The competition industry hides from its corruptions

The competition industry hides from its corruptions


norman lebrecht

May 08, 2019

The World Federation of International Music Competitions starts its 63rd General Assembly today in Norrköping, Sweden, far from the trail of casualties it has created.

The WFIMC ‘represents the interests of more than 120 of the world’s leading music competitions’.

We would be really interested to hear if the assembly has on its agenda a decision to ban teachers from its juries, thereby stopping the corrupt process by which one professor invites another to jury service on a basis of reciprocity.

Or a chairman presides over the victory of his own student.

We would like to know what the WFIMC thinks of the mid-competition rule change at the recent Lang Lang Competition.

Or whether it has a view about women-only competitions.

And whether any other competition will follow the Carl Nielsen in staging their first two rounds behind a curtain.

We’d be delighted to know if these topics are raised.

Somehow, we won’t be holding our breath.



  • fflambeau says:

    “We just won’t be holding our breath.”

    Well put. I doubt we will hear any criticism of the judges change of format during the competition in the Lang Lang competition. That was outrageous. Industry, is unfortunately, the correct word for many of these “competitions”.

  • justanobserver says:

    Agree, the Federation should take a stronger stance on many issues facing competitions today, not least their proliferation. The official agenda for Sweden published on its website is all inward-looking. That said, the recent debacle in the Lang Lang competition concerns a competition that is not a member of the federation and doesn’t follow its guidelines.

  • Nick says:

    Competitions are CORRUPT AND UNFAIR by definition and design. Teachers or no teachers in juries, winning students, losing students – will not solve any problem. Any competition in the arts, (be it music, music performance, dance, theater, art, architecture) is an OXYMORON. And as such, should be simply abandoned altogether and replaced by non-competitive FESTIVALS of different arts. It is impossible to fairly put a tag on an artist, any artist. Only Time (with capital “T”) will tell and determine the importance of one or another and it will need generations to assess the real value of a certain individual or piece of art for humanity! Give exposure to the willing and leave the competitions out of business. This will clean the air permanently and will save the useless arguments.

    • Steven van Staden says:

      I couldn’t agree more with your every word. Competitions are a scourge. There must be a more natural way. Gina Bachauer had expressed the idea that halls should be available to young musicians to play before audiences. As things stand, the rental of halls which were once affordable has become prohibitive. With exposure to the public, the public would decide who to continue supporting. This would be truly democratic.

      I think of performers I regard as among the most outstanding, and I doubt that any of them would have succeeded through the competition circuit, which in their day was not the commercialised plethora it is today; they were not the type, yet they became the most distinguished names (they’re all dead now).

      Art, in this case music, is not a sport, and that is what competitions have made it. Those who sit on the juries playing god are to blame. As artists themselves they must know better. The notion of deciding which performer is ‘better’ on the highest level is ludicrously anti-art.

      Surely we wouldn’t want a jury deciding what dish to choose on a menu, or which painting or sculpture to buy. It’s as though the audience has been sidestepped. The claim that the jury’s decision is ‘expert opinion’ is nonsense. We need only look at the ‘expert opinion’ of the great artists and composers. It is no difference with performers.

      Finally, the audiences at competitions behave as though at sport stadiums. This betrays a lot of what has gone wrong.

  • christopher storey says:

    Although I agree with Nick that music is not a competitive activity, and that competitions are to be regarded with a great deal of caution, there are some contrary views which have to be considered

    1. Competitions do have a role in providing a showcase for young artists to show to a wider public than their peers or teachers . However, the proliferation of them to the extent which is now happening is undesirable

    2.The exclusion of teachers from juries is not really practical. Finding people who will and/or can devote 2 or 3 weeks at a stretch to making up a jury is not easy

    The real problem is that standards , both artistic and administrative, are falling – the Lang Lang fiasco shows this clearly, and distinguished competitions of the past are being diluted by ill-advised changes to their format – the Leeds Piano is a case in point

    Although I would dearly love to see non-competitive showcases for youngsters , I fear that the logistics and funding ( and the appeal to audiences ) might not be there

  • clara says:

    The idea of banning teachers is complicated. SOME teachers are corrupt for sure. Some of the best known competition-judging teachers are famous for being corrupt… On the other side, many times concert artists (they can play themselves) or record producers, or managers are not really discerning listeners. It’s rather surprising how rather shoddy playing can impress these folks. In those instances only a few highly gifted musicians who are involved with teaching the most advanced students in the difficult pieces played in competitions and more or less at the level of playing heard in the competition really make reliable judges. It’s a bit of a paradox.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      If the elite performers, conductors, managers and audience are not “discerning listeners” then what the teachers think is important probably isn’t actually all that important after-all.

  • George says:

    World Federation does not care about that.
    They would not advice to ban prestigious jury members only because they happen to have a couple of students in the jury. Prestige is by far more important than some single unhappy participants and their future.

    More to that, President is the World Federation is PROMOTING such a behavior publicly as in their own competition in Geneva where rather weak student of the jury member shared the 1st prize with one of the strongest pianist- Dmitri Shishkin.
    How can you expect any changes in this organization when a person with such a power like a president of WFIMC is promoting openly from stage (you can find it online!) that they are proud to have in finals a student of the jury member who sits right there in the hall on the jury panel – applauds to her and to him!

  • Theresa says:

    Don’t hold the breath because people in charge Federation are same who are in charge of Concours de Geneva and they have very questionable morality.

    Here is the semifinal performance of a jury members student in Geneva Competition 2018. He made it to the finals and shared the 1st prize.

  • Francois P. Jamieson says:

    The question here is… now that the lazy, disrespectful but charming Benjamin Woodroffe has been sacked.. how long did it take WFIMC to realize that the inept Australian is all charm…. and competitions are leaving the organization.. what next..
    WFIMC appoints Florian Riem as interim secretary general

    1:38, 10th September 2019
    The board of directors of the Geneva-based World Federation of International Music Competitions (WFIMC) has appointed Florian Riem as interim secretary general.

    Reporting to president Didier Schnorhk and the board, Riem will be the sole executive of the federation.

    Born in Munich, Germany, Riem is currently CEO of the Tongyeong International Music Foundation, its international music festival, and the Isang Yun Competition in Tongyeong, South Korea.

    Commenting on his appointment, Riem says: ‘Representing most major competitions around the world, WFIMC sets standards and guidance to ensure that its member competitions are held at the highest artistic and operational level. Young musicians from around the world expect and appreciate the values WFIMC stands for: artistic excellence, flawless organisation, fairness, integrity. In safeguarding and sustaining these values, I am honoured to serve the federation and its illustrious, distinguished member competitions.’