Guardian Article

Siemens Hallé International Conductors Competition

The cheers in Manchester on Tuesday night were not only for the football (City’s 7-0 win against Leipzig). Another contest took place the same evening with more than 200 entries from across the world whittled down to a shortlist of eight, three finalists and one deserved winner. The aim of the Siemens Hallé international conductors competition is to appoint the Hallé orchestra’s next assistant conductor. (Wipe clean your image of that job as portrayed in the film Tár, which I vowed never to mention again but must, in the interests of accuracy.) The assistant role has existed at the Hallé since 2002 – the first holder of the title was Edward Gardner, now principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra – but the competition itself is new. Delyana Lazarova was the inaugural winner in 2020, and now ends her successful two-year stint in Manchester.

Much is at stake for all. From the conversational buzz last week it was clear many in the audience had followed earlier rounds (judged by an international panel of seven) and had views and favourites. As well as working alongside Mark Elder, now nearing the end of his long stint as the Hallé’s music director, the assistant must run its youth orchestra and engage with the many outreach projects, in care homes, schools, hospitals. Being able to conduct, as each of the finalists did, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture is not enough.

Each then performed a substantial orchestral work: Pablo Urbina, 34, from Spain, had arguably the hardest task with Sibelius’s Symphony No 3. The organic growth and the work’s obdurate formal puzzles were skilfully unlocked by Urbina, drawing a buoyant response from the players. Agata Zając, 27, from Poland, showed flair and command in Stravinsky’s Firebird suite, surfing its technical challenges and rising to the challenge of the work’s grand close.

Fiona Maddocks
Published: March 18, 2023

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