‘One of the most outrageous and corrupted competitions’

‘One of the most outrageous and corrupted competitions’


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2021

A non-competing participant in this week’s Jorma Panula conducting competition writes to slippedisc.com:

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 Montgomery 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.

You can watch the finals here tonight:

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.


  • Truth says:

    Funny thing: do you know any competition without Schlaefli, Pasquet or Ehwald student in the finals?

    • Fabio Luisi says:

      The problem is not the students, they have good teachers (Schlaefli, Pasquet and Ehwald are in fact good teachers), they deserve to be in a competition, and, if they are good, to win it. The problem is the teachers in the jury. First, they don’ t have the tools to promote their students’ career (only orchestra managers or music directors – or influent orchestra musicians and maybe agents – have those tools, i.e. the power to invite them to their orchestras), secondly, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote for their students or against other partecipants, because they can’t be impartial.

    • Watcher says:

      Ehwald and his puppet competition in Bucharest have been famous of feeding his own asian students in finals for years. Now you may add Steven Slone’s name among them after the ludicrous competition in Seoul. Check the video of final round, you would understand what could happen when a Jury was all made up of only conducting professors and their friends…… They would choose a Student from own class as the first prize winner who didn’t own any mature musicality and even made orchestra crashed by giving indistinct upbeat.

  • Former student says:

    Schaefli and Pasquet run a tight mafia, especially surrounding the Dirigentenforum, so this is unfortunately not surprising. I’m sorry for Panula that he got dragged into it.

    • Franz1975 says:

      I think the conducting illuminati of conducting has four branches, each chaired by a conducting overlord-teacher (without a real conducting career), who teach, promote, and push into careers whoever is on their side. These branches are located in Weimar, Vienna, Zürich, and Manchester, and produce conductors of extreme heterogeneous quality who win EVERYTHING, are EVERYWHERE, and continue perpetuating the situation as part of the this Weimar-Wien-Zürich-Manchester network.

      • Blake says:

        Must say, only Pasquet and Schlaefli have truly shared a powerful connection. They place their students in forum, competition and masterclasses, where the resource was supposed to be fairly competed by all the young talents. Vienna has lost its influence since many years ago. Go check it there, too many mediocre conducting students right now because of expansion. Manchester? Never heard of any successful young conductors from there, no reputation at all in German-speaking area.

        • Franz1975 says:

          I don’t agree. There is a US-American conducting professor in Vienna who is well established as an Illuminati member, feeding conducting competition winners, major assistantships etc with his talentless students. Manchester the same.

          • Former student says:

            I wouldn’t say the students in Wien are talentless, but they definitely have a leg-up.

          • Conductor93 says:

            There are three conducting professors at MDW. I’d say that two of them are good, and one of them (the illuminati) is training terrible conductors who are good for entertaining the audiences, but not good for the orchestra.

  • Maestor says:

    The three finalists got three first prizes. I can imagine the jury’s conversation:

    – We all want our students to have a first prize in their curriculums, don’t we? Therefore, let’s be nice and friendly to each other and agree to give a first prize to all of them.
    – But [insert teacher name here], this wouldn’t be fair.
    – Oh come on, we are the most well-known conducting teachers in Europe: we can do whatever we want, same as we have been doing for years in every competition we have taken part! 🙂

  • Pianist says:

    So brave of him to mention all this. In the Piano World – just happened most outrageous behavior in Chopin competition and nobody mention anything. Because everyone is afraid to get unfavorable by those people who are in change of all this corruption.
    Second prize winner posted on his Instagram a picture of his smiling teacher – Piotr Palezcny proudly holding 2 bags of Hermès and capture : I gave him a present.
    Do they not understand how now not appropriate it is to post things like that?
    Vice President posted on Facebook multiple times photos with his students and naming even more of students who played. Was it 7 of 8 students? The whole world is applauding and LIKE. Such a great musician and teacher he is. Bravoooo!
    Some pedagogues posted a picture with their prize winners and the jury picture in the same post. Shameless people.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    This is what happens when you put teachers on a jury of a competition. No teacher has ever made a conductor’s career. They use a competition for their own fame and glory, not really even in the interest of their own students.

