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Queen Elisabeth Competition plays to empty rooms

© Queen Elisabeth Music Competition

This year’s edition of the international competition for career-starting musicians, the Queen Elisabeth Competition, which will start on Monday in Brussels, is an extraordinary one after it was postponed from last year due to the coronavirus crisis.

After spending a year practically in isolation, the candidates of the 2021 Queen Elisabeth Competition, dedicated to the piano, will play without an audience and will have to respect the current health regulations.

“The candidates were unable to perform for a year,” the Secretary-General of the Competition, Nicolas Dernoncourt, told the Belga news agency.

“It was important for this edition to take place, even if they will be playing in a special context, before an empty room,” he added.

In 2020, the organisers decided to postpone the competition just after the eliminations phase, which saw 74 of the 331 candidates selected for the first round, none of them Belgian. Some of the candidates withdrew, so the final group is made up of 64 pianists, 53 men and 11 women, representing 19 nationalities.

COVID-19 also had an impact on the actual organisation of the event. The number of semi-finalists has been reduced from 24 to 12, from whom six will be selected for participation in the final. Previously, there were 12 finalists, but hosting such a large number for one week at the Musical Chapel to study an original work would have been too complicated in the current health context.

Another innovation is that the concerto and recital performances will take place at the same concert and not on separate days as was the case previously. “These changes were made so that the contest could remain compliant with artistic requirements while limiting the impact on the candidates’ preparation,” the organisers said.

Will the events have an effect on the musicians’ performance? That’s hard to tell, according to Dernoncourt. “They’ve had over a year more to prepare, but I don’t know if that will change the level since it was already extremely high from the start,” he commented.

The first stage of the competition takes place from 3 to 8 May in Flagey. Each pianist will execute a work of his or her choice, plus the first movement of a classic sonata by Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart, along with one of two etudes.

For the semi-final on 10 to 15 May, the pianists will be accompanied by the Royal Chamber Orchestra of Wallonia, under the direction of Frank Braley.

The final will be held from 24 to 29 May at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, with the accompaniment of the Belgian National Orchestra, conducted by Hugh Wolff.

The postponement of the 2020 edition to 2021 has caused subsequent editions to be shifted. The cello edition will be held in 2022, the voice competition in 2023 and the violin competition in 2024.

The Brussels Times