The jury giving feedback to the finalists

This fall I had my first chance to travel to Portugal, when composer Luís Tinoco contacted me and invited me to be a juror in the Prémio Jovens Músicos conducting competition. This competition has existed already from year 1987, but it has earlier only had categories for solo performers and ensembles. This year, to celebrate the 30th edition of the competition, a conducting competition was organized for the first time. It proved to be the most popular of all categories with 33 applications. Based on their application videos 12 young conductors were chosen to appear in front of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra and a four member jury.

Besides myself, the jurors were Jean-Marc Burfin, a French conductor who has made Portugal his home for a long time already, Joana Carneiro who is probably the most well known Portuguese conductor at the moment, and 90-year old Madame Teresa de Macedo who also was a patroness of the whole competition.

The first round included music from Debussy’s Afternoon of the Faun and Beethoven’s first symphony, and the participants all had 15 minutes to conduct without rehearsing the orchestra. Even though the time was short we could get a very good picture of each competitor’s manual skills, expressive capabilities and their podium charisma. With my experience of about a dozen competitions I thought the level was very high. From this round we chose six to go to the semi-finals and the decision was almost unanimous. The jury also had an advisory orchestra vote to help in the decision after every round.

Nuno Coelho da Silva, 1st prize

The next day we heard six candidates conduct the first movement of the Saint-Saëns cello concerto with Marco Pereira as soloist, and then we heard for the first time some rehearsing in varied repertoire (decided by lottery after the previous round). This time we could notice clear differences in the preparedness of the candidates, mainly judging by their technical solutions. The pieces were all standard repertoire (Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert) so in my opinion you should really use tried and tested methods when it is about a competition, and ask your professor or older colleagues for some advice. This time the jury was unanimous when it was time to decide who goes to the finals.

José Eduardo Gomes, 2nd prize

The final round was very interesting, and we heard for the first time a Portuguese classic - a freely chosen movement from João Domingos Bomtempo’s first symphony. The other repertoire we heard was Beethoven’s Eroica and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and some more Saint-Saëns cello concerto. This time it was not so easy to come to an agreement within the jury, because every candidate showed very good potential (and all of them actually work in the profession already), but they were so different that a fair comparison between them was really hard to make. Finally we decided to give the main prize to Nuno Coelho da Silva, the second prize plus a special orchestra favorite prize to José Eduardo Gomes and the third prize to Jan Wierzba. Congratulations!

Jan Wierzba, 3rd prize

After the competition I stayed for a while in Lissabon to enjoy the warm weather and go to some museums. I also went to listen to the opening concerts of the Festival Jovens Músicos in both the jazz category and the classical soloist category. The concerts were held in the hall of the Gulbenkian Foundation, which is a very interesting actor in the Portuguese cultural and scientific scenes, and this foundation also has a very good orchestra which accompanied the young soloists. Much could be written about Portuguese classical music scene, but I hope to do it when I have a chance to go back and learn more about it!