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History / Juries and chairpersons
Juries and chairpersons
The juries

The juries of the Queen Elisabeth Competition are legendary. Perfectly silent, their members - the ‘killers’, as Isaac Stern mischievously called them - are the eyes and ears before which the candidates try to forget their nerves, the penholders who give marks that are secret and that cannot be changed, and the masters who have designated some forty first laureates from 1951 to today, whether or not posterity has confirmed their judgements.

The prestige of these juries is undeniable. How could a connoisseur of violin history not swoon on browsing randomly through the list of jury members in, for example, 1971: Avramov, Bobesco, Calvet, Francescatti, Gulli, Kogan, Kurtz, Menuhin, Neaman, Octors, Odnopossoff, Raskin, Stern, Szigeti, Uminska, and Vegh? Examples like that could be multiplied, but this is not the place for lists of that kind: the Competition’s excellent website does that job. There is one unquestionable certainty: the judging capacities of such a jury are clearly enormous. Which only makes the questions raised by the lists of laureates all the more fascinating. Listening to the Competition archives, one is obviously greatly tempted to enter a belated appeal against a historical verdict. Goodness! How could those great masters have classified Entremont 10th and Hans Graf 11th in 1952? Why did Vasary only come 6th in 1956? Did Zakhar Bron, who taught both Repin and Vengerov, really deserve to be only 12th in 1971? Was it right to place Egorov 3rd in 1975, behind two compatriots who are today hardly heard at all?

Léon Fleisher (piano 1952)
The jury always has its reasons. The number of members and the absence of discussion are solid guarantees. And the jury judges what it hears in the final, though coloured by the memory of the first round and of the semi-finals (with the latter becoming ever more important). True, Emmanuel Ax, James Tocco, and Cyprien Katsaris (7th, 8th, and 9th in 1972) were already great artists. Yet some aspects of their performances that evening - whether on the artistic or on the technical level - were less convincing for the likes of Annie Fischer, Alexandre Braïlowsky, Leon Fleisher, Emil Gilels, Vlado Perlemuter, and company, who listened to them most attentively. This is the unbending law of the Competition. Subsequently, as careers develop, the cards are reshuffled, with the help of Lady Luck; revenge - peaceful, of course - is, thankfully, frequent.

It should be added that the Competition management could not, with understandable greediness, resist the pleasure of getting some of the jury members to perform during the competition; during the candidates’ week of seclusion, for example, some memorable concerts have taken place - as on the evening in 1959 when Oistrakh, Menuhin and Grumiaux joined forces under the baton of Franz André. The likes of Oistrakh, Gilels, and Frager made many an appearance at such times, to the great delight of their admirers.

Chairpersons of the jury

First among equals, the chairperson of the jury has a key role. This involves acting as the go-between between the prestigious judges and the crowd, publicly thanking the royal family for its presence, the orchestra for its dedication over six consecutive evenings, and announcing, in an indescribably electric atmosphere, the final result in the course of the Saturday night. This role was first filled by a great organiser, Marcel Cuvelier, director of the Competition and also director of the Brussels Philharmonic Society. After his death, logically enough, the task was taken up by leading Belgian musicians, starting with two directors of the Royal Brussels Conservatory, Léon Jongen and Marcel Poot.

Arie Van Lysebeth with the 1st laureate 2010, Denis Kozhukhin
Though Léon Jongen’s reign was short (he was 76 when he succeeded Cuvelier in 1960), that of Marcel Poot was long. Up until 1980 this mischievous, elegant man of short stature, his nose invariably surmounted by thick round 1930s-style spectacles, a cigarette glued to his lips, and endowed with a famously dry sense of humour, officiated with authority and competence. Thereafter it was the turn of Eugène Traey, a first-rate pianist, pupil of Casadesus, Leimer, and Gieseking, partner of Grumiaux, and a well-known teacher. Most recently, since 1996, Arie Van Lysebeth, director of the Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel (1994-2003) and artistic director of the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel (2004-2014), has taken up the torch with the elegance and competence for which he is renowned.
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