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Carl Nielsen competitions are scrapped: a chairman protests.

The authorities in Odense have decided to get rid of three of the Nielsen competitions, for flute clarinet and organ. Professor Milan Vitek, who chairs the violin competition, has posted the following objections: 




As the Chairman of the Carl Nielsen Violin Competition jury, I have sent the text at the bottom of this note, adapted in Danish, as an open letter to the supervisory organ of Odense Symfoniorkester, the Odense City Cultural Administration. I have also sent a copy of the letter to the major daily newspapers in Denmark. I feel that I cannot remain silent as yet another established music organization disappears into the cultural void.

To quote John Donne:

“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
~ John Donne, Meditation XVII

The Carl Nielsen Violin Competition was not cut this time around, but the day may come when it is, when orchestras are cut, when orchestras have more and more unfilled positions and fewer full-time musicians on their roster, etc., etc… All musicians have an interest in not remaining silent when cultural budgets are cut, regardless of where in the world this happens and which organizations are the victims. For who knows? One may find oneself in a situation where one needs the support of many colleagues so one’s work place does not disappear.

If you wish to share your opinion of the actions of Odense Symfoniorkester and/or the Odense City Cultural Administration, email to (you can write in English as it is commonly spoken and understood in Denmark):

Att. Steen Møller
Chairman of the Odense City and Cultural Administration and the members of the City and Cultural Administration
Email to: Sekretariatschef Martin Petersen,

Dear Steen Møller,

Two days ago, I was notified by a private friend that Odense Symfoniorkester has cancelled the Carl Nielsen Flute, Clarinet and Organ Competitions. To this day, I have not received any formal communications about the cancellation from the Orchestra, and have only been able to get further news through reading articles in Danish newspapers. The orchestra plans to continue the Violin Competition as usual in the future, so I and the jury of this competition are not directly affected, but I do not feel I can remain silent in the face of such lack of courtesy and professionalism.

In the newspapers, Odense Symfoniorkester has stated that the competitions did not reach a broad enough audience because they were “closed club” events and that the orchestra wanted to save money in order to present a “special celebratory season” in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Carl Nielsen’s birth. These statements have, however, proven to be a smoke screen, since the newspapers have written that the real reason is that the orchestra has to save 900,000 DKr. per year in each of the coming 4 years.

I realize that the cultural sector is under pressure in most countries these days and that budget cuts are the norm for symphony orchestras these days. Nonetheless I have the following issues with what has happened:

1. Neither I nor any of the other Jury Presidents of the other competitions were notified of the orchestra’s plans in advance of the Orchestra’s announcement to the press that the competitions were being cancelled and that “staff members were being fired”. Because none of the Jury Presidents were consulted by the orchestra before its decision to cancel the competitions, we were not able to try to prevent the cuts by appealing foundations and Danish corporations to inquire if they would sponsor the competitions so they might not have to be cancelled.

2. As a result of Odense Symfoniorkester’s decision, the Competition President and President for the International Association of Music Competitions, Marianne Granvig, was apparently unceremoniously and suddenly notified that she was being terminated. without any acknowledgement or honoring of her 30 years of managing the Carl Nielsen Violin Competition, as well as her work to create the other competitions. This is a terrible and disrespectful way of treating a long-standing employee with whom I have an excellent collaboration and who, I think you will agree, has facilitated our work during the Carl Nielsen Violin Competition impeccably.

3. I am appalled that my fellow Jury Presidents of the other competitions which are being cut were, like me, not informed about the cuts until they read about them in the newspapers. I feel that this completely unprofessional treatment of our colleagues deserves a comment from us.

For this reason, I am writing to you, the Board of Directors of Odense Symfoniorkester, since the Board ultimately has to approve the actions of the Orchestra’s management before they are carried out. I hope you will reconsider your decision until the matter can be discussed in greater detail and possible alternatives be found to firing staff and closing down competitions.

Signed Milan Vitek & the musicians listed above.

PS I’ll post any publicly printed replies to my letter on my facebook page. They will be in Danish, but you can use Google Translate or a similar program to read them in English.

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  1. itrinkkeinwein says:

    How stupid. The flute and clarinet are two of the instruments that define Nielsen, and violin competitions are many.

  2. I must say, thank goodness. These competitions are really meaningless now a days. Musicians can make a career far more easily and without and empty prestige like a competition.
    We should see more of an influx of creativity and sense of working together instead of this
    “soloist” idealism. Which im so glad is going out of fashion in the music world.

