The OSM 2021 competition gathers momentum for its second year online

Rafael Payare, designated music director of the OSM (Photo courtesy of the OSM)

With the Orchester symphonique de Montréal

The 82nd Competition of the Orchester symphonique de Montréal (OSM) is drawing to a close. The competition, being held online again for the second year, kicked off on September 13, and the awards ceremony will air online on November 27, 2021.

This year’s competition focuses on voice for the first time since 2017. Based on a three-year model, the OSM Competition runs through all of the orchestra’s instruments, including piano, organ and voice.

Open to Canadian musicians aged 31 and under, the OSM Competition offers young musicians the opportunity to perform in front of renowned jurors and to boost their careers at a crucial time. It is difficult for up-and-coming opera singers to win, and rising to the rank of finalist in the OSM Competition gives them an extra step.

COVID has wreaked havoc across the performing arts industry, and singers in particular have felt the pinch of canceled concerts and contracts, disruptions in education and teaching schedules, and much more. It’s no secret that the live music industry has been hit particularly hard. The OSM Competition is a way for young artists to help maintain momentum in their careers, as well as to connect with other artists, during this difficult time.

Caroline Louis, Director of Education at the OSM, led the Competition during its transition to an online format last year.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in making the OSM Competition fully online, including coordinating events as they unfolded?

Currently, our main goal with the competition is to ensure that young Canadian artists continue to receive our support despite the pandemic. To do this, we focused on what the OSM Competition can bring to young artists: first, there is exposure to a national audience including influential personalities and institutions from the music scene. This is achieved through artistic partnerships, and with the participation of our jury which includes established artists, managers, teachers and artistic directors. Another important contribution of the competition is of course the prizes.

These include generous cash prizes, but also artistic commitments (concerts and training opportunities), which are very important in supporting the artistic development of our laureates. Finally, there is the participation in the competition itself which is very formative. It is the aspect of competition that has been most impacted by the pandemic. Our competitors will unfortunately not have the opportunity to perform at the fantastic Maison symphonique de Montréal in front of a live audience, but we intend to invite some of the winners to follow-up concerts in the coming seasons, such as we still do.

This year, the competition is open to Canadian singers aged 31 and under. We entrust our jury with the selection of the winners – it is always very moving because we support all the candidates. But of course, not everyone can win the top prizes, which are awarded to applicants who exhibit the most successful combination of artistic and technical qualities. Beyond the competitive aspect of the competition, we see it as a way to find highly talented artists and musicians with whom the OSM will develop an artistic relationship in the future. The competition was at the origin of several beautiful collaborations between the OSM and Canadian stars such as James Ehnes, Gordon Bintner or Timothy Chooi, among others.

Q: What was your main takeaway from this process?

Before launching the nationwide recruitment process, we weren’t sure if the competition would be of interest to young singers this year, especially in a web format. However, the participation was great: we received applications from all over the country, with a very high artistic level. The great enthusiasm and motivation of the candidates confirmed the importance of maintaining the competition despite the challenges of COVID.

Q: Have any of the lessons learned and processes launched during the pandemic change the way you will handle competition in the future? Will all or part of it stay online, for example (or is that a possibility)?

Even before the pandemic, we were streaming semi-finals and finals online. This allows the competition to reach audiences across Canada and abroad. One of the main contributions of the competition is to provide visibility to our applicants and winners, which helps them gain recognition and credibility as they embark on their young careers. Now, with the pandemic, the public is more and more accustomed to streaming concerts on the web. We expect the OSM competition to continue to broadcast rounds and other content on the web to promote the competitors.

Q: How would you tell the students to prepare for both the video and the live show? There is clearly an element of visual performance involved in making a video – is this an area that you think students should develop alongside their technical and artistic skills?

The pandemic has obviously accelerated the development of streaming performances. It is hard to imagine that this would not be part of the activities of a singer or a musician in the years to come. An interesting aspect is that it gives access to a larger, potentially international audience. So yes, I would say that a young artist should at a minimum be aware of how their performances present themselves on camera and make sure that what they are trying to convey is well supported by the video production.

Watch online

The competition can be viewed from coast to coast. After the announcement of the 8 finalists on November 1, the competition moves on to their recitals, then to the presentation of the final prize. Music lovers can vote for their favorite candidate to win the Audience Award.

  • 21 November The videos of the finalists’ recitals will be online on the competition website:
  • November 27 The awards ceremony will be webcast.

More information on the competition website:


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Latest articles by Anya Wassenberg (see everything)
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