It is now more than half a century since the first Min-On Conductor’s Competition took place in 1967. It has been held on a triennial basis ever since and changed its name in 1988 to how we know it today. The final rounds for “The 18th Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting in 2018” was held on October 14th and the winners were as follows.
First Prize - Nodoka Okisawa [Japan] (Special Award / Hideo Saito Award)
Second Prize - Kanade Yokoyama [Japan] (Audience Award)
Third Prize - Masaru Kumakura [Japan]
Honorable Mention - Earl Lee [Canada]
It is the first time in 18 years since a Japanese, Mr Tatsuya Shimono, won the Competition in 2000. Moreover, Japan dominated the first, second and third prizes. The applications were sent in by 238 people from 42 countries and territories. All rounds from the first preliminary to the final rounds were held at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall.
This expansion of the Competition on a global scale paralleled the previous Competition (with 239 applications from 40 countries and territories) that made a dramatic development since becoming the member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions.
First, the contestants were selected through screening of documents and footages. The Preliminary Footage Screening and Footage Screening Committees were established from this time around, and 18 contestants (15 men and 3 women from 9 countries) were selected to participate in the first preliminary round.
Up until the required piece conducted in the final round, the emphasis was on creating music with the orchestra. In other words, the conductors were examined on how they manipulated the rehearsals. The orchestra for both first and second preliminary rounds was Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The required piece for the first preliminary round (held on October 8 &9) was Haydn’s “Symphony No. 82 in C major”. The contestants were given 20 minutes and they stopped conducting at times to convey their request to the orchestra members and resume the rehearsal.The important thing here is the exchanges they have. The musical characters are revealed through his/her ideas. It also shows one’s communication skills. This point, unlike the instrumental or singing contests, is one of the epitomai of conducting the orchestra, namely, a group of instruments played by human beings.
8 contestants were selected for the second preliminary round (held on October 10 & 11). There were 3 required pieces: Toru Takemitsu’s “Requiem for Strings”, Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra Movements 1 & 4” and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 D minor”. The soloist was Mr Yukio Yokoyama.
Excerpts of the second preliminary round can be seen on the official website for this Competition. You can see the difference between the conductors’ tempos and how and what kind of instructions they give. Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra’s quick response to these requests can be heard in their performance, too. It is very interesting to see how the Orchestra performs in accordance with the conductor’s facial expressions and every movement. Please visit the link below to witness these differences.
As a result of the judgment, the above mentioned 4 contestants took part in the final round (held on October 14). The Orchestra for the final round changed to New Japan Philharmonic. This also become a big challenge for the contestants. However, to get to conduct 2 excellent professional orchestras from participating and reaching the final round in the Competition is beneficial. In fact, it is a trigger for the young conductors to develop further in leaps and bounds.
The final round comprised of a required piece by Mendelssohn: Overture from “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage”, and composition of choice. The latter is a piece chosen by the Organizing Committee from the 3 compositions submitted by the contestants at the time of application.
The 4 finalists were born between 1983 and 1992, showing 9 year’s age difference. The order of performance for both required piece and composition of choice was Lee (born in ’83), Okisawa (’87), Kumakura (’92) and Yokoyama (‘84).
For the required piece, it seemed as if the levels of experience reflected in the construction of the sound and wave of the baton. The lower back was stretched at all times with no idle body movement. The arms flowed smoothly and the tempo was controlled at will. Instructions to each part were given through eye contacts accordingly, and they knew how to make the orchestra amplify their sound. They paid close attention to the entire orchestra and New Japan Philharmonic produced a rich resonance.
However, demons lurk in competitions. No one can be off guard until the very end. The composition of choice was performed just like actual concerts and the heat started from the moment the sleeve door opened on stage. In the order of appearance, the contestants conducted the masterpieces from Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, Dvorak and Elgar. The question was whether they were able to raise the tension at once and make the piece their music.
As the composition of choice was the piece the contestants specialized in, they liberated themselves in expressing their music. Their freshness could be transmitted to the orchestra or may have conversely reduced the upsurge of music as the conductor is too experienced in conducting the piece. My evaluation in the first half changed here considerably.
The Panel of Judges were: Chairperson: Yuzo Toyama [Japan], Judges: Werner Hink [Austria], Junichi Hirokami [Japan], Dong-Suk Kan [Korea], Alexander Lazarev [Russia], Tadaaki Otaka [Japan], Peter Pastriech [USA], Hubert Soudant [Netherlands], Ken Takaseki [Japan]
At the press conference for the winners held on the following day, I couldn’t agree more with what was shared by Mr Toyama repeatedly regarding the significance of this Competition’s tradition.
Last but not least, I would like to share what Mr Lazarev from Russia, with the second largest number of applicants this time, mentioned in the press conference: “Japan has established the style of conducting. Having 3 winners from Japan reminded me of the old days of the Soviet Union. These results are proof of their achievement.”