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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

FEATURE | 2021 OSM Competition Builds Momentum For Its Second Year Online

By Anya Wassenberg on November 2, 2021

Rafael Payare, OSM’s Music Director Designate (Photo courtesy of the OSM)
Rafael Payare, OSM’s Music Director Designate (Photo courtesy of the OSM)

Together with The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

The 82nd Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Competition is reaching its final stages. The competition, held online again for the second year, began on September 13, with the awards ceremony to be broadcast online on November 27, 2021.

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

Open to Canadian musicians aged 31 and younger, the OSM Competition provides young musicians with the opportunity to perform for renowned jury members, and get a boost for their careers at a crucial time. It’s difficult for emerging opera singers to establish themselves, and getting to the level of finalist in the OSM Competition gives them an extra step up.

COVID has played havoc with the entire performing arts sector, and vocalists in particular have felt the pinch of cancelled gigs and contracts, disruptions to education and teaching schedules, and much more. It’s no secret that the live music industry has been especially hard hit. The OSM Competition is one way for young artists to help maintain some momentum to their careers, as well as connect with other artists, during this difficult period.

Caroline Louis, director of Education for the OSM, helmed the Competition as it transitioned to an online format last year.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in taking the OSM Competition entirely online, including coordinating the events as they took place?

Presently our main objective with the competition is to make sure 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 of all, there is exposure to a national audience including influential figures and institutions of the musical scene. This is achieved through artistic partnerships, and with the participation of our jury which includes established artists, managers, professors and artistic directors. Another important contribution of the competition is of course the prizes.

These include generous cash prizes, but also artistic engagements (concerts and training opportunities), that are very important to support our winners’ artistic development. Finally, there is the participation in the competition itself which is very formative. This is the aspect of the competition which has been most impacted by the pandemic. Our contestants will unfortunately not have the opportunity to perform in the fantastic Maison symphonique de Montréal to a live audience, but we do intend on inviting some of the winners in follow-up concert opportunities in the coming seasons, as we always have.

This year, the competition is open to Canadian singers 31 years and under. We entrust our jury panel with the selection of the winners — this is always very emotional because we root for all the contestants. But of course, not everyone can take away the top prizes, which are awarded to those contestants who present the most highly accomplished combination of artistic and technical qualities. Beyond the competitive aspect of the competition, we view it as a way to find highly talented artists and musicians with whom OSM will develop an artistic relationship in the future. The competition has been at the root of many great collaborations between OSM and Canadian stars such as James Ehnes, Gordon Bintner or Timothy Chooi, among others.

Q: What was your main takeaway from that process?

Before launching the nation-wide recruitment process, we were unsure whether the competition would interest young singers this year, especially in a web format. Yet the turnout has been wonderful: we received applications from all over the country, with a very high artistic level. The great enthusiasm and motivation of the applicants has confirmed the importance of keeping the competition going despite the challenges of COVID.

Q: Have some of the lessons learned, and processes initiated, during the pandemic changed the way you will handle the competition going forward? Will some or all of it stay online, for example (or is that a possibility)?

Even before the pandemic, we were streaming the semifinal and final rounds online. This allows the competition to reach an audience across Canada and internationally. One of the main contributions of the competition is to offer exposure to our contestants and winners, which helps them gain recognition and credibility as they embark on their young careers. Now with the pandemic, audiences are more and more used to webcast concerts. We definitely expect OSM Competition to keep webcasting the rounds and other content to promote the contestants.

Q: What would you say to students about preparing for both video and live performance? There is clearly an element of visual performance involved in making a video — is that 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 difficult to imagine that this would not be part of a singer or musician’s activities in the coming years. 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 the minimum become aware of how their performances come across 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 coast to coast. After the announcement of the 8 finalists on November 1, the competition proceeds to their recitals, and then the final award. Music lovers can vote for their favourite contestant to win the Audience Award.

  • November 21 Finalists’ recital videos will be online on the competition website: www.osmcompetition.ca
  • November 27 Award ceremony will be broadcast online.

More information on the competition website: www.osmcompetition.ca

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