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“The sadness of an empty hall” – Open letter of the executive director Mihai Constantinescu

Mihai Constantinescu, executive director of the George Enescu International Competition and Festival writes an open letter in the context of the image captured during the First Round, at the Violin Section of the Enescu Competition 2016, published by the renowned violinist Remus Azoiței, member of the jury. You can read the full letter below.

Open Letter 

The sadness of an empty hall

We as organisers share the sadness of seeing an empty hall during the first rounds of the Enescu Competition, given the fact that most recitals and final concerts of the same event are sold out.

It is a striking contrast. What does it mean?

It is the contrast between offer and demand on the local music industry. On the one hand, we have an audience who wants classical music, who is open to new experiences. On the other hand, we have a Romanian music school that still cannot adapt to this demand, to the pace of the international music market, to its rigours, to the performance criteria that are necessary to obtain worldwide recognition.

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Between the audience in Romania and the music school of Romania stands the George Enescu International Competition. It is an event organised at international standards, enjoying appreciation and an excellent reputation all around the world. Proof of these statements is: the number of applicants that increased by 40% compared to 2014; having world-renowned musicians in the juries, as well as international conductors leading the finals; having live international broadcasts via Medici.tv and featuring certain recordings on MEZZO.

The audience is open to the Competition. Proof: although it is the first year when tickets to the events during the Competition are being sold, most recitals and concerts are sold out. In the evenings, we have an additional audience on the stairs of the Athenaeum, people who watch for free the performances in the concert hall, on the screen we have mounted.

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Until 2014, Enescu Competition was considered an event for specialists. Although access was free, the audience would not come to its rounds and not even to the finals, being much more interested in the concerts at the Enescu Festival. Since 2014, the challenge we have undertaken has been to bring the general audience to the hall, at the recitals and concerts within the Competition. The progress is notable, even this year when access was no longer free, except for the first round, while access for students, teachers and professors of music schools, high schools and faculties is free for all rounds.

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However, we do notice, sadly, that although the general audience is increasingly interested in the Competition and classical music, we cannot see the same interest in the Romanian performance schools.

The weak attendance of the specialized audience at the first round of the Violin Competition, which Mr Remus Azoiței, violin professor at the Royal Academy of Music, London, winner of the Enescu Competition and member of the jury, speaks about with sadness and upset, is just one of the symptoms. The primary and intermediate stages of a Competition of this kind remain particularly for the specialized audience, including due to the manner of organisation: it is a performance marathon, which not all members of the general audience can take. Of course, true music lovers and those who do have the time to spend hours on end in the concert hall can do it and it is for them that we allowed public access.

We cannot accommodate a throng of people coming and going, according to their own schedules, because we would disturb the feel of the competition and the contestants’ capacity to focus.

Therefore, the true beneficiaries of the seats available during the competition rounds remain young musicians, professors and music students, namely those who should watch and learn from all that happens at an international level. It is for them that the Enescu Competition actually brings to Bucharest the best representatives of great music schools all over the world. Listening to these contestants in their recitals is a source of development, because you can learn many new things.

This is precisely why access to music students is free of charge, within the limits of the seats available; organisers have sent to conservatories the necessary elements to promote the Competition; there is an intense campaign on channels that reach young people, such as social media. This free access has been offered both to the Festival and the Competition, for many years now, basically being tradition.

But the sadness of that empty hall is just a tiny sliver of a much darker picture, which we all could see if we answered honestly to a few questions:

  1. Why don’t professors bring their students to the concert hall and why don’t they teach them the importance of listening to other artists?
  2. Why are there so few contestants at the Enescu Competition from the Romanian music school? At the Piano Section, although the jury has two professors from the University of Music of Bucharest, no Romanian-taught contestant has applied, although a special award was reserved for the best-ranking Romanian contestant.
  3. Why does the Romanian music school prefer to notice that the school curriculum is different from what is required at the Enescu Competition, instead of accommodating it, finding solutions to prepare its students to obtain prizes at this Competition, which will later promote them internationally? For instance: Romania had 9 candidates (violin – 7, piano – 0, cello – 2), while China had 7, Japan 21, Russia 15, Korea 38, France 7 and the USA 9.
  4. Why do Romanians who win the Enescu Competition mostly come from foreign schools?
  5. Why is there such a weak participation of graduates from other university centres?
  6. Why do we have more foreigners playing Enescu than Romanians?
  7. Why do musicians appreciate the Enescu Competition abroad more than in Romania? The numbers this year are eloquent proof of how interested young foreign artists are in the opportunities provided by the Enescu Competition!

As far as we are concerned, we will continue with the same open policy to young artists from Romania, whether we reach the right answers to these questions or not. And we will keep doing it with our partners, with the professors and musicians who support us, developing projects to encourage Romanian talents, without affecting the unbiasedness and fairness inherent to an international competition.

We will not bring anyone by force in the concert hall! We wish to inspire people and show them an admirable model, in everything we do and communicate: George Enescu himself; each laureate of the Competition; the concerts; the recitals we organise or give; promotion for DVD recordings after the competition, etc.

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To conclude, in such a competitive environment as the international artistic world, seeing the opportunities given by the Enescu Competition – which are intensely communicated – is in itself a criteria of selection and self-selection: no one pushes you to go on stage, you have to wish to be there and you have to be really good to deserve to be there, because otherwise the audience will not support you!

Mihai Constantinescu

Executive Director, “George Enescu” International Festival and Competition

Translation provided by Biroul de Traduceri Champollion