ASK THE PROS | Violinist Midori – “Do Competitions Really Build Careers?” [ADVICE]

VC member Cindy Loretta was keen to know: ‘Is doing competitions really a solid way for young aspiring professionals to step towards a successful, sustainable long term career?’


The Violin Channel member Cindy Loretta, from Italy was keen to know: ‘Is doing competitions really a solid way for young aspiring professionals to step towards a successful, sustainable long term career?’

We threw Cindy’s question over to Japanese-American violin virtuoso, Midori:

“Dear Cindy,

Thank you for asking the question. While I don’t think I — or anyone else
— would have the perfect answer, here is what I’d say: Competitions CAN be
a great way to start a solid career, but that doesn’t mean that they
guarantee a successful one. It also does not mean that competitions are the
only path to an assured future. Also remember – there is no one absolute
definition of what is meant by a “solid, long-term career”. There are many
factors that go into shaping a person’s professional life. Playing well is
critical, of course, but superior performance doesn’t always make up for
organizational and personality flaws, for example.

Competitions often lead to opportunities to perform with different
orchestras and at various venues. They also provide an incentive that force
young players to meet a deadline, to gear up to participating, while
providing opportunities for meeting new friends and future colleagues in the
course of competition. Young musicians get to travel, broadening their
horizons while exposing them to cultural diversity. These experiences are
all so important – they definitely have a positive influence over the course
of an entire career. (In a couple of cases, I’ve actually seen a little
romance that grew out of competition. A couple eventually tying the knot – what
a success!) But there are potential negatives, as competitions can be
emotionally draining, physically stressful, or financially disastrous. They
can, in some cases, lower confidence, and negatively affect a person’s
performance and learning opportunities.

I’ve observed various outcomes of highly successful competitors (for the
lack of a better word). Some maximized every possible opportunity, and that
became their personal path toward new career heights. Some were given
wonderful opportunities but then decided to advance in other directions.
Others took a prize as an incentive to go for more prizes. There are also
those cautionary cases of certain musicians who overloaded as they struggled
to meet too many opportunities or tasks for which they were not yet ready.
On the other side, alongside my colleagues such as Gil Shaham and Sarah
Chang, to name just a few, I don’t have any competition credit. I sometimes
look at my students who are on the competition track with a bit of envy.
They all seem so excited to be preparing, even when they do find the process
stressful. The entire experience, including going through competitions
themselves, provides true motivation, and the “growth” I find in my
competing students is tremendous.

One of the positive “changes” I am seeing in recent competitions is that
their organizers are expanding upon the competitive experience, widening
their participants’ horizons. The organizers present panels drawn from all
corners of the field, not just the performance sector, but also from the
“business” side, with the aim of impacting the thought processes of young
musicians. How do the competitors perceive the range of a career? Have they
thought of their future responsibilities, or the expectations that will be
placed on them as artists who will help shape the field in years to come? In
this way, competitions are having a valuable impact on the future of
classical music.

I hope this quick overview has given you some window into the
interconnections between musical competitions and careers. In an
ever-changing music world, yours is a question on many minds these days, so
I believe that examining the topic is of real value. 


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