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VC INTERVIEW | Nicholas Mann on the Naumburg International Chamber Music Competition

The 2021 edition will take place on September 18 and 19 at the Gilda Lehman Hall at New York's Morgan Library


The Violin Channel recently talked with Nicholas Mann, President of the Naumburg Foundation, to discuss their upcoming Chamber Music Competition.

The candidates for this year's Naumburg International Chamber Music Competition were announced last week. 


Can you tell us about the Naumburg Award and its very impressive longevity?

In 1965, under the leadership of my father, Robert Mann, Naumburg decided to elevate the profile of chamber music in the US by offering a chamber award. The Beaux-Arts Quartet won and their commissioned work, Leon Kirchner’s third quartet, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Seeing the importance of supporting chamber groups, Naumburg began a regularly scheduled chamber competition in 1971 (50 years ago). Today, there are numerous chamber competitions throughout the US, but in 1971, Naumburg was "the" chamber competition. We quickly became the standard for excellence in the chamber music world.


Tell us about some of the previous winners of the Naumburg categories. How do you feel this award was able to positively impact their career development?

Over our 95 years, we have had a remarkable “who’s who” of winners. Since we are discussing our upcoming chamber music competition, I will mention a few of the groups that won our award. Winners include Speculum Musicae, Francesco Trio, Eighth Blackbird, The American, Concord, Emerson, Ying, Brentano, Pacifica, Miro, and Telegraph Quartet.

But the list of chamber groups that have had an important career is long and impressive and my short list is, unfortunately, leaving out many of our impressive award recipients.


This year you are focusing on chamber music ensembles. When will the competition be hosted and who was eligible to apply?

Our competition will be September 18 and 19, 2021; with two rounds. The requirements have not changed much over the years. Most importantly a group must be from the US, and they have to have been together for at least 3 years.


What do you feel the jury is generally looking for in Naumburg Award winner?

Whether it is a chamber group or a soloist, Naumburg is looking for a young artist who has a unique musical profile with an ability to communicate to an audience. Yes, they need instrumental virtuosity, but the winner must have a special voice, and an expressive gift.


What do you feel is the role of chamber music in society, especially in difficult times such as the ones we experienced recently?

Chamber music, as the name implies is meant to be an intimate musical experience. Obviously, many of the venues that groups perform in today are large concert halls, but the idea of drawing the audience in, of creating a magical shared experience with some of the greatest literature, is life-affirming.

We have all been isolated, and many have struggled with great loss during this pandemic. Chamber music is a most beautiful way to engage and communicate the riches of life and art.


What initiatives have you put into place to adjust to the COVID situation this year?

For the chamber music competition, all contestants must be vaccinated or have tested for Covid-19. Our chamber music 50th anniversary gala and our vocal competition, both originally scheduled for last year, had to be postponed and rescheduled for 2021. Our gala will be on October 8, 2021, in Town Hall and the vocal competition was held in May.


How important do you feel competitions are for launching a young musician’s performance career?

There are a multitude of ways for musicians to launch and develop a career. A competition is one of the most obvious and can be incredibly helpful. No matter how talented you are, everyone needs help, whether it be through connections or even luck.

The Naumburg can offer a chamber group a way to gain visibility. Being heard by audiences, sponsors, and managers is an important step. Having the Naumburg’s name associated with a group offers a great measure of distinction.


There are many competitions today and many 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners. What do you feel are the differentiating elements that propel some young musicians to a successful and sustainable performance career? What are the elements that define a successful career?

There is no one answer and many ways to distinguish oneself as an artist. But all sustainable careers require an artist to grow as a musician, to develop a unique profile as an artist, and to express and communicate in a special way.

Winning a competition can offer a major boost to a career’s trajectory, and many 2nd and 3rd prize winners have gone on to spectacular careers. Where you place in any competition does not define your future, but it does help those who are award winners.


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