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10.9.09

Ionarts-at-Large: From the 2009 ARD Competition - Extra

Competitions are career makers or breakers for young musicians

Artistic competitions may seem like an oxymoron. But for musicians aiming to be the next Lang Lang, they're the key to a successful career. DW follows young hopefuls as they brave the jury that could decide their future.


Jamie Walton loathes competitions: "Winning a race is as little a concept in music as it would be when embarking upon painting a great masterpiece, or writing a great grand novel, or reciting an epic ballad. To me, even with the most well inspired, neutral, and non-political jury, the very idea of art emerging from a competitive process of better-than-thou is patently absurd."


Walton, now one of Britain's foremost cellists, was lucky; he was able to start a career and obtain a gorgeous instrument without ever having to go through the competition circus. But for most young classical musicians, winning a significant international competition is the surest ticket to the world's prestigious concert stages.


The ARD Competition in Munich, which runs through Sept. 18, isn't the most famous, but it might well be the most important music competition - precisely because of the breadth of music it covers.

It spans two dozen performance categories, from all the typical ones - piano, violin, voice - to more obscure ones like percussion, organ, piano duo, and bassoon. And where else do double bassists or harpists - both categories in the competition this year - have the opportunity to play with top orchestras in the semi finals and finals?

Former winners, including pianist/conductor Christoph Eschenbach, soprano Jessye Norman, cellist Sol Gabetta, or the Ebene String Quartet, either indicate what the competition can do for a career or what perceptive ears are in the jury, or both. (Although world-class soprano Renee Fleming found herself kicked out prematurely, twice.)

Other instruments come to the fore

Double bass and harp this year are rounded out by voice and violin, for which 406 musicians from 44 countries applied. With the list whittled down to 217 participants from 37 countries (minus the no-shows), the first round separated the good from the flawed, the lucky from the unfortunate.

Julie Martin du Theil (photo above), 25, a lithe soprano from Geneva, gave evidence of previous stage experience when she performed a Johann Strauss aria, an art song by Franz Schubert, and a coloratura aria from Igor Stravinsky's lyrical "Nightingale."

(continued at Deutsche Welle)

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