GEORGE ENESCU INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION: A REFERENCE POINT FOR THE INTERNATIONAL CLASSICAL MUSIC COMPETITIONS ELITE
George Enescu International Competition, one of the most important international platforms for launching the future world-class musicians, is built as a natural extension of the George Enescu International Festival – the most important cultural event organized in Romania.
The operating model of the Competition is inspired by the values in which George Enescu himself believed. It recognizes, encourages, and promotes young talents in classical music, just as the great Romanian composer supported and helped young musicians during his life. George Enescu made substantial donations to pay for musicians’ scholarships, and in 1912 he toured through Romania raising over a thousand sterling pounds to launch a National Composition Award. At the same time, the Competition contributes to the promotion of George Enescu’s music worldwide, as his sonatas and suites are a must for those who reach the semifinals.
The George Enescu International Competition takes place every two years. The first prize winners have the opportunity to participate in next year’s edition of the Enescu Festival, performing on stage with internationally renowned orchestras.
Over time, the Enescu Competition has significantly contributed to the promotion and launch of many remarkable musicians, who have always maintained a soulful connection with Enescu and Romania.
First edition: 1958. The evolution of the Competition together with the Festival
The first edition of the Competition was organized in 1958, at the initiative of conductor George Georgescu, in honor of his close friend, the great composer, violinist, pianist, and conductor George Enescu. The year 1958 also marked three years since George Enescu’s passing away.
On September 4, 1958, in Bucharest, with the support of the well-known disciple of Enescu, Yehudi Menuhin, the George Enescu International Festival and Competition were launched simultaneously, the Competition being an integral part of the first edition of the Festival. On its first edition, the Competition was structured in two sections (violin and piano), later the organizers adding two more sections – singing and composition.
During communism, the official ideology used the Competition’s scope and its influence in promoting George Enescu’s legacy internationally to prove the so-called “superiority of the socialist order” to the world.
Among the personalities who participated in the first edition were Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Nadia Boulanger, Monique Haas, Yacov Zak, and Claudio Arrau as soloists and conductors John Barbirolli, Carlo Felice Cillario and Carlo Zecchi. As a member of the 1958 Competition Jury, violinist David Oistrakh told Agerpres at the time: “I was very happy to be elected to serve on the Competition jury, as I am convinced that this competition is one of the most important competitions for young musicians in recent years. By participating in this event of Romanian culture, musicians from many countries of the world bear witness to their high appreciation for the art of the great Romanian musician George Enescu.“
The prestige of the George Enescu Competition and Festival has grown exponentially with each edition. Over the years, the events organized at the Romanian Athenaeum and the Radio Hall have been attended by prestigious orchestras and musicians, such as the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, the Stockholm Philharmonic, conducted by Sergiu Celibidache or the London Philharmonic, directed by Sir John Barbirolli.
The George Enescu Festival and Competition were initially organized every three years, until the interruption of the Competition in 1971, for reasons related to the communist ideological movements of the time. On July 6, 1971, the infamous “Theses of July” were issued, which began the Mao-style “mini Cultural Revolution” of communist Romania.
The Competition was resumed only in 1991 (still being organized simultaneously with the George Enescu Festival), with 161 competitors registered in the 4 sections (violin, piano, singing, composition). The next edition followed in 1999, after which a Government Decision adopted in 2002 decreed to organize George Enescu International Festival every two years in Bucharest. New rhythmicity of the Festival and, respectively, of the Competition, was hence established.
In 2001, the Competition became a member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions. In 2003 took place the last edition of the Competition in which the singing section was re-included. In 2009, the organizers added the cello section, structuring the Competition with four sections, as it is today: violin, cello, piano, and composition.
A new amplitude: since 2014 the Enescu Competition has become an event separated from the Festival and is organized once every two years
Since 2014, the Competition has been organized as a separate event from the George Enescu Festival, every two years (alternatively from the dates of the Festival), and offers access to the general public.
The Competition Finals started to take place at the Romanian Athenaeum, and the finalists of the Violin, Cello, and Piano sections were invited to perform concerts in these finals, together with the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra – a novelty compared to previous editions.
Also, the Enescu Competition was extended for a longer period of three weeks, to offer the public the opportunity to listen and see all the competitors.
