The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra’s International Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition has been won by 31-year-old Latvian, Ainars Rubikis.
He takes home a prize of €20,000 and conducts the orchestra in a public concert featuring the competition repertoire on Friday evening. Rubikis was one of two finalists in the competition, along with Aziz Shokhakimov, a 21-year-old from Uzbekistan, who was awarded the second prize of €10,000. Third prize (€5000) went to semi-finalist Yordan Kamdzhalov, a 29-year-old from Bulgaria.
In each section of the competition the conductors rehearsed and performed sections of music from Haydn’s Symphony No 104, Mahler’s Symphony No 4 and a selection of orchestral songs, and Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op 10. Contemporary music was represented by Jörg Widmann’s Con brio (2008) and Matthias Pintscher’s towards Osiris (2005). Pintscher was one of the jury members along with conductors Jonathan Nott (the Bamberg SO’s principal conductor and jury president) and Herbert Blomstedt; Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh Festival; and representatives from the orchestra and the arts in Germany. The patron of the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition is the composer’s granddaughter, Marina Mahler. The final stages of the competition were open to the public, and the conductors were miked and their actions projected onto a big screen at the side of the stage.
This is the third time the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition has been held. Since its launch only six years ago it has become one of Europe’s most important conducting competitions. Gustavo Dudamel was the winner of that first competition in 2004, a coup that instantly focused the attention of the classical music world on this small Bavarian city and its orchestra. At the second competition in 2007 the jury declined to give a first prize, instead awarding Korean conductor Shi-Yeon Sung the second prize.
This year’s 12 competitors, ranging in age from 18 to 33, were selected from a pool of 300 applicants from around the world and included British composer-conductor Alex Prior. Over the 10 days of the competition the entrants who went through to each successive round were able to refine their interpretations of the competition’s repertoire, working with the orchestra in its newly refurbished home, the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal of the Bamberg Concert Hall.