The Violin Channel recently caught up with Rob Hilberink - Executive Director of the inaugural Rotterdam International Conducting Competition - set to be held in Rotterdam, Netherlands from the 21st of May to the 4th of June, 2021.
Hi Rob. Tell us about the inaugural Rotterdam International Conducting Competition. Where did the idea for this event come from?
"ICCR has been over 5 years in the making.
It sparked from the notion that very few high-level opportunities for young conductors existed worldwide.
In the Netherlands we used to have the famous Kondrashin Conducting Competition, which unfortunately ceased to exist in the 1990s.
When former director of the Concertgebouw, Martijn Sanders, and myself started this project, we quickly found many companions, including our main partner, The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra"
When and where will this be hosted?
"The first edition will take place in May 2021, with live selection rounds in December 2020.
All events take place in ‘De Doelen’ in Rotterdam, which is the largest venue in The Netherlands.
Rotterdam is a vibrant city, with the largest port of Europe.
Is also has such a long history in developing conducting talent, including the likes of Edo de Waart, Valery Gergiev, Simon Rattle, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and most recently Lahav Shani"
Tell us about the unique format? And how this differs to other conducting competitions?
"ICCR strongly believes that nowadays a conductor has to be versatile.
That is why the competition has introduced a completely new formula.
It consists of six rounds, each with a different specialties, from historically informed practice to contemporary music.
Each round will consist of rehearsals and a final concert performance, both of which will be judged by the jury, and will be open to the public.
What is unique is that there is no elimination.
All six selected conductors (age 23-35) will get the chance to do all rounds and work with six renowned orchestras, including the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Orchestra of the 18th Century"
What will the 2021 prize winners receive?
"The ICCR presents a new format for judging, in which a winner will be determined for each round.
With these six ‘specialist awards,’ comes the Grand Prix.
The Grand Prix will be awarded for the best all-round conductor.
Next to cash prizes (a total 80,000 Euro), all conductors will also receive a career development programme which includes concerts, mentorship and publicity support"
How did you select your jury and how will these members assess the rounds and varying repertoire?
"For the jury, we are also introducing a completely new format.
The jury consists of a fixed core of four members extended with four rotating ‘specialists’ for each round.
There will also be a separate jury for the selection rounds, which means we have 32 jurors in total.
It has been a tour-de-force to assemble this wonderful collection of people.
Our main objective in selecting jurors has been diversity in background: conductors, composers, orchestra managers, and musicians, with different ages, genders and nationalities"
What initiatives have you put into places during the application process to adjust to the current COVID situation?
"To help prospective candidates, we have reduced the application fee to 100 EUR and we changed the requirements for the application videos.
Candidates are now allowed to use videos from their archives."
How important do you feel competitions are for launching a young conductor’s career?
"Compared to other musicians, a conducting competition is of even higher importance to a career.
As a young conductor there are very few opportunities to perform on ‘your instrument’, seldom do you have the chance to work with a high-level orchestra and even then, never does this happen in front of so many influential people from all around the world.
It is both a fantastic learning experience and a showcase at the same time.
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 conductors to a successful and sustainable performance career?
I beg to differ, there are very few high-level competitions for conductors especially compared to the number for string or piano players.
I don’t believe competitions ‘make’ a career, they offer opportunities to develop and spark the interest of decision makers.
A competition is a steppingstone.
A sustainable career all depends on the next step, in which we as competitions should provide guidance.
The most important element actually is gradual development, where young artists get the chance to learn and grow.
Careers need to be managed, and most of the time this means putting on the brakes."
How important is fairness and transparency in your voting process? What initiative do you have in place to ensure an unbiased result?
"Of course we strive for a fair judging process.
This starts with assembling a well-balanced and trustworthy jury.
We believe we have eliminated the option of any kind of fraud with the rotating jury system"
If someone wants to apply for your 2021 conducting competition, how should they go about this?
"The deadline is coming up quickly.
You will have until the 1st of July to apply.
The application is going through the wonderful MUVAC platform, where you will be able to upload the required videos and documents.
For all details, do check our website www.iccr.nl or get in touch with us"