The idea was continued in the following editions so that the alternate organization of the two events keeps the Enescu cultural brand in the foreground on the public agenda. The current every-other-year rhythmicity (one year the Festival, the other one – the Competition) secures Bucharest’s place continuously on the international map of classical music events.
Also in 2014, the winners of the Enescu Competition received, along with important prizes in cash, the opportunity to perform in the next edition of the Enescu Festival and to participate in concerts in the local philharmonics seasons around the country.
In 2016, the Enescu Competition marked another premiere: the young American Zlatomir Fung, only 17 years old, won the Cello Section of the Competition performing – for the first time in the history of the event – Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra by George Enescu. “It exudes optimism, a kind of bubbling passion, and is extremely lyrical,” said Zlatomir Fung about Enescu’s piece.
The 2018 Competition registered an organizational and audience record. More than 400 young musicians from 46 countries signed up, and the number of registered Romanian contestants tripled. Also, the number of tickets sold increased by 7% compared to the previous edition, the final concerts, and the Opening Gala being traditionally sold out. “The figures show that both nationally and internationally the prestige of the Enescu Competition is constantly growing,” said Mihai Constantinescu, Executive Director of the George Enescu International Festival and Competition.
2018 was a year of great celebration – it marked the 60th anniversary of the George Enescu International Competition’s first edition, 105 years since George Enescu founded the National Composition Prize (awarded until 1946) and Romania’s Great Union Centennial.
Reinventing the Competition during the pandemic
In 2020, the George Enescu International Competition came with a series of novelties to consolidate its top position at the international level. The 2020 Competition took place between August 29 and September 20 and aimed to offer the public a special experience: a competition for “Beauty in Life“. Music, said George Enescu, goes from heart to heart. When two hearts communicate directly, beyond words, beauty makes its place in life, regardless of the gray, the struggles, and the daily tensions. When words are mute, music takes on a voice and makes us live Pure Beauty. Therefore, beyond the supremacy of virtuosity, the 2020 Enescu Competition wished to show that we all have the power to reinvent ourselves, in order to choose life and beauty equally, as a refusal or defiance of the aggressive realities around us.
The Competition was reinvented online with a premiere in the world of international classical music – the first two stages of the sections were organized online, this measure being taken in order to be able to organize the competition in the context of the pandemic. Thus, 205 young artists were able to follow their dream and participate in the Competition online, between August 29 and September 20, 2020.
The last two stages – the Semifinals and the Finals – were organized in Bucharest, at the Romanian Athenaeum, between May 12 and 23, 2021, having the audience in the concert hall. 21 young musicians from 11 countries took part in the second phase of the George Enescu International Competition, in a one-of-a-kind edition, for the unfolding of which organizers have spared no efforts in the pandemic context and its effects on the international artistic world.
The great winners of the three instrument sections are 15-year-old cellist Jaemin Han, from South Korea, the youngest winner in the history of the Enescu Competition; 31-year-old violinist Valentin Serban, from Romania; and pianist Yeon-Min Park, from South Korea, 30.
Great musicians of the world, winners of the George Enescu Competition
Brilliant soloists such as pianists Radu Lupu, Valentin Gheorghiu and Dan Grigore, renowned violinist Silvia Marcovici, who performed under the baton of the world-famous conductors (Zubin Mehta, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, etc.), soprano Ileana Cotrubas, mezzo-soprano Viorica Cortez, composer Dan Dediu, as well as remarkable representatives of the new generation of artists: Alexandru Tomescu, Vlad Stănculeasa, Remus Azoiței, Ana Tifu. Ștefan Tarara, Valentin Răduțiu, Mihai Ritivoiue – these are just some of the most prominent Romanian musicians internationally, who have debuted as winners of the George Enescu International Competition.
Great names in international classical music, such as pianists Elisabeth Leonskaja, Li Ming-Qiang, Josu de Solaun, soprano Agnes Baltsa, cellist Zlatomir Fung, violinists Nemanja Radulović and Erzhan Kulibaev also launched their careers on the stage of the Enescu Competition.
“I was 18 when I first came to Bucharest. Here I participated in the Enescu Competition, where I won the first prize. When you are so young and receive a prize like the one from the Enescu Competition, it is a big leap in what is called a career. I can say that the Enescu moment started my career,” stated in 2014, in an interview given to the organizers, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Winner of the 1964 Enescu Competition.