The Violin Channel recently discussed the upcoming competition with its executive director, Kara Kane.
Tell us about the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. When was it founded? What is the competition’s primary mission?
In 1973, Joseph Fischoff and the members of the South Bend Chamber Music Society wanted to find a unique way to encourage young music students to study chamber music. They decided to host a chamber music competition, and in the first year, six ensembles participated. 49 years later, on average 125 ensembles compete, representing 31 different states and 23 nationalities.
Mr. Fischoff and his friends could not have known that their experiment, and abiding passion for teaching young students the fine craft of chamber music, would launch the careers of hundreds, and enhance the lives of thousands of aspiring musicians. Since its founding, more than 7,600 musicians have competed, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in music performance and education, including Grammy award winners: Indiana native violinist Joshua Bell, the genre-defying contemporary ensemble Eighth Blackbird, the Pacifica Quartet, and 2022 Grammy Award nominee, Imani Winds.
Fischoff distinguishes itself from all other music competitions by remaining true to its core mission: to encourage and educate young musicians in the discipline and expression of chamber music. Committed to music education, Fischoff partners with its distinguished competition alumni to deliver free, innovative music programs to children and youth. Programs are presented in schools, community centers, and after-school programs. Through these programs, Fischoff has served over 91,500 youth in the tri-state region since 1995; and on an annual basis, reaches more than 4,000 students, many of whom are in under-resourced schools within our community. Fischoff’s programs give local students first-hand, up-close, personal experiences with some of the finest chamber musicians in the world.
Who are some past prize winners, who’ve gone to achieve celebrated careers?
Fischoff has a long list of distinguished chamber ensembles in both the string and wind chamber music world. They include: Miro Quartet, Pacifica Quartet, Calidore Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, Dover Quartet, Chiara Quartet, Jupiter String Quartet, Jasper String Quartet, Ariel Quartet, Tesla Quartet, Telegraph Quartet, Verona Quartet.
Esteemed wind ensembles include Imani Winds, PRISM Quartet, Akropolis Reed Quintet, Kenari Quartet, Barkada Quartet, Axiom Brass, and WindSync. View the full list of winners: https://www.fischoff.org/fischoff/assets/File/History%20of%20Winners%20as%20of%202020.pdf
Fischoff medalists also include VC Artists & Young Artists: Calidore Quartet, Dover Quartet, Merz Trio, Notos Piano Quartet, Ulysses Quartet, Verona Quartet, and Viano String Quartet.
As the competition’s Executive Director since 2020, what would you say is your team’s long-term vision for the annual competition as it approaches its 50th year and beyond?
First and foremost, Fischoff approaches our 50th anniversary with an enormous sense of gratitude. It is incredible to see this germ of an idea shared amongst friends in South Bend, emerge into a premiere competition that has been an important part of so many incredible musicians’ journeys. There are so many generous spirits and organizations that have helped us get here. As a result, we will look forward to forging more collaborations and partnerships. We are committed to living out these life lessons chamber music teaches us — through collaboration and teamwork we are able to achieve something greater together.
Over our next 50 years, we will continue to cultivate and build our strengths. Fischoff has seen our pre-college musicians flourish, and with the creation of a separate junior wind division in 2019, we look forward to including even more young wind and brass musicians as part of the competition.
With the small, nimble size of our ensembles, paired with their entrepreneurial spirit, Fischoff sees a big opportunity to help continue to keep classical music alive and relevant. As the nation’s largest competition, we have always wanted to include and cultivate as many chamber musicians as possible. We look forward to being able to continue to do this by welcoming an even more diverse group of musicians across the globe. We also are working to encourage these fine musicians to keep being curious in their repertoire choices and find innovative ways to connect with their audiences.
Fundamentally, what do you see as the role of chamber music in today’s society?
At Fischoff we see the role of chamber music as an important mechanism to engage our community in the life lessons chamber music teaches us — the art of listening, the rewards of collaboration, and the amazing things we can achieve through teamwork.
Chamber ensembles are excited to perform in intimate spaces where their music can help provide a lens into the world around us, and offer an environment to engage in dialogue.
From its roots in homes during eighteenth-century Europe to the varied venues where a sense of home is created, chamber music is still about making music together, among friends. Ensembles have the freedom to choose their members and present the music that speaks to them. We always look forward to the journey chamber musicians will take us on.
This year, the senior categories have added a new special "Lift Every Voice" Prize which will be presented to one ensemble for the best performance of a work composed by a Black, Hispanic, Latino, or Latina composer. Tell us about this new prize and why this celebration of diversity is an important driver for your organization?
Fischoff is pleased to announce its inaugural Lift Every Voice Prize for the best performance of a work by a historically underrepresented composer within the chamber music world. For this inaugural prize, we are focusing on works by Black composers and/or Hispanic/Latino/a composers whose heritage originates from Latin America. (Future years may highlight additional underrepresented groups).
The winning ensemble and runner-up will participate in a special soiree performance in South Bend on Friday evening, May 20. Additionally, the winning ensemble will perform at the Gold Medalist Concert on Sunday, May 22, and will receive a special cash award of $1,500. The Lift Every Voice videos of all participating ensembles will be featured on Fischoff's social media on Friday, May 20, as part of the Fischoff Competition Lift Every Voice Virtual Concert.
The Fischoff board and staff are committed to making room on our mainstage for amazing performances of works by historically underrepresented composers. Fischoff is excited to introduce this new prize to encourage senior division ensembles to delve into these incredible works and to help expand the chamber music canon. With our national and international presence in the chamber music world, Fischoff has a remarkable opportunity to showcase new and underrepresented voices.
What will this year’s gold medal-winning ensembles receive?
Fischoff awards over $40,000 in cash prizes along with main stage performance opportunities. Both Senior Division Gold medal winners win a $3,500 cash prize and return for separate concert and outreach tours of the Midwest in the fall after the Competition. The Senior String Gold Medalist will also be awarded a video recording in the acoustically stunning Guarneri Hall in Chicago, sponsored by Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins.
The two Gold Medal Winners will compete on Sunday, May 22 for the Grand Prize. The winner of the Grand Prize will also win an additional $10,000 prize and a residency at the Emilia Romagna Festival in Italy. Junior Division Gold Medal Winners in both the winds and string division each receive a $2,300 cash prize and perform live on NPR’s From the Top, which showcases America’s most outstanding young classical musicians.
What special outstanding elements do you feel many of your past gold medalists have possessed?
There are so many incredible musicians that come through Fischoff, and many are worthy of the gold medal each year. Our Artistic Director, Tom Rosenberg, always gives the groups a pep talk on the Saturday of the competition letting them know that those that win have a balance of talent, deep love and understanding of chamber music, and timing. Many of our groups come back to Fischoff multiple times because it takes time to gel as a group and get that timing just right.
Who is eligible to enter this year’s competition categories?
The Fischoff Competition is open to string, wind, brass or mixed instrumental ensembles of 3–6 musicians. Rulebook with full eligibility details & Entry Form available at: https://www.fischoff.org/competition/entering-the-competition/
The application deadline for this year’s competition was March 2 however, keep your eyes on www.fischoff.org in the fall as we release the application deadline for the 50th Anniversary Competition which will be held May 12-14, 2023.