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

The 2022 competition will be held in Odense, Denmark from April 1-10, with the Semi-Final and Final Rounds of the violin competition to be streamed LIVE on The Violin Channel

(Photo credit: Lars Gundersen)


The 2022 Carl Nielsen International Competition invites young violinists, clarinetists, and flutists to both compete in the competition and participate in Espansiva!, a new in-person program designed to offer participants an off-stage platform to create connections with other musicians and music industry experts — including The Violin Channel's Founder & CEO, Geoffrey John Davies.

The first prize winner will receive €12,000, an Ulf Eriksson and Duncan Duncan Emck violin bow, a CD recording with the Odense Symphony on the Orchid Classics label, plus a number of solo engagements 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. 


The Semi-Final and Final Rounds of this year's violin competition will be streamed LIVE here on The Violin Channel from April 6-10.

For more information, please visit: