The Violin Channel recently sat down with Didier Schnorhk to discuss the Geneva competition's two-year career development program available to prizewinners.
The competition was meant to be held in 2020 but you’ve now pivoted to 2021. How have you adapted the competition to the pandemic?
It wasn’t easy. In 2020, we were to have only the cello competition, while the oboe and composition competitions were planned for 2021. Postponing the cello competition completely changed our plans and we had to rethink the entire program for the coming four years, including organizing the different categories and balancing finances.
We decided to organize the cello competition alongside the oboe one in 2021. We plan to offer a hybrid competition — going virtual for the first part and live in-person for the semi-finals and finals. We also decided to lower the application fees to take into consideration the financial difficulties of young musicians. We will also financially and technically support the musicians to record their videos. Finally, we will cover all costs for the semi-finalists invited to Geneva in autumn.
As you can see, those are important changes in order to support young musicians.
On top of the winning prizes, this year’s laureates will have access to a two-year career development program. Can you tell us about this exciting opportunity?
This program isn’t new. We've been developing it for over ten years, adding a little to it each year. The idea is to follow our winners in a personal way (except if they do not wish for this) by offering advice, coaching, concert opportunities, tours, recordings. We follow those musicians for at least two years but often for much longer.
How did the program start?
Our career development program started as a collaboration with the concert agency ProMusica, which was representing one of our winners. It went very well, and in 2003, we decided to make our collaboration official. Things evolved quite amazingly to the point that this program is now as important as the competition itself.
You offer not only a CD recording and a concert tour, but also workshops on different critical topics for young musicians. Can you tell us about those?
The idea for the prizewinners' workshop appeared in 2017. We wanted to answer questions from our laureates about their career choices: what strategy to choose, how to interact with and get noticed by agents and producers, and other subjects such as contracts, rights, and health. We decided to invite professionals in Geneva and to put together training and development workshops with about 10 laureates. It was a success!
In 2020, because of the pandemic, we ran this program online on more personal topics such as career projects and video presentations. This also was very successful. Young musicians really got involved, developing a better awareness of their careers with all their complexity, and are now more equipped to face the music market.
What do you think is most important to develop at the beginning of an international career?
It seems to us that the most important aspect is to offer a strong artistic project that will inspire producers and programmers to hire you. It sounds simple but it’s much more complex. It isn’t enough to have innovative ideas or to offer revolutionary programs. The main point is to show that you have a strong personality that will be well received by audiences and musicians — and that you want to offer a personal view of the music at the highest level. That is quite a challenge!
How have you helped your laureates during this difficult past year?
We tried to keep in touch with as many laureates as possible. We helped them through our e-workshop, which participants very much enjoyed. We also organized a weekend of concerts in Geneva which sadly had to be exclusively live-streamed. Whenever possible, we kept going with our concert season (a third of them actually happened) and we even managed to record a CD that will be published under the La Dolce Volta label.
What do you think is the future of classical music as we navigate those troubled times?
That’s a topic that deserves a long discussion. It’s hard to say…
We do believe that music itself is immortal and will last as long as humanity exists. What is going to change, for sure, is the business model of classical music, and not necessarily for the worse. It is obvious that the globalized market has been through many extremes these past decades. It won’t be possible for most musicians to live like a constant traveler anymore, flying from one continent to another. We might rediscover the virtues of proximity and modesty, a form of intimacy between the public and the music — and that quality will be chosen over quantity. This is at least what I am hoping for.