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On August 27, starting 2:00 p.m., an online press conference was held regarding the 19th Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting to be held in September and October 2021.


The press conference began with greetings from the Chairperson of the Organizing Committee, Mr. Kazuto ITO.

“The Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting has been held without fail once every three years since 1967. This time, as the whole world continues to battle a crisis, we are especially keen to attract the participation of a large number of talented young musicians and make the 19th Competition for Conducting a big success. We will do all it takes to introduce people to the splendid world of music and bring hope to the musical community at large,” he said. Mr. ITO also announced the appointment of Mr. Tadaaki OTAKA to succeed Mr. Yuzo TOYAMA as the chairperson of the Panel of Judges.


Mr. ITO’s address was followed by a presentation from the Chairperson of the Executive Committee, Mr. Hideo MURATA, who provided a brief outline of the competition touching upon the following points.

* Event Details

  - First Preliminary Round: September 27-28; Orchestra: The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra

  - Second Preliminary Round: September 29-30; Orchestra: The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra

  - Final Round: October 3; Orchestra: The New Japan Philharmonic

Venue for all rounds: The Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall

* Organization Structure

  - Organizing Committee: (Chairperson) Kazuto ITO, (Members) Seiji OZAWA, and Yuzo TOYAMA

  - Executive Committee: (Chairperson) Hideo MURATA, (Members) Junichi HIROKAMI, Hiroshi KUWABARA, Toshio MIYAZAWA, Tadaaki OTAKA, Takeshi TADA, and Ken TAKASEKI

  - Panel of Judges: (Chairperson) Tadaaki OTAKA, (Members) Sian EDWARDS (new), Dan ETTINGER (new), Junichi HIROKAMI, Michiyoshi INOUE, Okko KAMU (new), Rainer KÜCHL, Jun MÄRKL (new), and Ken TAKASEKI

(In alphabetical order; without honorifics)

* Application period for selection based on documents and video footage: February 1 to May 6, 2021;

As in the case of the previous competition, online application forms will be provided.

* Debut Concert for Prize Winners: July 2022 (Orchestra: The NHK Symphony Orchestra);

Another debut concert will be held in April 2022 at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music Concert Hall, Hungary (Orchestra: The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra).

* Application method, assigned pieces, and other details are available under “Regulations for Participation” on the official competition website.

* Strict countermeasures appropriate to each situation will be taken to prevent the spread of COVID infections.


After Mr. MURATA’s presentation, the fourth Chairperson of the Panel of Judges, Mr. Tadaaki OTAKA, took the dais and longingly recalled old memories. “I still remember when, as 18-year-old students at the TOHO GAKUEN SCHOOL OF MUSIC, we heard from our teacher Mr. Hideo Saito that the Min-On Concert Association was starting a competition for conductors. Mr. Michiyoshi INOUE and I were thrilled. Our seniors, Mr. Yukinori TEZUKA and Mr. Hiroshi KOIZUMI participated in the first competition. Mr. INOUE, Mr. Kenichiro KOBAYASHI, and myself were among the participants in the second one. Mr. Kazuhiro KOIZUMI won that year, but I managed to come in second. That competition is still very vivid in my memory.”


This was followed by a conversation between Mr. OTAKA and Mr. Takuo IKEDA, a music journalist.

I see you have many new judges in the panel, including several very young members such as Mr. ETTINGER, born in 1971, and Mr. MÄRKL, born in 1959. Would it be right to say that care has been taken to choose judges who conduct both concerts and operas?

OTAKA: In Europe, it would be unthinkable for a conductor to have no experience with opera. Indeed, it is quite important to be able to conduct both concerts and operas. We want the contestants also to understand this, which is why the assigned pieces include operas. 

It is not just the winners of a competition who go on to become successful professional conductors. A conductor who is good with the baton is sure to catch people’s attention. So, we would like to invite people to come and enjoy the competition right from the preliminary rounds.

The three contestants who won the previous competition were truly remarkable. Ms. Nodoka OKISAWA, who won first prize, later went on to win the International Besançon Competition for Young Conductors too. Members of the Berlin Philharmonic, who were in the audience at Besançon, invited her to be a part of their orchestra, so she joined them as an assistant to Mr. Kirill Garrievich PETRENKO.

Another important factor is whether the top orchestra in a given country wants to employ top-ranking conductors. In this connection, I think it is revolutionary that the NHK Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to perform for the Debut Concert for Prize Winners.

Unfortunately, because of COVID-related countermeasures, foreign conductors are unable to visit. This is a good chance for Japanese conductors to be appointed. And it is quite possible that Japanese conductors will be equally impressive.


When musicians come up with ideas to help preserve the tradition of music in times of crisis, those ideas tend to live on in the music world subsequently. If the 19th Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting goes ahead as per schedule despite current uncertainties, it will gain a special place in the long history of this competition. Can you provide a few pointers as to what the judges look for in contestants?

OTAKA: As judges, we are mainly thinking, “How likely is this contestant to go on and become a really good conductor in the future?” Rather than focusing on a contestant’s present level of skill or perfection, what we really want to see is the potential for future growth.


At the end of the press conference, there was an online Q&A session. One of the questions asked was, “I think it is wonderful to find opportunities to employ local conductors to conduct local orchestras. Is this a plan that was deliberately conceived?” Mr. OTAKA responded to this based on his own experience.

“I worked as a conducting scholar with the NHK Symphony Orchestra for a few years. During those years, I was still studying and was also taking lessons at the TOHO GAKUEN, but I remember spending most of my time with members of the NHK Symphony Orchestra. Several orchestra members motivated me, encouraging me to pursue my training so I could go on to become a brilliant conductor. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the NHK Symphony Orchestra contributed greatly to laying the foundations of who I am as a conductor today. I tend not to be very impressed when young conductors go out into the world with fixed and narrow perspectives on what their conducting style or approach should be, without ever having actively interacted with members of an orchestra. Before the COVID crisis, foreign conductors were able to visit Japan easily, which was great. My sincere wish is for orchestras to choose their conductors based on a keen discernment of ability. I hope we can all work together to discern good conducting skills for the sake of the musical community in Japan as a whole.”