Feel the excitement skyrocket as we go behind the scenes at the final of the prestigious Herbert von Karajan Young Conductors Award in Salzburg.
Three promising young conductors compete in a unique competition. They made it to the Herbert von Karajan Young Conductors Award finals in Salzburg.
Who will take home this prestigious award? In this episode of Musica, we experience the excitement up close, following the three young hopefuls as they prepare to conduct their own concert with their own programme at the final.
Meet this year’s finalists
Tobias Wögerer is a conductor in residence at the Vienna Volksoper. The young Austrian spends every spare minute preparing for the most important moment of his career – the finals of the prestigious conducting competition.
“90% of the work and preparation as a conductor is just reading a lot about the pieces in the privacy of your room at your desk, thinking and trying it out,” he told Musica. “But above all, you really have to think carefully about how you want it, that you really try to visualise it.”
More than 300 young talents from around the world applied for the competition but only three made it to the finals: Tobias Wögerer, Vitali Alekseenok, and Hankyeol Yoon.
The South Korean conductor Hankyeol Yoon is a multifaceted artist who is also a composer.
“To inspire the musicians and communicate with them, I think that was and still is the biggest goal for me. And that’s also what I enjoy the most,” he revealed. “I think flexibility is quite important. And just understanding the atmosphere and then to adapt to that so that the musicians can then stay motivated.”
“Technique is enormously important, but also the ability to motivate and inspire 100 musicians who play for you,” said Manfred Honeck, who is chairman of the jury.
“We must also not forget that, after all, we can’t speak during the concert. They can’t act like a football coach, I can’t shout onto a football field, everything happens silently, and you just have to rely on your hands and gestures and body language.”
A challenging week lies ahead of the finalists. Each of them gets to conduct their very own concert. The candidates are accompanied by the renowned ensemble Camerata Salzburg. Among the musicians, expectations are high.
“There are a few things which I would like to see. First of all, a concept. A vision for what you want to do. Trust in the orchestra. It’s an exchange and I really appreciate that,” said Wally Hase, a flautist in the Camerata Salzburg.
“For me, trust is also the right word. It’s a very important thing because the orchestra sounds different,” explained violinist Kana Matsui. “One person can totally change the whole sound world. And I find that fascinating.”
The Belarus conductor Vitali Alekseenok chose a daring concept. He alternates Beethoven’s 2nd symphony with a piece by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov.
“Between the movements of Beethoven comes the silent music of Silvestrov. And that for me is like setting silence to music,” Vitali told Musica.
“Silvestrov is of course a very famous composer, especially in Ukraine, in Eastern Europe. I got to know him personally at the Ukrainian-Polish border when I picked him up there as a chauffeur during his escape at the beginning of the war.”
“For me, at least, I don’t really have a competitive feeling here at all. Of course, there is tension and nervousness, but predominantly there is this anticipation of being able to make your debut at the Salzburg Festival with your own concert. This is very special,” Tobias Wögerer revealed.
Vitali Alekseenok agreed, adding: “It’s mostly about the music and not the competition. I am also looking forward to the concert and I am very grateful that we were allowed to choose our concert programme as well.”
“I hope that the musicians can enjoy it and that we have great times together,” said Hankyeol Yoon.
The Karajan Institute: A shrine to the visionary composer
The competition carries the name of an icon: Herbert von Karajan. At the Karajan Institute, his legacy is preserved, and the finalists get the unique opportunity to delve deeper into the world of the visionary composer.
“We have here at the Karajan archives a lot of original material, correspondence, books, his study scores,” said Matthias Röder, the managing director of the Herbert von Karajan Institute.
“What you see here is the conducting score of Boris Godunov. So it’s really a very important document because it documents the decades of his work with this masterpiece.
“For the new generation, Herbert von Karajan would have recommended always going beyond what they already know. To learn new things in the field of innovation. That inspired him throughout his life.”
For the winner, the Herbert von Karajan Young Conductors Award opens the doors to an exciting career. One of them is Maxime Pascal. The French conductor won the award in 2014.
“It’s a bit of a dream come true. I was extremely lucky to win this competition because it was an extraordinary starting point,” Maxime explained.
He is the first winner to conduct an opera production at the Salzburg Festival – with the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit.
“After the competition, I was very quickly invited to conduct orchestras all over the world, as well as festivals and opera houses. So that was obviously an incredible springboard.”
Decision time: Who will be crowned the winner?
The finals have arrived. The three young conductors are about to make their debut at the Salzburg Festival during the Award Concert Weekend.
“For all of us in the jury, I think is very important is that you get the impression that it’s about the music and not about impressing an audience or even worse a jury – but about making music,” said Alexander Meraviglia-Crivelli, a member of the jury.
“You’re looking for obvious things, obviously a technique, obviously musicality, personality and charisma,” explained fellow jury member, Brian McMaster.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally upon us. Manfred Honeck, the chairman of the jury, announces this year’s winner to an expecting crowd.
“We have decided that the winner of the Karajan Young Conductor Award is Hankyeol Yoon!”
Months of intensive preparation have come to an end. Participating in the Herbert von Karajan Young Conductors Award was a unique experience for all three of them.
“It is an incredible honour, that I had such an opportunity at all to share the same stage with two other young conductors Tobias and Vitali,” said winner Hankyeol Yoon.
“I just had an incredible amount of fun,” said Tobias.
“I experienced a lot of music during the concert. It inspired me a lot,” Vitali concluded.