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A worthy winner

The Donatella Flick Conducting Competition 2004,
reviewed by DAVID WILKINS

 

Karajan was 21 when he first conducted in Salzburg; Bernstein 25 when he made his début with the New York Philharmonic. 'Where are the great conductors of tomorrow?' bleat the terminally pessimistic with a masochistic sigh of self-satisfaction. Well -- they are out there somewhere, as they have always been, and the competitive route exampled by the well-established Donatella Flick jamboree may be one way of finding them. It's something of an initiate sport, though. Reading the potted biographies of those who made it to the final rounds, you discover that many have already won this and that, conducted here and there and have at least worthy prospects if not, yet, great expectations. But here they still are -- setting out their scores for the judges in the stalls one more time. Another month in another country: maybe this time the big breakthrough!

The 15,000 pound prize awarded to the laureate is not to be sneezed at but the chance of working with the London Symphony Orchestra for a year is to dream of. That's where the learning, the nurturing and maturing can happen. Karajans and Bernsteins turn up like rare meteorites to crater the musical scene. More mortal maestri have to pick and scratch away at the surface of their craft until, layer by layer, they approach the core of interpretation and performance.

Fabien Gabel receives his prize from the competition's patron, the Prince of Wales, with Donatella Flick, left. Photo © Chris Christodoulou
Fabien Gabel receives his prize from the competition's patron, the Prince of Wales, with Donatella Flick, left. Photo © Chris Christodoulou

Are the three contenders lucky (or jinxed) enough to have had the chance of conducting the LSO in the Barbican hall on 17 November 2004 destined for a top job? Well -- who knows? They received their accolades from the competition's patron, Prince Charles, who probably knows a thing or two about the art of patience in that regard! I'm still flummoxed by the career trajectory of the winner of a now defunct competition in the early 1970s to leadership of the Berlin Philharmonic. I attended the inaugural Bernstein competition in Jerusalem for a week in 1995, thought the jury picked the wrong guy but am now encouraged by the careful progress of its winner, Yutaka Sado. It's a risky business -- the kind of gamble a nannying government might think ripe for legislation. The old governor, tempo itself, must be allowed to decide.

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Copyright © 20 November 2004 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK

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