    • Steve Foster says:

      Agreed. I’m never impressed by winners of competitions, especially if they use it to convince me to buy a ticket to see them perform. Who cares what they did two years ago in Prague. What are they going to do for me this evening’s performance?

    • Actually, it’s classical ensemble that is going out of fashion unfortunately. Also, competitions are extremely helpful in creating career opportunities for musicians.

  3. Cancelling the flute and clarinet competitions seems really unfortunate. There are plenty of violin and piano competitions, but not so many for wind instruments. Their disappearance probably won’t make or break any career, since the main career route for those instruments is still overwhelmingly in orchestras, but it’s a good way to promote the solo possibilities of those instruments.

  4. constantine says:

    There are not so much big competitions for clarinet, and now they close down one of the most important competition. Thats a shame ! We still have ARD but its pure mafia. There will be next year second debussy competition for clarinet, but we cannot compare it to nielsen competition(which was way more harder by repertoire choice). I am embarassed, i dont believe that this is happening.
    I dont agree with last commenter Nicola R, because as i sayd, these instruments,especially clarinet,dont have a lot of big international competitions(maybe once a 3 year?). There are alot of good clarinet players, and most of them want to do big international competitions. The problem is, that with few competitions, first of all- very few pass the preliminary round, and second – because of that the criteria of choosing the best player would be in some unreal cosmic level, so they will not give first prize unless you are in mafia or you play francaix concerto with a german system.

  5. Dear Professor Vitek,
    I applaud your thoughtful and sincere letter! Thank you for making your comments public.
    I’d like to reiterate what must have been said already; Nielsen’s flute and clarinet concertos are incredibly important and pivotal within each instrument’s repertoire, rivaling Mozart’s concerti. Yet we meet younger musicians who don’t know where Nielsen was born. It is a very sad day when Danish organizations give up on their flute and clarinet competitions which have been such a great avenues for fostering excellence in Nielsen’s music.

  6. Milan Vitek says:

    Nikola R and Steve Foster,

    I think you have a somewhat distorted and overly cynical view of what music competitions are about. Music competitions are certainly not the only way towards achieving a career for prize winners, and there are many fabulous musicians with great careers who have never participated in a single competition.

    Nevertheless, music competitions can help young musicians build up their career, if not immediately, then by providing them with prize money, which they can use to pay for their education, attend master classes or purchase a good instrument to replace the often inadequate instruments they play on. Winning prizes in competitions also helps by giving young musicians a record of achievement on their resumes, which may help them to get accepted to auditions for top orchestras (where there are often around 500 applicants or more for a single position, most of whom will be eliminated without a chance to audition) or in developing careers as educators.

    I often post articles that take a critical look at music competitions on my facebook page so my and other students can read about their downsides. Also, I make sure to counsel my students about my experiences as a jury member of many competitions so they don’t have unrealistic expectations. I also never encourage students who I don’t think are ready to participate in international competitions to do so. Many times, I have done the opposite.

    Here again, though, competitions have a potential upside for me as a teacher and for my students. Making the decision to participate in a competition can motivate a talented student to work harder and learn more repertoire than they otherwise might have reason to. You have to realize, that a BM in music only requires students to perform two stage performances of about 70 minutes effective playing time during the 4 years they study to get their diploma. They certainly have the option of performing more often of their own accord, but reserving the concert hall at a major music school during “normal” concert hours is nearly impossible, and performing a recital at 10 p.m. with only one’s very best friends in the audience is not exactly a motivational factor. Nor should one forget that music students do not just practice to get a degree. They have quite a high load of course work, which demands much of their time and makes it harder to pick up their instrument and practice an extra 1 or 2 hours when they are tired and stressed. So, Mr. Foster, while a competition prize on the bio of the musicians you are going to listen to tonight may not guarantee you a transcendental performance, it does indicate that the musicians in question have worked very hard to stand out and become excellent stage performers.

    So competitions can be both good or bad, but they should not be dismissed as “useless.” They are not for every music student, nor does every music student need them to become excellent. On the other hand, for some music students, they provide an opportunity to gain stage experience in front of generally highly positive, encouraging and musically intelligent audiences, become visible to well-connected members of the jury whom they might never have a chance to play for otherwise and, last but not least, earn some much-needed money.

    Milan Vitek
    Professor of Violin

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