Mahler Competition ‘should be cancelled’

Mahler Competition ‘should be cancelled’


norman lebrecht

July 06, 2020

A number of people have contacted Slipped Disc describing the Mahler Conducting Competition at Bamberg as a farce that broke its own rules. Its results are therefore worthless and should be revoked.

Among other breaches, one candidate was a last minute insertion to the second round and three others were awarded third prize despite having been eliminated from the final round.

Some members of the orchestra have said that the winner’s performance of Mahler’s 4th symphony was unidiomatic and sluggish. But his agency’s former CEO was on the jury and he was declared winner for lack of any other outstanding talent.

Here’s his closing concert performance.



  • Lars says:

    I have followed this competition since the first edition, and I can say that the other winners have been truly inspiring, in their own unique ways, and it was obvious to many why they were chosen to be the winners. However, this year is truly regrettable and disappointing. The competition was live and everyone around the world could see how a farce it was. FDD might be an excellent musician with fantastic musicianship skills and abilities, but on the podium during the last few days it was obvious that he was weak, uninspiring, and lack of any charisma the other participants may have (or even the previous winners).

    On top of that, I do agree that the breaches made this competition a huge farce. Unfortunately, I believe most competitions these days work a little like that (for example, a certain prize winner in the last Malko was reportedly underserving of the prize)…

    • Harry Potter says:

      I’m wondering who is this prize winner?

    • player&conductor says:

      Actually, the farce of conducting competitions is no longer any secret.

      Anyone who has interests can check this most famous one. There is a conducting competition in Bucharest which already held many editions. Just check the winners and finalists in each edition since around 2013, you can find all those asian winners studied and graduated from a same german university, and the professor there, has been just one of the jury member of this competition until today.

      The unfair reputation of this Com has already been notorious everywhere. Today it can still be continuously organized just because there are more and more young conductors right now who wouldn’t give up any chance. And if you check this professor’s career you can find more connections he made in China and South Korea. That’s it, an international conducting business.

      This is something much more serious than Mahler competition and should be exposed by media.

      • OperaOrchPlayer says:

        Does this particular teacher manage the admissions process to his university in a similarly corrupt manner?

  • CancelMahler says:

    The age limit is 35, and they allowed Christian Vasquez of Askonas Holt into the competition even though he is 36. Others over the limit were refused entry. This itself is a grievous breach of their regulations.

    • JHiggins says:

      If this is true then surely there should be questions asked of Askonas Holt regarding their involvement in the cmpetition…

    • Anon says:

      A quick glance shows that the rule is 35 *on 01.01.2020* not at the date of the competition itself. Maestro Vasquez was born in 1984, and assuming he wasn’t born on the 1st of January, he would have been 35 on 01.01.20, so clearly fulfils the requirements. This is not a breach, for less a grievous one.

    • mahlercompetition says:

      The competition has officially addressed this accusation with the following:

      Was das Zitat ihrer Online-Quelle zu Christian Vasquez betrifft: Relevant ist nach den Bedingungen des Wettbewerbs das Alter am 01.01. des Wettbewerbsjahres. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt war Herr Vasquez 35 Jahre alt. Tatsächlich ist die von Ihnen zitierte Quelle sachlich falsch, denn Christian Vasquez ist auch zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt noch 35 Jahre alt.

      So apparently this is not true.

      • CancelMahler says:

        Then I stand corrected, but don’t make it seem like the question is ridiculous when his Wikipedia page says he is 36. The other concerns remain.

        • Anon says:

          But it is a slightly silly question.
          My immediate thought on reading this was “is the cut off the date applications close, the date of the start or final of the competition, or some other defined date? And could it have moved because of Covid-19?”.
          And so I find that the competition rules are just _one_ click from the front of the competition website, and the very first rule defines the date for these purposes as being 1.1.20. It really wasn’t hard, this isn’t buried in the rules and nor are the rules hidden. Before throwing accusations of impropriety around, please check the basics.

        • Peter San Diego says:

          Too often people decline to post their birth dates on Wikipedia. I understand the concerns about identity theft, but for public figures, the birth date usually shows up elsewhere on the internet already…

    • Maye says:

      Vasquez is 35 years old. He was born on July 31, 1984.

  • The View from America says:

    Listened … watched … underwhelmed.

  • Ian Curtaine says:

    I know Vasquez date of birth to be 31.07.1984 as someone who has worked with him before. To assume the Bamberg institution would knowingly break their own imposed rules is just ridiculous. They are a state body with state funding, they would not be so idiotic and after all they are Germans… I find it naturally that there would be disagreement in the orchestra, after all it is a big living organ with lots of opinions and maybe it reflected the sentiment or quality of competition but lets stop spreading rumours that are simply unfounded. Norman should know better to ask for a simple fact check instead of spreading lies… Pretty easy in my eyes nowadays, write an email ask for freedom of information, no?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It was blatant. They broke the rules at least three times.

