[Ed.: In Austria, PRIMA LA MUSICA Vienna has developed into by far the largest music competition for enthusiastic young musicians between five and nineteen years of age and is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year. The competition is held annually at state and at national level. Interlitq U.S. Editor Neil Langdon Inglis interviews Angelika Persterer-Ornig, Head of State Office of PRIMA LA MUSICA Vienna.]
[Note from Angelika Persterer-Ornig: in the answers below I am reflecting the philosophy with which I have been running the prima la musica Vienna competition for ten years. A short information note on our competition is attached.]
Interlitq. How do you view the role of competitions in musical education? Do you see competitions as encouraging participants to achieve their very highest standards? Are there any disadvantages?
APO. To encourage participants to achieve their very highest standards is an important, but not the only role of competitions for young people. It is also about encouraging participants simply to continue making music.
Furthermore, competitions can help young musicians to position themselves by benchmarking with peers and thereby finding the right approach to their own musical career.
Potential disadvantages are inherent: Competitions for children and young people must take into account the fact that they are dealing with sensitive personalities who are still in search of their personal and artistic identity. The competition must be designed and carried out accordingly. These issues include, for example, the organization of the competition, the atmosphere of the whole event, the attendance of the participants, and not least the communication of jury decisions and recommendations. If not conducted carefully, negative competition experiences can be very demotivating for young musicians, and even cause the end of their artistic ambitions.
Over the past ten years, PRIMA LA MUSICA Vienna has gained a very good reputation as far as the treatment of young people during the competition is concerned.
Interlitq. Tell us which musical performers have provided you with the greatest inspiration in your life, whether as singers or musicians--on which instrument, and why? How about your own personal musical education?
APO. I studied classical guitar and culture management.
Interlitq. Which composers and conductors are your favorites?
APO. My favorites: Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Welser-Möst, Mariss Jansons.
Interlitq. Your organization is an international one. What is your opinion of such initiatives as Daniel Barenboim's orchestra that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youth? Do you and your colleagues avoid political issues, or do you embrace them?
APO. The competition itself is an Austrian competition for young musicians, there is no international context. What is international is the musical support program that I have built during the last 10 years. This Vienna-specific program is not directly part of the competition but organized separately. Its aim is to support prize winners of the competition through activities (such as our visit to Buenos Aires) throughout the year.
We do not embrace political issues. But maybe we do so indirectly by giving young people the chance to meet up openly with young people in other countries without worrying about political issues, and thereby showing them ways in which they may overcome political problems.
Interlitq. What are your plans for your organization's future? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
APO. We hope to further expand our talent promotion programme, especially to be able to offer even more international concert experience to young musicians.
Interlitq. The British conductor Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) recalled that he had limited support or encouragement for his musical interests while at school. Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) was also largely self-taught. What words of encouragement do you have for young people who wish to pursue a career in music, but receive only lip service or outright discouragement from parents and teachers?
APO. In Austria there is a great deal of public youth support (eg public music schools). It is always worth trying to get lessons and support there. However, when it comes to achieving musical excellence, a lot of support from the parents is needed.
Interlitq. When my mother was young during the WWII era, she would always invoke the example of French violinist Ginette Neveu (1919-1949) to those who dismissed musical careers for women. Do you have similar words of encouragement specifically intended for girls in music programs today?
APO. Music is one of few areas where girls seem to have equal opportunities today.
Interlitq. Are there any up-and-coming musicians on the concert stage today whom you particularly admire?
APO. Harriet Krijgh, already regarded as one of today´s most exciting and promising young cellists. She was supported as part of our talent promotion programme a few years ago.
Interlitq. What would be your response to school districts in federal government systems that seek to cut budgets for musical education? How would you go about convincing such budget-cutters that they are mistaken?
APO. Music education supports personal development and can help to avoid social problems. Furthermore - in the case of Austria - music contributes significantly to the cultural identity of our country.