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The Road to the Finals: The Leopold Mozart Competition

Leopold Mozart Competition, Round 2 (Semi Finals)

Accompanists Hyun-Jung-Berger and Jose_Gallard are being poked in the ribs by jury-member Ulf Hölscher. Maybe

The first cut from 24 participants at the Leopold Mozart Competition down to twelve semi-finalists was severe but a reasonably harmonious and self-evident matter. The second cut that determined the three finalists out of those twelve participants was a more speckled affair. Differences were had. Opinions diverged. A multiplicity of tastes showed. Democracy ruled. Small arms fire ensued. That was—minus the small arms fire or indeed any kind of violence, which the gentle-spirited and collegial jury did not resort to on this occasion—the situation after the results were announced that Kaoru Oe (Japan, Toho College of Music; Keio University), Joshua Brown (USA, New England Conservatory) and Karisa Chiu (also USA, Curtis) were going to the finals. Simon Wiener (Switzerland, ZHdK in Zurich) was also announced to have received the special “Chamber Music Prize”. It comes with a cool € 1.500 attached to it which might at least somewhat temper the disappointment of not going on to the finals.

Incidentally, it’s not so much that the chosen finalists are particularly controversial choices. You don’t advance to the finals without having convinced most jury members of your qualities, even if they had other favorites. If anything, controversy reigned selectively as to who didn’t make it – or as to some who almost made it, while opinions were wildly divided on either a Yay or Nay side. Getting even that far isn’t easy, even for the jury. It’s not easy because the amount of listening – concentrated listening, ideally – is considerable: For starters, there were 24 first movements of the Mendelssohn D minor Piano Trio in two days to listen to; once in rehearsal, once in performance. (Then again, if the jury felt any semblance of self-pity, they only had to look onto the stage where Josè Gallardo and Hyun-Jung Berger played the work 24+ times; for each candidate, differently each time, and with all-out engagement each time.) For the works other than the mandatory Mendelssohn, neatly, it was up to the performers to choose solo or duo works to present themselves with. Any number of works, so long as they stayed under 50 minutes. (Not everyone did.) That is good for performers because presumably they know their strengths and can choose accordingly. And it’s good for jury members, who don’t have to listen to yet another monotonous onslaught of some same piece done over and over again.

Artistic and Executive Directors Linus Roth and Simon Pickel thank the accompanists (Ayumi Janke and Verena Louis in addition to the above-named) for their hard labor

But the duty to find and vote for three finalists also means, in essence, breaking nine young hearts. Not everyone takes it badly, not everyone takes it well. Most are sad and disappointed, to varying degrees. Some might feel a tinge of gratitude to have made it at least into the second round. Others still might even be offended or sulky. That, fortunately, a rarer (and worrisome) response. And as a jury member, if not all of your choices made it to the final (or none, as it were), you might feel that someone has been overlooked. Perhaps for not quite hitting all the buttons that one probably ought to, in a violin competition. Or perhaps they were well enough liked on average, but just not placed atop of enough of the jury member’s lists to make the leap. Often, this is where special prizes can come in to take the edge of the finality of the decision. The special prize for chamber music – on anecdotal evidence a very easy decision for the jury members to have made – is perhaps such a case.

The prize for the best interpretation of the contemporary composition might also have been such a prize – but the initial recipient flat-out refused to accept it, after he found out it came attached with the inconvenience of having to remain in town for three or four more days and having to play the work again (in the presence of the composer!) at the prize-winner’s concert. If the unfortunate lad had had one of those white angels sitting on his shoulders (or perhaps the red & black counterpart), I imagine it having whispered into his ear: “Careful, your character is showing!” On the upside, I think that every competition should, as a rule, have at least one minor scandal. The Chopin Competition had Argerich up in arms re Pogorelich. (Or, more recently, Yundi jetting off mid-competition to attend a wedding.) So let this be the salacious Leopold Mozart Competition scandal of 2019 that everyone will be talking 40 years from now. Or maybe not. Further special prizes – including the Critics’ Prize – will be given out and announced on the day of the finals.

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