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A Gift to
the World

The stars of tomorrow

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) drew from past and present to create works of revolutionary power and revelatory expression. He stands today alongside Franz Liszt as one of Hungary’s two greatest composers, a mighty cultural force whose music retains its power to shock, seduce and inspire. His rich legacy gained fresh momentum two years ago with the launch of the Bartók World Competition.

The annual event, created by the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest, boasts a unique structure built around a six-year cycle. It alternates between a competition for instrumentalists and a competition for composers: violin, piano, and chamber ensemble take turns in odd-numbered years, while even-numbered years belong exclusively to composers. The composition competition’s winning work and one other are carried forward into the repertoire for the next instrumental edition.

This year’s Bartók World Competition trains the spotlight on pianists from 7 - 15 September. Contestants, who must be 32 or younger, have until 25 March to submit their online applications. The organisers expect to receive over 200 video entries, from which 40 pianists will be selected to enter this September’s preliminary round. A dozen will progress to the semi-final, six to the final and three to the competition’s grand final on 15 September.

International Appeal

Thanks to support from Hungary’s Ministry of Human Capacities and a clear artistic vision, the Bartók World Competition offers strong attractions to prospective candidates. Its three finalists will compete for a first prize of €30,000, leaving €20,000 for the runner-up and €10,000 for third place. The Bartók prize pot also includes concert and recording opportunities, together with the wider benefits of live streaming for all competition performances and selective broadcasts by Hungarian radio and television.

‘Bartók studied and taught at the Liszt Academy,’ notes the institution’s President, Dr Andrea Vigh. ‘We can feel his presence and the spirit of his music in every corner,’ she continues. ‘There’s a special significance that this year’s Bartók World Competition application deadline falls on 25 March, Bartók’s birthday. Bartók is the bridge that links Hungary with the rest of the world.’

Vigh hatched the idea for a new Bartók competition shortly before much of the composer’s music fell out of copyright into the public domain. ‘She saw the opportunity for us to do something to celebrate this remarkable composer,’ recalls Professor Gyula Fekete, the Liszt Academy’s Vice President of Research and International Affairs. ‘There are other Bartók competitions, but we felt we should come up with a unique international tribute to someone who we think is one of ours.’

‘He’s a wonderful composer and terrific pianist...’

Competing with Bartók

Before scoring success as a composer, Béla Bartók made his name as a pianist. The young musician performed one of his own compositions at the Anton Rubinstein Competition in Paris in 1905. He came second to Wilhelm Backhaus, a former child prodigy with a flourishing solo career to his credit. Bartók’s keyboard wizardry owed much to his studies at the Liszt Academy. His compositions, meanwhile, drew from the fertile ground of Hungarian folk music, peasant songs from eastern Europe and Turkey, and the vibrant colours of his homeland’s melting pot of diverse dialects and languages.

The Bartók World Competition reflects the composer’s global reach and importance. The inaugural event for violinists was judged by, among others, such distinguished artists as Salvatore Accardo, Barnabás Kelemen, Quian Zhou and Krzysztof Wegrzyn, while the jury for last year’s competition for composers included Thomas Adès, Unsuk Chin and Chaya Czernowin.

“It was a big thing for us when Thomas Adès agreed to chair our jury,” notes Gyula Fegete. “Like Bartók, he’s a wonderful composer and terrific pianist. This was the first time he’d taken a jury position, so it was a great honour that he leant his reputation to a competition in Bartók’s name.”

Contestants for the 2019 piano title will be assessed by a formidable judging team. The panel includes Tamás Vásáry, Andrei Korobeinikov and Alexandre Moutouzkine.

Two pieces by winners of last year’s inaugural composition competition appear on the menu of compulsory contemporary works for this September’s piano contest. The new scores, including one by Liszt Academy student and 2018 first prize winner, Dániel Dobos, were written in the spirit – if not the style – of Bartók’s music. Next year’s composition competition is set to generate two new works for inclusion in the 2021 competition for string quartets and chamber groups.

Aiming High

The Bartók World Competition, although new to the international competition circuit, aspires to match the best among its more established peers. Artistic quality, the jury’s impartiality, the promotion of Bartók’s music and support for young composers belong to its list of strong selling propositions, several of which have been engineered to remove the boundary between performers and composers.

To complement the competition’s instrumental editions, the Liszt Academy hosts a biennial symposium of leading Bartók experts. It also curates exhibitions and public events as part of a festival intended to introduce Bartók to new listeners and broaden interest in his music. ‘Bartók was a huge figure in the history of 20th-century music and certainly one of the most influential,’ says Gyula Fekete. ‘He understood the importance of conserving the past while bringing out bold new ideas. That’s what we want to do with the Bartók World Competition.’