet).

      The top ranked prize winner of the cello category (Václav Petr) was a student of the chairman of the jury (Michal Kaňka) and also took part in a master class of another jury member (Jens Peter Maintz).

      Maybe both were the best musicians in this competition, but this mixture of jury member/teacher ratio always leaves a sour taste and makes it hard to believe that they would have won without their connections.

  • Pianocompetition says:

    His former teacher was on the jury,too.

  • Anon says:


    This guy clearly doesn’t know how to play the instrument and yet he WINS. And who is his teacher? “John O’conor”. Yup. Enough said.

  • JK says:

    This post is complete nonsense and has probably been written by someone who has a failed career in music so instead slates off others due to their jealousy. Yes his teacher John O’Connor was on the Jury and artistic director, but nevertheless he CANNOT vote for his own pupils. Also Sae Yoon was the obvious winner of the competition (if you actually watched it which you probably didn’t) and by achieving the joint record with the most winning votes from the jurors (8/11) it can hardly be fixed. Furthermore, this is O’Connor’s first student to be the winner of the DIPC, so it is hardly a reoccurring event of his pupils always winning. So please do us a favour and keep your uneducated-narrow minded views on music to yourself and stop trying to take away the success of a wonderful pianist who will be a leading figure in piano music in the years ahead

    • Anon says:

      Did it occur to you that the vote was made up? 8/11 votes? If the chairman (the winner’s teacher) was not allowed to vote it would’ve been out of 10. Pure BS.

    • Mr Barry Murphy says:

      @JK. Seems persuasive to me

    • Anon says:

      Ok. There’s always an option of not awarding the 1st prize, you know.

      Sure, Chon is the first of O’Conor’s students to win Dublin, but here’s the catch:
      2015, 2nd Prize, Alexander Bernstein
      2012, 4th Prize, Alexander Bernstein (Yes, the same Alexander Bernstein)
      2009, 3rd Prize, Soo-Jung Ann

      Looks like if you study with O’Conor, you’re guaranteed a place in the finals of the Dublin competition.

    • Anonymous says:

      Did it occur to you that the vote was fabricated? If the Chairman was supposed to abstain from voting (as he is the teacher of Chon), how could there be 11 votes? Shouldn’t it be out of 10? This mafia business is killing classical music.

  • JSY says:

    YOU are full nonsense. Even if the chairman cannot vote, your own teacher is the chairman and sitting with other jury members.
    Have you ever thought what kind of mental and psychological impact and impression would it make to other candidate and jury members?

  • Peter Andersson says:

    This is a complete disaster. For everyone that was there and heard the competition it was clear: Chon was absolutely the weakest competitor in the finale. Watch yourself. This is pure mafia from the jury.

    • Джонатан О'Конор says:

      ДА! Это абсолютное чистое мафиозо. Грустно видеть, что это случилось с Дублином. По крайней мере, в Дублине есть большой «международный фестиваль пианистов». К сожалению, в этом году этого не происходит, но похоже, что они будут возобновлены в 2019 году! Они нанимают настоящих пианистов, таких как Борис Березовский.

      Вот ссылки на полуфинал для тех, кто хочет скучать:

      Day 1 Semi finals Part 1: https://www.arte.tv/de/videos/082940-001-A/internationaler-piano-wettbewerb-dublin-2018/
      Day 1 Semi finals Part 2: https://youtu.be/41GjrXs0OXo
      Day 2 Semi Finals link: https://youtu.be/ZpM_vTIaaeA

    • Bob Snyder says:

      I have been reading all of these comments with astonishment and disgust. I was at the competition and heard everyone of the 55 competitors play except the first girl because I arrived directly from the airport and didn’t get there till 10 minutes before 10 and she started playing at 9:30. The technical and artistic level of this competition was extremely high. While I didn’t agree with every decision the jury made throughout the entire competition I truly believe everything was fairly decided. Sae Yoon Chon played at a consistently high level throughout the competition. His Brahms F minor sonata in the second round demonstrated unbelievably beautiful and mature playing as well as complete technical ability. I knew at that moment he would be one of the finalists. In the finals, it was hard for me to decide to whom the first prize should be given. Aristo Sham certainly gave the most exciting performance of the evening but Chon’s was deeply moving, mature and intense. The concerto he played is certainly much more difficult so while I might have picked Sham, I totally understand the jury’s choice of Chon. In my opinion, however, Sham should have received the second prize, certainly not the fourth.
      On another point, John O’Conor has done an incredible job of arranging and organizing a totally professional and well run piano competition. He is also an incredible teacher. Should his students then be penalized and not allowed to enter and compete? Members of the jury can vote for their own student but the vote is not counted. Therefore, there is no unfair bias toward other competitors. This is a totally unfair criticism of O’Conor and the competition. His student won fairly and squarely. Anyone who says Chon is not deserving or can’t play is clearly totally ignorant or perhaps deaf. All the negative comments I have read on here seem to be based on jealousy and inaccuracies. Another point is that this is the first time in 30 years that one about Connors students won the competition but I think I should say the first time in the history of the Another point is that this is the first time in the 30 year history of the competition that one of O’Conor’s students won the competition.

