Violinists under the age of 30 could apply for this international contest, with prize money totalling more than € 40,000, by uploading three videos. The three-member jury carrying out the preliminary selection of entries – Vilmos Szabadi, Géza Kapás and Péter Kováts, all professors at the Liszt Academy – chose 45 female and 20 male competitors to go forward to take part in the four-round contest. “To our surprise, we had several entries from young artists who had previously won first places at various major international competitions. We were delighted to receive many extremely high quality Bartók interpretations, and what is more, from both Hungarian and foreign candidates alike. It was evident from the provisional voting criteria that around 25 applicants stood head and shoulders above the others, although I reckon that in the time left before September this could change a great deal,” says Vilmos Szabadi, who will also be sitting on the jury in the autumn. On the Hungarian side, Barnabás Kelemen, violinist, and Tibor Tallián, music historian, Bartók researcher and Liszt Academy professor emeritus, also play a role in selecting the final winner. These experts are joined on the jury by superb foreign violinists and professors such as Salvatore Accardo, Qian Zhou, Ivan Zenaty, Krzysztof Wegrzyn, Joel Smirnoff and Takashi Shimizu.
In the wake of the record number of applicants it is not so surprising to find that 52 confirmed their participation in the competition, including eight Hungarians. Among these is a violinist holding American-Hungarian citizenship and another who has lived overseas for years. “I have been studying abroad for many years, which is why I thought I simply couldn’t miss the Bartók competition being organized in Budapest! I’m delighted to have this opportunity,” one of the entrants relates, adding that it is really about proving oneself. “With the right attitude, one can learn a huge amount from such a competition. In addition, this is a meeting point for us, because contestants will be arriving from all over the world, each coming with different experiences and approaches. I feel very close to the world of Bartók, and as a Hungarian it is with great pride that I play his works,” the entrant adds.
For another competitor who recently graduated from the Liszt Academy, there was no question about completing the entry form, since many others around him were inspired to apply by the mere fact that Budapest is the location for this challenge. The competition is seen as an excellent chance to test oneself; it acts as a springboard for further opportunities, not to mention the fact that it is a good occasion to enhance the repertoire with new works: “I was very pleased to finally learn the Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, which I had been planning to do for 5 or 6 years, since I consider it one of Bartók’s finest pieces, but I never got around to it because of its complexity. I’ve been working on Bartók, who became one of my favourite composers through the influence of Zoltán Kocsis, since I was 14 or 15. I view him as one of only few composers who perfected every single one of his works. I consider his oeuvre to be remarkable also from the aspect that his style is unique, yet the Beethoven-Brahms tradition is still perceptible in it, not to mention the influences of Debussy, the treasury of Hungarian folk songs, even the Schönberg school and Stravinsky.”
Photo: Bartók Archives
When compiling the competition material the critical aspect was, naturally, to give the leading place to the music of Bartók. Competitors prepare for the qualifying round with an 18-minute programme, including Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 1 or No. 2 and at least one Bach solo movement. Those making it through to the semi-finals can choose from three options: Bartók’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, or the Solo Sonata, or a movement from the composer’s four sonatas, a virtuoso work and a sonata movement of the given Classical-Romantic repertoire. Six competitors will find themselves in the chamber orchestra final; they will have to perform a Mozart violin concerto accompanied by the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra under the guidance of Gergely Ménesi. Only those competitors making it into the medallist spots have the chance to play in the grand orchestra final, partnered by the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with János Kovács: besides two violin concertos of Bartók, they can select from three concertos in D major, classics by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
For foreign competitors the large number of Hungarian works perhaps represents the main challenge, whereas for Hungarians it is rather that in the qualifiers there is extremely little time in which to offer a production sufficiently effective to take them forward to the next round. “It is interesting that as far as I am concerned, I have been able to put together my programme so that besides the compulsory Bach and Mozart works, I just play Bartók,” says one, while another entrant mentions the broad scope of the material required in the competition. “In addition to the compulsory Bartók competitions, there are the hardest and most beautiful works for the violin, for example, pieces by Mozart, Bach and Paganini. As to the preparations, it requires astonishing energy, receptivity and control in order to be able to handle this quantity of material.”
During the live rounds of the competition, which are sponsored by the Ministry of Human Capacities, the public have the opportunity of acquainting themselves with representatives of 16 countries, 23 nations and 42 cities. Those who are interested can come closer to the music of Bartók not only through the productions of competitors, but also at the open day (9 September), which features a wide range of programmes, as well as the two-day scientific conference (14–15 September) organized by the Bartók Archive, which operates within the Institute of Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.