Prestigious classical music competition jury accused of watching entrants’ videos for only ‘22 seconds’

6 July 2021, 11:05 | Updated: 6 July 2021, 12:47

YSAYE International Competition accused of failing to watch entrants’ video submissions in full
YSAYE International Competition accused of failing to watch entrants’ video submissions in full. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

A participant has drawn attention to the YSAYE International Competition’s conduct, as it goes online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prestigious YSAYE International Music Competition has been called out for the failure of its jury to watch submitted online entries in full and, in another case, not at all.

Following changes in entry rules caused by the coronavirus pandemic, YSAYE has invited musicians to submit video entries for consideration for a second round of the 2021 competition.

Under a ‘Preselections and videos by YouTube links’ heading in the online competition’s rules this year, it is outlined that “a preselection session of video recordings will help the jury to select participants for the second round of the competition” and that “an international jury of the competition will make this selection, based on the videos submitted by the candidates.”

An entrant has since called the competition out, claiming that one of theirs and a fellow performer’s chamber music submissions were only watched for “22 and 23 seconds”, which they claim is just over 2 percent of the length of the piece they performed. Supplying screenshots of YouTube analytics, accordionist Arseniy Strokovskiy also claimed that a video submitted by a colleague received no views at all.

“They should watch, but they did not,” Strokovskiy wrote in a Facebook post. “The results of the first round were published even without watching performance of the participants.”

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In his post, and a subsequent email to Classic FM, the accordionist points out that competition entrants pay significant fees intended to remunerate competition jury members for their time, and ensure all entries are watched.

“An applicant pays fee so as to be listened to,” Strokovskiy attests. “In other words, he literally pays for the jury job, and the jury ought to listen to each participant’s video fully.”

In non-COVID times, musicians would expect to pay a competition fee and perform a whole piece or movement in front of any jury. The registration fee for this year’s YSAYE Competition is €90 (£77), €100 (£85) or €110 (£94) for the age-restricted solo violin categories respectively, and €70 (£60) per person in the chamber category.

“It does not matter if a participant plays badly or very well, whether they have chances for victory or not,” Strokovskiy continues. “There is no competition in the world, members of the jury of which have the right to stop a participant if he does not higher the time limit of their performance. It is a basic principle.”

The post claims that organisers of the competition have assured Strokovskiy that the ten members of this year’s jury “all together” watched the competition videos.

But he remains sceptical, believing that either the jury “came to a conclusion about the second round list without watching the participants’ videos”, or “admins Elena Lavrenova and Ashot Khachatourian themselves decided who would pass to the next round, not accounting for what the professional members of the Jury think, just using their names.”

Lavrenova, the director of the ISAYE, has since responded, addressing Strokvskiy’s claims in a letter also sent to Classic FM. She assures the performer that “the jury selected for this edition of the YIMC is absolutely competent, professional, impartial and have all the qualities to judge the musicians participating”.

She adds the jury “saw the videos of each participant therefore have been able to select the best musicians.”

While Strokovskiy has claimed to be seeking legal proceedings, Lavrenova, Khachatourian and the competition have urged the accordionist to remove “false, defamatory and disparaging information” as soon as possible.