      • Anon says:

        If you are not deaf yourself, you might have heard how many times the winner went apart with the orchestra. If you did not, this comment is just not relevant.

  • CGDA says:

    Teachers or instrument makers who double up as judges are plain greedy. There are tons of world class people who might not have posts in conservatoires (even with that, we know how things often go) or do other musical business away from what’s considered mainstream.

  • Tim Walton says:

    They should take a lesson from the Dudley International Piano Competition in which I was involved, in a small way, last year. One of the rules was that you cannot enter the competition if you have been a pupil of any of the jury members in the previous 12 months.

    • PTP says:

      Dear Tim – there is another good example to follow – the Paderewski International Piano Competition – next, 11th edition in November, 2019. Member of the Geneve Federation, 8 worldwide preliminary live auditions,
      5 stages, 30.000 euro for the I Prize winner…
      The Rules of this competition never accept the situation that the juror was a professor of the participant during 3 years preceding the competition !! This does not guarantee but can significantly help to solve the problem of relationship between the juror and his student participant of the same competition.
      It is true – in majority of the competitions juror can not vote for his own student.
      But at the same time, the same juror can vote “appropriately” low for other pianist, whose level seems to be ‚dangerously’ high for his student…
      So, this point of Rules is not enough strong and practically will never resolve the problem.
      Therefore, it seems that the only honest solution to resolve the problem would be the decision of the World Federation of Music Competitions to introduce the principle that the juror could not have his student among the participants of the same competition.
      But I think today, perhaps it is too optimistic idea…

  • Sarah Smith says:

    For what I heard, and from what I read, How can the jury come away with giving votes to own students and actually telling this to the audience (8/11 votes means that Chairman voted). This is 2018, how can this be allowed still!
    And if the chairman’s student should get prize, that should be harder than for a non student competitor. In this case it was obviously easier for the student.
    And the student and teacher is happy to live with this, that he won by his teacher pushing the jury in his direction? Does this really feel like a real win?

  • Enda says:

    I am truly disappointed by the poisonous commentary here.

    While Chon maybe a student of O’Conor, there is certainly no doubting the quality of his performance. Yes, there was a major mishap in his concerto, but this was not his fault at all. The low brass totally missed there cue after the cadenza and were totally lost until the end of the movement. At the same time the string section couldn’t decide whether to follow the lost brass players or the conductor. What could he possibly have done? This is what happens when you are given only 50 minutes to rehearse a concerto.

    Additionally, the results take all 4 round into his account. Anybody who listened to the competition, as I did, could not fail to notice the breathtaking beauty of his performance of the Brahms 3rd Sonata in the 2nd round, or his fabulous Spanish Rhapsody in the semi final.

    On Aristo Sham; yes, he did give a tremendously exciting performance but he also rushed without restraint the whole way through the concerto and though none of the finalists played totally cleanly, his performance was quite messy. I would have like to see him place higher than 4th, but one can understand why the jury chose Chon’s performance over his.

    Lots of jealous armchair critics here.

    • Anon says:

      Nobody is jealous of Chon because of his prize right now. Nobody wants this publicity around the name.
      It’s impossible to win any competition with this kind of performance. He should not even have being in the finals in the first place.

  • Edith Casals says:

    It became such a scandal because the competition had an actual true WINNER! And the Jury put him THE LAST!

  • Anon says:

    Well, as people pointed out many times, 8 out of “11” votes were cast in favor of Chon.

    Dublin had always been discreetly acknowledged as “John O’Conor International Piano Competition.” Now that he has fully disclosed such corruption under broad daylight, I truly wish the following would happen:

    1) revoked membership from WFIMC, and AAF (Alink-Argerich Foundation)
    2) John O’Conor resigns from DIPC

  • #stopcorruption says:

    Blacklist the competition! Tell to all your friends and colleagues not to apply there in the future and not to send there your students! Until they clear it up from John O’Conors monopoly influence.

  • Sara Stuart says:

    Why it’s only Sham/Chon compared here? Don’t forget, that also 3rd prize winner was a student of the jury. And was also placed before Sham.

  • Lord Ickenham says:

    I don’t understand this. The competitions are full of problems, misuses, etc. The jury members invites each others to judge, ato give masterclasses and these are easy money and big privilege for them. This is a business. Béla Bartók said: “Competitions are for horses.”

    • Peter Donohoe says:

      How very cynical. Surely not true…?

      • Lord Ickenham says:

        Maybe I was cynical, but I don’t say that every member of the juries are corrupt. Although, I don’t believe in competitions. Who is better than others? There isn’t objectivity. OK, you’d say Richter was better than me (Lord Ickenham), but was he better than Rubinstein or Horowitz?