VC INSIGHT | “How Should a Competitor Handle Rejection?”

Joji Hattori, President of the Menuhin Competition and 1989 Senior 1st prize winner, shares his thoughts

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In this question, there is certainly the issue of age. If a 30 year old violinist has participated again at a competition where they have not been able to pass the first round before, they should perhaps realize that their ability just might not be big enough to embark on a soloist’s career, for which most competitions are conceived.

But for all violinists competing at a much younger age, including at the Menuhin Competition, the most important realization should be that life is very long, and that in every field, there are early and late developers.

The fact that one 14 year old violinist has greater abilities than another, says very little about how the same two violinist will compare a few years later.

Specifically at the Menuhin Competition, because we pre-select before the competition’s first round from a huge pool of applicants, we can say with certainty that all competitors are already members of a very small group of highly gifted young musicians. When we look at the history of our competition, the majority of former participants, including those who have not passed the first round, today have impressive professional careers as adult violinists.

The most productive way to handle rejection is to become very objective and analytical about the reason. Why did someone else do better at that exact time when the competition took place. If one can consider every competition as an opportunity to learn how to do better at the next one, the rejection can be converted into an extremely educational “life experience.”

I look to one example from my own life. In 1988, when I was just 19 years old, I competed at the Kulenkampff Violin Competition, in Cologne, and was kicked out from the first round.

Only two months later, I won 3rd Prize at the even more prestigious Carl Nielsen Competition in Denmark. Interestingly, the 2nd Prize Winner of both competitions in Cologne and Denmark, happened to be the same person, who is now the concert mistress of the Dresden Philharmonic.

In other words, I managed to improve from a “1st round exit,” to a finalist, to a 3rd Prize Winner, within only two months.

And this happened NOT because one competition was more fair than the other. It was only because after I was rejected from the competition in Cologne, I listened to all the other candidates who went further, and used my intelligence to analyze what the others did better.

– Joji Hattori