Promoting young talent

International Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition

The International Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition was established in 1993, and is named after the innovative composer and violinist at the Habsburg court in 17th century Vienna. The competition is held in the walls of Melk Abbey every three years.

Schmelzer was born around 1620 in nearby Scheibbs, and is regarded as the first "Austrian" to hold the position of imperial court musical director. He influenced the development of the sonata, and left an extensive body of work, although only part of this has survived to the present day. Of the compositions that have been passed down, only some in turn have been revived, and much valuable music is still lying in the archives waiting to be rediscovered.

While Helmut Pilss, founder of the Melk Pentecost Concerts, and Bernhard Trebuch wanted to use the competition to revive interest in the works of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and Johann Joseph Fux, it was also intended to fan the flames of the young and aspiring Baroque music scene which was emerging throughout Europe.

The result was a unique competition seeking to recognize and encourage the individuality and diversity of this scene. Young musicians and soloists have an opportunity to compete, performing before a jury in five categories: voice, ensemble, string, wind and keyboard instruments. Today, participants can look back full of pride and pleasure at an exciting, inspiring and instructive period.

The winner of the competition in 2014, Tabea Debus (recorder), says she "very much enjoyed the opportunity to play in surroundings which so wonderfully suited the music – you simply didn’t want to stop playing. Despite the concentration and excitement that such an acclaimed competition involves, I was able to spend time with the other candidates and also with the audience, who were interested, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but also critical. A great and enriching experience."

Max Volbers (recorder), who won first prize in the last competition in 2017, states: "Competitions are extreme situations for a musician, the pressure is immense! Months of preparation have to be condensed into just a few minutes, where you just need let go and fully immerge into the music. This competition made this easy: both rounds took place in beautiful rooms with an excellent harpsichordist and in front of a wonderful audience. You could feel the joy and love for early music in this room – never before have I had the pleasure of experiencing such an electrifying atmosphere. The competition is organized by a great team, that looks after every detail with the utmost dedication and support – it was perfect!

The public concert by the finalists showcases the results of the three-day competition.

The promotion of young artists is equally a concern for Michael Schade, who has been committed to this for years with the Young Singers Project at the Salzburg Festival, which he initiated, and the Stella Maris International Vocal Competition, which both now rank as exemplary projects for encouraging young talent. In Melk, Michael Schade is taking on the further development of this traditional competition. Thanks to his commitment and Capital Bank sponsorship, the prize has been increased to EUR 5,000, in addition to which the young artists will get a concert booking for the following season of the Internationale Barocktage Stift Melk.


Winners of the  International Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition

1st prize: Max Volbers, recorder (Austria)
Advancement award: Evgeni Sviridov, violin (Russia)

1st prize: Tabea Debus


1st prize: Jan van Hoecke, recorder (Switzerland) and Anne Freitag, transverse flute (Switzerland)
Audience award: Jan van Hoecke, recorder (Switzerland)

1st prize: Duo Lesaulnier (France)
Ensemble prize: Michael Hell, harpsichordist of the ensemble Vezzoso (Austria)

1st prize: Ensemble Vivante (Austria)

1st prize: Barbara Tisler, soprano (Slovenia)

 2nd prizes: Maia Silberstein, broque violin (Belgum);
Maria Mittermayr, transverse flute (Austria);
Benedek Csalog, transverse flute (Hungary)

1st prize: Susanne Pumhösl, harpsichord (Austria)

1st prize: not awarded
2nd prize: Blockflöten Ensemble Schwertberg (Austria)

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