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VC INTERVIEW | Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, Carl Nielsen International Competition President

The 2022 competition will be held in Odense, Denmark from April 1-10, streamed LIVE on The Violin Channel


The 2022 Carl Nielsen International Competition invites young violinists, clarinetists, and flutists to both compete in the competition and participate in Espansiva! — a free program of informal mentoring, coaching, and networking opportunities. 

First prize winners of the competition will receive €12,000 and a recording with the Odense Symphony Orchestra on Orchid Classics (equivalent to the value of €13,000).

All major prize winners will be provided with high-profile solo performance opportunities with top Nordic orchestras.

We recently sat down with the Competition President, violinist, and conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, to discuss the competition’s mission, his innovative approach to competitions, and his advice for young musicians.


Can you tell us about the mission of the competition?

It all started with finding ways to think about competitions as more than what we know them to be. What we’re trying to do is twofold: aiming to get a greater sense of transparency, and making sure we can offer the winners a real platform — something that could make a significant difference in their careers.

We provide the winners with concerts and performance opportunities to showcase their talent because we believe that is what is truly beneficial for them as young performers. Ultimately, we are trying to make the competition a valuable, transformative experience in the musicians’ lives. It’s an ongoing journey, but we were happy with the success of our last two competitions. 


We are excited about your new program, Espansiva! What is the idea behind this addition?

The idea is to create a forum that offers a festival-like experience, where participants can meet and exchange ideas and experiences with each other, as well as network with the people they’ll be sharing the stage with in the future.

We wanted to create those possibilities inside the framework of a real learning experience for the young musicians — something that is not replacing what a competition is, but giving all the musicians who come to Odense a platform from which they can grow, and meet new people who will be important in their development. 


Did this stem from your personal experience of participating in competitions, including Carl Nielsen which you won in 1992? 

More than my own experiences, it came from looking at what competitions mean for the people who don’t win. If 98 people enter a competition, 97 usually end up feeling like they lost. Our hope with Espansiva! is that it is a place for everyone to learn and grow. We wanted to create more of a “festival” atmosphere, and remove the clinical environment that competitions can have.


The goal of providing an uplifting experience for participants is particularly relevant given the growing awareness of mental health in recent years. Can you offer any advice to young musicians on how to maintain their mental health in such a competitive industry?

I often get questions about performance anxiety, especially from young musicians as they participate in competitions, audition for jobs in orchestras, etc. This anxiety is not restricted to these situations — people who have jobs in an orchestra can be anxious from issues they haven’t yet addressed. This is often dismissed because what we’re doing is “art,” but it’s important to remember that artists are human beings in the end. 


A growing number of musicians are striving for careers that involve various areas of performance. Do you think young musicians today should be open to this versatility in order to have a sustainable career? 

Absolutely. Not everyone can be a soloist, but not everyone wants to be a soloist. It’s not the only way to have an interesting life in music. A lot of people I admire have paved a unique path doing things that interest them. That’s a personal journey that every musician has to make for themselves.

But I think this is incredibly important, as versatility only brings depth to a musician. We plan on exploring this in Espansiva! It’s something that I haven’t heard articulated much and I think there’s a real need for that.

Giving young musicians a place to voice their ideas with people who come from different areas of the music business and have knowledge that they’re willing to share will be very useful. Particularly coming out of this pandemic, when everything is being re-evaluated, we have to be adaptable, creative, and willing to think about roles in a new way.


We admire how passionate you are about changing the competition system. What drives your ambition?

What is extremely important to me is trying to build something that I believe in, something that aligns with my values. Many young musicians feel like they don’t have a platform that allows them to meet people from all areas of the music industry who can help in their careers, and I think we are providing them with an experience that will benefit them in that way. Ultimately, what drives me is wanting to create something that will bring music to as many people as possible. 


Applications from violinists, clarinetists, and flutists under the age of 30 are open until October 30, 2021.

Read more about the competition and apply, here.



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