    • Kant says:

      With all due respect, this comment is absolutely untrue and insulting to both teachers and conductors simultaneously. Let’s start mentioning few people who have been in the limbo of being good at both: Arvid Jansons, many of the Jarvi family, Marek Janowski, Yuri Temirkanov, David Robertson, Marin Aslop, Alan Gilbert, Daniele Gatti, Sakari Oramo, Peter Eötvös, Jiri Belohlavek and so on. There are plenty of other people who have kept a great balance at both also understanding the duty of passing on what one learned. Also, from the teachers mentioned, all of them have a very busy agendas also as conductors. If having a conducting career means only to stand up in front of the best orchestras in the world then I am afraid that it is a very narrow minded way of seeing it and a terrible example for the next generations. I think every teacher and maestro should be genuinely interested bit in success but in making the classical music world richer producing genuine people with love and utmost respect for their profession. Just saying…

      • Fabio Luisi says:

        Sorry, I don’t agree. The conductors you name only teach Masterclasses or Summer Academies. You are right when you say that all career conductors should pass on what they have learned. But you are missing the point of what I am saying. I am talking about teachers who don’t have their own conducting activity. They might be good teachers (and the teachers we are talking about actually are), but they don’t belong in a jury in which they judge their own students.

        • Kant says:

          Dear maestro Luisi, almost all of the mentioned teachers above hold or held a professorship in a conservatory. I can list them all but this information is available online. I apologise if I have missed the point you made and I agree, own teachers shouldn’t judge their own students but also non-conductors have no idea about how to judge a conductor. We all know that only people who have been in front of an orchestra knows what it takes to lead one. I’m not sure what’s more morally wrong, having influential people like agents or managers judging or teachers who may be in favour of their pupils. I am aware of how controversial I’m sounding but probably the best thing is to not organise competitions or if so to have only active maestri judging. Tough world, tough profession… lastly, music is not about winning or not, is about sharing points of view that can be valid and convincing or not depending on the conditions. I think there should be other ways to promote talents run probably by the orchestras. In that sense, the German Kapellimeister system is still the most fair way to climb to the top.

          • Fabio Luisi says:

            Dear Mr. Kant, I agree with your last sentence. The problem in this career path is that it requires time – which is, in my opinion, a very important component in the developing of a conductor. Today we have a “youth-hysteria”, and the business (which used, rightly, to focus on experience and maturity) is looking for very young conductors because they apparently bring a new point of view on classical music. Some of them are real talents, but talent is only one of the many factors in being a good conductor.

          • GGV says:

            Amen, maestro. Trying to start a conducting career being over 35 (after practicing another music performance speciality) is almost impossible.

          • Kant says:

            Amen. The question is, how to amend this? It is something everyone in the industry is aware and knows about but nobody does anything to correct it. Talent expires with age unfortunately so we need a more sustainable way to produce serious musicians who have the goods to be a conductor and who understand the nature of their profession. After all, youth hype is there but serious music making is left for a handful of professionals. Maybe those managing the industry need to find other ways in creating a profit replacing stars with straightforward humble musicianship.

          • GGV says:

            I don’t think talent expires. I don’t agree at all. Flashiness, showiness, and energy tend to mild down with age…. but age brings better understanding of music, life and music experience, maturity etc. Talent is always there…

  • Ya what says:

    ‘…..for horses, not for people’.

  • Santeri Kaipiainen says:

    Have you, Norman, confirmed that this source of yours is reliable? Have you confirmed their identity and attendance, while of course keeping the whistleblower anonymous from the public? Or have you just copypasted the comment section’s message (as the text seems to be identical) without taking care of assuring its truthfulness in a good journalistic manner?

    I would like to quote the news, but first I want to make sure that your sources are reliable.

    • David A says:

      Unfortunately, you’re going to have to do that work yourself…I think we all know slippedisc is a gossip site that has zero journalistic integrity.

  • well says:

    It looks like a post from a disappointed wanna-be-conductor not able to be accepted to any of their courses!
    I don’t think that these teachers need to behave like that: their students are in almost all cases, good conductors. They can choose between many talented students, that’s it! (I never studied with them either)

    Teachers sometimes have a minor career, true.
    Having an international career does not mean having conducting skills. Too true!
    A well-known conductor may know how to conduct an orchestra, but may not know how to teach it.
    Winning a competition does not mean starting a career.
    So please, let not go this way: it makes no sense!

    The competition is a photograph showing participants and a jury sitting together for a week… not more than that!
    Normally the winner is the one who can get more attention and convince more jurors, and a manager to be ready to be sold. a Career is a bit of preparation, a lot of luck, and having the right contacts (yourself or thanks to a manager).

    If you don’t like how competitions work, stop to expect that they are different as they are… and don’t apply: go your own way!

  • Good Music is Good Music says:

    I have played in professional orchestras all my life in Europe and the US. Like any competition of this type, it is almost impossible to exclude bias by the jury members, who want to promote and sustain their own tastes and reputations.
    Ultimately, a conductor has to have a blend of talents that make him able to consistently coax an orchestra (which is an unholy conglomerate of individuals with their own set of problems) into producing performances that make the audience pay to hear.
    My idea would be to get each person in the audience to fill out a form, ranking the conductor solely on how much he would be willing to pay to see him conduct again.
    This, in the end, is the only thing that matters.