General Meeting

THE QUEEN ELISABETH COMPETITION
Speaker: Nicolas Dernoncourt
Nicolas Dernoncourt
Nicolas Dernoncourt
Location
CHÂTEAU SAINTE-ANNE Rue Du Vieux Moulin 103 1160 Bruxelles

One of the most demanding and widely publicised international competitions, the Queen Elisabeth Competition (Concours Reine Elisabeth), created in 1937, has established itself as a springboard for young violinists, pianists, singers, and cellists on the threshold of an international career. The Competition aims to serve as an intermediary between those young virtuosos and the world’s great musical venues.

Steadfastly committed to the project initiated by Eugène Ysaÿe and Queen Elisabeth, the Queen Elisabeth Competition seeks to discover complete artists; it owes its reputation to a prestigious jury, strict rules, and unparalleled media coverage, as well as to the friendly and enthusiastic hospitality offered by an entire country and its Royal Family.

Nicolas Dernoncourt, Secretary General of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, will present the organisation from the point of view of what makes the event so unique.

Nicolas Dernoncourt is a self-taught musician and composer. He obtained a Master degree in Art History, Archaeology and Musicology at the University of Louvain in 1997. After working occasionally for Les Halles de Schaerbeek and Ars Musica, he joined the team of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1998. In 2000, he was appointed artistic coordinator and took charge of all the artistic matters for the competition, as well as all that concerns new technologies. In 2002, he joined the Executive Committee and took on the role of Secretary of the jury. Since 2018, he has been Secretary General of the Queen Elisabeth Competition.

Nicolas has participated in reflection groups about the digitizing and referencing of classical music, and has been administrator of various organisations, among which the orchestras La Jeune Philharmonie and the Muffatti. He is also a founding member of 'Tactus' Young Composers' Forum. As a musician, he has composed music for the theatre, and he has played with various ensembles or bands with which he has toured and recorded.

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A Review
BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE QUEEN ELISABETH COMPETITION
A review by Larisa Doctorow

Our October lecture was devoted to the Queen Elisabeth Music competition, one of the most prestigious in the world, which takes place in Brussels every spring.

Our lecturer was Nicolas Dernoncourt, a Belgian musician, composer and performer, who in 2018 became Secretary General of the Competition. Marie Vander Elst, who is responsible for fundraising and protocol was also present.

The idea of the Competition was conceived in the 1920s. Two people were instrumental in its creation: Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who was called the ‘Paganini’ of the time, and his sometime student, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. He was a huge personality, a composer, a performer. But he had a hard start to his career, and he wanted to help young musicians avoid his difficulties as they made their way to a professional career. As our lecturer explained, ‘The main goal of the Competition remains the same. Musicians need help, and we try to help all the participants.” The team responsible for the organization of the Competitions is small. All together, 17 people are engaged and they are constantly busy preparing the present year’s competition which follow in a rotating scheme of disciplines. At the start there were three, violin, piano and conducting. Conducting was later dropped. In 1988 singing was added. Then in 2017, the cello was added. The Competition works in four-year cycles. Next year is devoted to the cello. Their objective is to give life to the ideas of Eugène Ysaÿe. The main principle is that the Competition’s jury should not be staffed by teachers, but by musicians. And another key point – the program should include a new piece learned by the competitors in a very short time without the help of teachers.

Marie Vander Elst
Marie Vander Elst

The team responsible for the organization of the Competitions is small. All together, 17 people are engaged and they are constantly busy preparing the present year’s competition which follow in a rotating scheme of disciplines. At the start there were three, violin, piano and conducting. Conducting was later dropped. In 1988 singing was added. Then in 2017, the cello was added. The Competition works in four-year cycles. Next year is devoted to the cello.

Their objective is to give life to the ideas of Eugène Ysaÿe. The main principle is that the Competition’s jury should not be staffed by teachers, but by musicians. And another key point – the program should include a new piece learned by the competitors in a very short time without the help of teachers.

The Competition follows strict rules, and this is an important factor in its exceptional reputation. It is considered very challenging for two reasons. One is its duration (four weeks). The second is the aforementioned obligation to perform a new piece created specifically for the Competition, in addition to the programs which each contestant prepared beforehand. At the semi-finals the musicians perform an unpublished work with the piano and at the finals a concerto with the orchestra.

Her Majesty Queen Mathildeand the 6 laureates at the Prize award
Her Majesty Queen Mathilkde and the 6 laureates at the Prize award ceremony 2021
©Queen Elizabeth Competition - Derek Prager

The challenges facing the contestants are balanced by other factors, namely the attention and the generosity of the Royal family, the enthusiastic public in attendance and the wide press coverage. Queen Elisabeth died in 1963, but the Royal family continues to be patron of the Competition. The tradition is now continued by Queen Matilda. The first prize of €25 000 is now awarded in her name. It is impressive that the Competition promotes music written by its creator Eugène Ysaÿe and obliges the young musicians to learn and perform his pieces. His pieces are included in the required program. The Competition serves to bring young virtuosos to the attention of the world’s great musical venues. The majority of the participants hope that becoming a winner of the Competition will help to promote their international career. But as our lecturer said, “This is not the goal for everyone.” He gives the example of a Korean violinist who is happy with her local Korean life and career. Media coverage of the Competition started in 1937 with the radio programs dedicated to the concerts. Broadcasting via television expanded in the 1960s. Recorded performances were commercialized from 1967. The 21st century has given us streaming. Nicolas Dernoncourt says, “Thus we have a chance to reach people through social media, YouTube and other channels and we see that the number of people watching the Competition concerts is growing.” 

 

Steadfastly committed to the project initiated by Eugène Ysaÿe and Queen Elisabeth, the Competition seeks to discover complete artists. The Competition has another very important feature- a helpful team of volunteers and friends as well as a group of host families. These families invite participants to stay in their homes, where they stay for the whole duration of the Competition.

Once I spoke to the Bulgarian pianist Boyan Vodenitcharov, who was one of the winners of the 1983 piano competition and later got an appointment as professor in the Brussels Conservatory. He told me how the generosity of his host family influenced his life. “They gave me as a present a grand piano! Seeing that, I told myself, I can’t play badly, I should win.” He was awarded the third prize. Some musicians come back to Brussels 20, even 30 years after they participated at the Competition. Some took Belgian citizenship and work in Belgian conservatories.

The lecturer says that the Competition has no restrictions, except for age. “The participants should be between 18 and 30 years of age. For voice competition they are between 18 and 32 years old.” The winners have a lot of visibility. Nicolas Dernoncourt says, “We organize concerts around Belgium for the winners. And they travel around the world with concerts as far away as Korea, Brazil, Japan. We have concerts for young audiences, for National holidays. We have fundraising events, activities for the donors and for sponsors.”

The Competition generates income from its own activities: tickets and program sales, advertising and sales of recordings. The prizes for the winners come from public authorities, patrons, corporate sponsors and donors.

SOME INTERESTING LINKS

Marie Vander Elst kindly send us some interesting links:

The link to multimedia section on the Competition’s website will allow you to watch and listen to all piano sessions of 2021, and many more archives of the Competition. https://queenelisabethcompetition.be/en/watch-listen/

The link to a page on the website called ‘Support us’ where it is explained how to make a gift if someone wishes to support the foundation. As it had been explained to us, they are in strong need of support, and every gift counts. https://queenelisabethcompetition.be/en/make-gift/

Last, if one wishes to subscribe to the Competition’s newsletter, here is the direct link to register, so you receive all information about them, and the next cello competition https://queenelisabethcompetition.be/en/follow-us/

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