Baton fail: Besancon has no winner

Baton fail: Besancon has no winner


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2021

In what is reported* to be the first time in seven decades, the Besancon conducting competition has no winner.

The jury decided that none of the finalists was worthy and sent the three of them away with ‘a special mention’ after they appeared in performances of a new work by Camille Pépin and the fifth symphony of Jean Sibelius.

The unhappy finalists were Chloé Dufresne (France, 29), Jiong-Jie Yin (China, 21) and Deun Lee (South Korea, 32). The public voted strongly for Chloe (pictured)

The dissenting jury was chaired by Paul Daniel and included the composer Pépin and London Southbank’s Gillian Moore.

Fails all round.

*UPDATE: Alan Paris reminds us that no prize was awarded in 2003, when Mathias Bamert chaired the jury. The same happened in 1966, 196, 1971 and 1973.

Recent winners have included Kazuki Yamada, Jonathon Heyward and Ben Glassberg.


  • Alan says:

    Ridiculous. If you have a competition you have a winner. Obnoxious carry on by the jury.

    • Novagerio says:

      Wrong. Ever heard of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow? There’s never a given Golden Medal in a serious and historical competition.
      If you end up with three-four mediocrities in a final, you’ll rank them by who’s the least mediocre than the next finalist – provided you’re a serious and competent juror.

      • Alan says:

        It’s not wrong If you have a competition you have a winner. Ludicrous to suggest otherwise

        Is there any other example outside of classical music where a competition results in no one winning? I’m struggling to think of one

        • BRUCEB says:

          It’s an artistic competition, not a 100m sprint. The contestants are being measured against an artistic standard, not against each other. It’s not like the Olympics where you can win a gold medal with a slow race as long as everyone else is slower.

          If the jury decides no contestant meets that standard, then they decide that none of them deserves the prize. “Least bad” does not equal “excellent.”

          All this is in the collective opinion of the jury, of course. All contestants agree in advance to abide by the jury’s decision.

          P.S. I don’t know if you’d consider this a “competition” or not, but: it’s not uncommon in the world of business that a hunt for a top executive (CEO, vice president, whatever) ends without a “winner.” The company decides to stay with their interim/ acting person instead, with another search usually happening later (unless the interim person does such a great job that they decide to keep them).

    • PK says:

      It really depends, if no one is at the level to start a professional career then they have the right not to choose a winner. The problem is probably that the pre-selection process is usually very weak and then the finals of the competition suffer… Besançon is trying to at a least see everyone in person but I feel that the problem is also the expert level of the jury. I mean compare the Besançon judges with musicians not many people probably know of (and don’t have much of a career) and the amazing jury of Malko where you know every single name…

    • The View from America says:

      What — to give an award for “the best of the worst?”

  • Luciano says:

    I’ll wager they all had more to offer than Paul Daniel!

  • Timmy says:

    Ah , yes. Music-related competitions must ALWAYS have a “winner”! How else will one know who’s the “best”?

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Could this be interpreted as an outbreak of integrity?

  • Orchestral musician says:

    It’s so unexpected that jury didn’t choose the real-best three into final round… maybe Mr. Lee was the only one who deserved it. Ms.Dufresne held right energy to music but her conducting bewildered me to approach her interpretation. And the youngest finalist Yin was nearly lying prone on his score from very first bar. Sorry to say this, he still lacks lots of training to clearly convey musical idea and basic info, at least, since he is young, he should learn more about how to conduct precisely with the right gesture and tempo, instead of dragging such a high level orchestra slower 🙂

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Tell us more.

      • Orchestral musician says:

        One thing for sure is, the Sibelius 5th is utterly challenging for both orchestra and conductor, which means orchestra can use more leadership and musical inspiration from conductors. It was a pity that all three of them didn’t run it well yesterday. Well no complaints, some of renowned conductors couldn’t have done it better anyway.

        From my POV, it was acceptable to have Lee and Dufresne there, though I still wonder if two or three eliminated candidates might be more competent than them. As for Yin, he needs to understand scores in the right way and realize conducting should only be related to scores itself, rather than superficial movements. By meaningless dancing can only be found musically beautiful for several minutes, can draw attention from some jury members who don’t conduct themselves as well. But it will never deceive people who seriously conduct or play in orchestras throughout their lives.

        Anyway, no given grand prize kept last dignity of the jury. Nonetheless, people like me are still curious, which standards and reasons were focused by Jury behind the scene and led them to choose such debatable finalist.

  • Orchestral musician says:

    I don’t mean to be intolerant to young conductors, they learn what they need and become more mature afterwards. The only problem is, this is a serious competition, if jury give a pass to someone who obviously doesn’t fit the level yet, that means they also shut some other better guys chance down. I don’t know since when there has always been so many unfair factors in most of music competitions. Color of skin, gender, nationality and age – so called upcoming talent which hasn’t achieved yet… They all matters, but competition is only about fairnesss at the moment, who is better, who wins. Otherwise don’t call it a competition, just organize a study project or gin party for it:)

  • One of them says:

    As one of the contestants, this is unacceptable. 300 auditionees on the screening round, 20 on the first round, 8 on the second… none of them was deserving of the prize? Or is it that the jury messed up and got 3 finalists that weren’t ready for the responsibilities that the engagements the winner gets require?

  • John musician says:

    If no one is worthy of the grand prize, then either the jury didn’t choose the right conductors for the final round, or they didn’t choose good conductors to begin with for the final rounds of 20.
    Either way, not having a winner is a stain on the jury only, since they didn’t put the best ones with enough experience to be worthy of the grand prize.
    And Besancon has been declining in my opinion more and more for that reason in the last years as a leading competition for conductors.

  • Von Carry-on says:

    When the level of candidates runs from mediocre to low, a jury is faced with 2 choices: either to select “the best of the worst”, or to simply declare “no winner”. The latter is more honest. A first prize signifies that the winner is somehow extraordinary and capable to fulfill high artistic expectations, so don’t put that burden on someone who just wins by default.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    “The same happened in 1966, 196, 1971 and 1973.”

    I’m curious as to who the contestants were in the contest of 196.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Actually not that surprising. It was a leap year. Podium pogo dancers weren’t appreciated this year and presumably weren’t back in the year of the Consulship of Dexter and Messalla (which does rather sound like a regional crime series).