A tale of everyday corruption at a music competition

A tale of everyday corruption at a music competition


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2019

A reader reports his recent experience in an Italian violin competition with a 5,000-Euro first prize:

In the semifinal round, Judge X’s student was right before me, playing the exact same program. I won’t go into all the details but he played like a high school student. Not just unrefined, but also utterly unprepared, with mistakes everywhere. Yet despite there being several strong violinists in the semifinals, this student makes the finals, in which all three finalists play with orchestra. He then wins joint-second prize, with no first prize awarded, because of course there was no one of enough merit. The prize money from 1st and 2nd Place was divided between the two 2nd prize winners.

I realise this is typical, but while usually in international competitions there is some level of shame, this was utterly ridiculous. I was hardly perfect and would have no problem being eliminated, but to see quite a few strong violinists eliminated by an absolute amateur was so depressing and frustrating. Several of the semifinalists were, like me, spending quite a lot of money to travel to Italy and participate, and to have Judge X utterly destroy any semblance of fairness was incredibly frustrating. When I played my semifinal round, he spent the whole time talking loudly to the chairman, very audibly. When I was finished and the results were announced, it was only after speaking with the pianists and competitors who listened to the semifinals, that I realised how corrupt the results were.

Message to young musicians: don’t ever put your faith in music compeititions.


  • Keen Ned says:

    And there I was thinking that the pic of male urinals was making a point about the exclusion of female entrants?

    • wladek says:

      Perhaps female entrants decided to by pass this
      ridiculous competition the rewards being not
      worth the effort .One wonders whether the violinist
      would have written differently had the violinist won
      a prize.It is interesting to note “when” the writer discovers “how corrupt “such competitions are.
      Would the player have over come the degree of shame and turned down a prize as being
      corrupt as are all such competitions .Why enter
      a shameful event ?

      • John says:

        I suspect I know the competition in question. There were two women in the finals, one man.
        This was the first edition of the competition I believe, and one cannot always know which teachers/jury members are to be looked out for!

  • Troy van Leeuwen says:

    Specially competitions in Italy have a tendency to be rather sketchy…
    I’m still waiting for the prize money for a competition I did in 2012

  • Corno di Bassetto says:

    To not mention all the Conducting competitions. Always the same people & countries accepted. And – in my humble opinion – I strongly believe there are other gifted candidates out there in the world too. Competitons are business – first there is an “application fee” cca. 100€, and if you are somehow accepted there is also a “participation fee” cca. 300€. And then the winner is one of the jury’s pupil, friend or friend of friend etc. – all the others just filled the piggy bank. Business. Where is quality? Does not matter. Quit doing competitions – the best never win. Competitions are not transparent. And they are killing the Music.

    Have a nice day.

  • Fan says:

    Name the name.

  • Isaac Ong says:

    I bet the competition being referred to here is Il Piccolo Violino Magico — that’s the only Italian violin competition I could find with prize money worth 5000 Euros

    • Tweettweet says:

      Probably not….the participants of this competition should be aged 9-13, and the writer speaks of the 2nd prize winner playing like a ‘high school violinist’ 🙂