Chaos (and worse) at the Panula conducting competition

Chaos (and worse) at the Panula conducting competition


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2021

All three finalists at the Jorma Panula competition at Vaasa, Finland, are students of two jurors, Nicolás Pasquet and Johannes Schlaefli.

Panula himself is apparently so disaffected by the outcome that he has not turned out for the announcements. As chair of the jury, he did little to intervene.

The finalists tonight are: Henri Christofer Aavik (Estonia), Jascha Von der Goltz (Germany) and Nathanaël Iselin (France).

UPDATE: An insider reports: No policy was announced on voting for one’s students. Quite the opposite: the jury do not discuss with each other, but immediately go to vote in secret, therefore able to vote for their students without any accountability. And so we have the final consisting of two current students of jury members. The third is a former student.

2nd UPDATE: And the winners are all three finalists… ”The jury’s decision was the result of a good discussion combined with voting. All finalists are different in their own ways and have their own strengths. Neither one of them is complete at this stage, and one does not need to be. But without doubt, each one of them deserved their prize. – – There exists no crystal ball, but all of them have fair chances for a great success in the future,” commented Jan Söderblom, a member of the jury.


  • ElC says:

    Have not followed this year’s competition, but I attended the last edition. Even then, Panula seemed barely present, unable to remember who conducted what. I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better.

  • Gianluigi says:

    This SO normal situation in every competition Panula is involved in…

  • Panula participant says:

    I was a participant at the 8th edition of Jorma Panula competition, and I just have to blow some steam out after what happened this year at the competition.
    From the very first round results it was clear that there was a big disagreement between Panula and the rest of the jury, as none of them showed themselves to read out the results, which is quite unusual. The results showed clearly that about 7-8 of those conductors had connections with Schlafli, Pasquet or Montgomerry who clearly started to favor their students and took a good chunk of the students not connected enough.

    One might say “well they are good teachers, they have good students”. And that’s the thing, in the second round, one of those 10 did a terrible job with the Concerto, it was quite embarrassing to see, and yet he passed! There were conductors who did much better than him, and didn’t.
    In the third round, this guy was one of the worst, still passed to the finals because he is a Pasquet student. This was a ridiculous outcome to see as well that the other two in the finals were Schlafli students present or in the past, and so those two guys completely took over Panula’s competition and promoted their own students.

    The finals was supposed to have 4 competitors, none of the 3 others who were not connected enough to them were accepted, even though it was written 4 will be accepted. The so called reason for this was that no one has done Sibelius 5 in the semis so it couldn’t be done in the Finals. With a FINNISH orchestra!! that plays Sibelius every week of the year, they know that music by heart!!
    Why not put someone else so that each gets one mvt of Strauss 4 last songs? Only because they weren’t from Schlafli and Pasquet.

    This competition this year was by far one of the most outrageous and corrupted competition I have ever seen for many years. This is a high class competition, not some random little prize competition for conductors in Bulgaria. But this year winners have mostly not been worth of their prizes.
    Panula himself told a friend who also participated in that competition that he was not happy with the competition results and that he didn’t approved any of the finalists.
    I can just hope that at the finals Panula will put his foot down and not award any first prize to any of them. But since Pasquet and Schlafli basically took over in such a corrupted way, I’m not sure such an ending will happen.

    Very tough to say but: Keep away from now on from this competition. It is not the one it was until now.
    I wish this kind of teachers would go away from the world.
    What a terrible edition of this competition it has been, I hope people will learn to keep away from now on from there. What a shameful behavior. Shameful

  • Brian says:

    To be honest, I think conducting competitions have one of the most number of participants who are actually active/recent students of the jury. I’m just surprised that there isn’t a requirement that these participants shouldn’t even be in the competition. I guess someone has to make some money…and I’m sure someone would come up with some ‘explanation’ that the voting is ‘fair’….(look at the Tokyo, Bucharest, Italian, Rotterdam competitions).

  • Piano Lover says:

    Here we go again with conducting businness!

  • Packer says:

    It’s curious to me that when jurors put their students through in such a publicly corrupt manner, it never seems to occur to them that it might do their reputation more harm than good.

    • X says:

      Maybe harm from the public, but this would actual encourage aspiring conductors to learn from them. The only thing you can GUARANTEE from a conducting education is that you have connections with certain teachers. And we can see as plain as day that conducting competitions are clearly influenced by many factors not limited to conducting ability. Therefore, any conductor that wants a chance at competition fame would likely flock to those teachers who are likely to give preferential treatment to their students, and those teachers who are jurors at “influential” competitions.

  • Tage Vest says:


    On the behalf of the organizing Foundation of the Panula competition we would like to express following:
    By inquiries with the Chairman of the jury, the members of the jury and the secretary we have come to the conclusion that the opinions mentioned in your blog are based on false information. To our knowledge the 8-member jury has made all their decisions in common agreement and good spirit. No secret voting have been used.
    We have full confidence in the work of the jury and are satisfied with the fluent course of the competition. The feedback received from the competitors is encouraging.
    We are very sorry for Mr Lebrecht in using an anonymous source for his article.
    The Foundation will not further comment on this matter.

    Tomas Häyry
    Chairman, Viljo and Maire Vuorio Foundation