The Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition provides a unique platform for outstanding young musicians at a critical time in their development, whether completing their studies or already embarking on a professional career.
The event is held every other year in Spring or Summer. Currently there are three Sections – Piano, Strings and Wind for competitors aged between 16 and 27. Specialist judges in each section adjudicate in the first and second rounds. In the final round, the remaining competitors perform before the full panel of judges.
The Competition developed from the Tunbridge Wells Competitive Arts Festival (now the Tunbridge Wells Arts Festival) in 1979 when supporters of the Festival put up prize money for ‘The Young Artists Competition’. Its purpose was to attract more advanced students from the conservatoires. One of the adjudicators at the time was John Lill, who was later to be our President for many years, and it was at his suggestion that the event was made into a competition. At the beginning there was a section for singers, but this was later discontinued.
Every competition brings highly talented young musicians before the British public – most for the first time. Past winners have included artists who have become very big names in the music world. The stage and recording career of soprano Patricia Rozario took off after she became overall winner in 1980. Anne Sofie von Otter, winner in 1982, is now a world star on the opera stage, on the concert platform and in the recording studio.
More recently the Competition has been exclusively for instrumentalists and has produced celebrated winners such as the Brazilian pianist José Feghali in 1980, the Russian pianist Yuri Didenko in 1992. Joan Enric Lluna, the Spanish clarinettist who won the wind section in 1987, is now a professor of the instrument and a much sought-after performer. In 1994, pianist Paul Lewis was joint winner with saxophonist Simon Haram and has gone on to enjoy a stunning international career. Recent winner Alexander Ullman won the Competition in 2012 and has gone on to win the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition.
The renowned violinist Levon Chilingirian OBE is now President of the Competition. Although the Competition has benefited from generous sponsorship and support from its inception, the Council is always enthusiastic to welcome new partnerships and financial assistance to support its work.
Since 2016, the Competition has benefited from the help and encouragement of the Directors of the Mayfield Festival and the support and generosity of the Headmistress of Mayfield School and her staff. Indeed, we are privileged to have Dr Matthew Ward; the School’s the Director of Music as a Trustee of the Competition. Whilst we continue to maintain our close association with the Festival, the School is unable to offer us the use of the Music Block as it is undergoing an extensive programme of refurbishment.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid 19 pandemic and with the School’s priority being the health and welfare of their students and staff, the School has reluctantly decided that the Competition cannot be held on School premises in 2021. We respect and support this decision and have made alternative arrangements. However, we regard this as a temporary pause and look forward to renewing our association with the School in the future.