      • Ian Curtaine says:

        It’s not as if you are privy to the actual information dear Norman. And maybe you also want to disclose your various legal disputes with Askonas in the same breath here that would explain your very obvious bias on this matter. The competition might not be to everyones liking or lack of quality but to spread rumours when it is remarkable they made this happen in the first place is just sad really

        • Gustav says:

          Sorry but you are using the same claims as Holocaust deniers.

          Try to answer to the point and not set fire somewhere else.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          I have no legal history with Askonas and I maintain as good relations with them as I do with any other agency of that size. Next false imputation?

      • Disappointed Mahler-Fan says:

        Dear Mr.Lebrecht,

        even if I share in all aspects your point of view considering the inspiring musicianship most candidates failed to show us, I kindly ask you to inform yourself about the competition rules:

        9. Die Teilnehmer verpflichten sich zur Teilnahme an sämtlichen Proben und Konzerten des Wettbewerbs, zu denen sie zugelassen werden, gleich ob öffentlich oder nicht-öffentlich.

        So this also means the jury can decide at which point a candidate has to show up.

        10. Die Entscheidungen der Jury sind unanfechtbar und müssen nicht begründet werden. Die Jury behält sich das Recht vor, Preise nicht zuzuerkennen oder sie zu teilen.

        Splitting the third prize is possible, so nothing to do with breaking the rules!

        Just looking at the quality of rehearsing, why they just didn’t award a first prize as it happened back then in 2007 with Sung Shi-Yeon?
        Would’ve made everything a lot more understandable to me.

    • Gustav says:

      Norman Is articulating what the other competitions know but cant say. Those people were spending months preparing to this competition and flown all over the world to participate.
      It’s a bit ridiculous how blind of you not to see that the strongest contestants were kicked out after the 2ns round to the most, including Vasquez who is an askonas artist whom they’ve asked to apply for the competition.

  • Observer says:

    I can imagine a conversation that might have happened:

    – We need a female winner, otherwise we will be criticized.
    – Ok, we’ve got Katharina.
    – Yeah, but it will be a bit too obvious, we should award another semifinalist too.
    – Great, there’s this guy from Askonas whose career could benefit from a prize…

    • An Invitation for controversy says:

      That’s exactly what I thought when I saw the surprising result. Does 3rd round mean anything at all? Splitting the 3rd prize with a solid talented finalist at the very last minute was just inviting for more controversy.

  • Angel says:

    The only reason people are this disgustingly vile is down to jealousy. You clearly feel you haven’t achieved very much during your lifetime and trolling people via the internet makes you feel better. Bless you, may you one day find inner peace and fulfilment.

  • barry guerrero says:

    As one of the world’s biggest fans of Mahler’s music, I really think the conducting of Mahler should be left to those with quite a bit of experience. In the ‘old days’, conductors cut their teeth in the opera pit first.

  • Karl Keller says:

    You think the Malko competition will be better?:

    • Novagerio says:

      Carlos Keller: Yup. The Malko has generally always had a serious jury. The only politician in the jury is the Spokesman.

  • anonymous says:

    The two candidates who made up for the first round of the competition had been notified of being selected more than a few months ago.The organizer was not sure if they could show up on time since the German border was only opened on July 1st.

    The third place is divided equally by one of the finalists (Ng) and two players who have been eliminated in the semi-final (Ogg and Wincor).

  • MahlerCompWatcher says:

    There were also several who could not enter the country due to travel restrictions…

    • Not fair says:

      Funny, but they didn’t mention the lack of competitors because of travel restrictions. Like we are idiots and must think that those 12 candidates are the real selected ones.
      (Greetings to Askonas)

      Thanks God they deleted final concert video

      • Weil says:

        Thats simply speculation.

        16 candidates were chosen out of 334 applicants. 14 male and 2 female.
        They were informed about this in early March and i can prove it. Because of the travel restrictions 4 of them could not arrive but they have been promised to be included in the next Mahler competition in 2023.

        • Not fair says:

          Ok, Mr. Weil, I’m sorry for my speculation.
          So does it mean that next competition will choose 12 instead of 16 conductors? As it was mentioned before, your competition is turning in Bucharest one where you can apply for the 2 round straight. Just because you participated in the competition the year before.
          And also I presume one of those young men/women will be older than 35, am I right?
          As soon as you are the one on behalf the competition board – please, tell me, how on earth did it happen that you had three participants with Askonas agency and no one from other agencies? Didn’t they apply?

          P.S. my next question is too personal, definitely you won’t answer: how did you choose that Russian guy for the competition? It was completely awful.

          Thank you!

          • Weil says:

            You really completely got it wrong… Im one of the persons who were ran over by the competitions shameful behaviour.

            What i was trying to stress is that you are just wrong with “Like we are idiots and must think that those 12 candidates are the real selected ones”.
            The people who were there are the 12 candidates who were invited to begin with. They were all contacted in mid March.