Performance musicians generally enter the most difficult period of their lives immediately after they have finished their studies, a period that lasts until they have finally gained a solid foothold in the professional world. At this stage of their career, young artists need help, advice, funding, and a chance to prove themselves in front of a large audience. A professional recording, participation in master classes, publicity materials, and active management are other elements necessary to successfully introduce a talented performer to the public. By offering a major cash prize and a debut CD recording to the winner, we are helping them forge a successful path towards fulfilling their potential.
The purpose of the Vendome Prize is to seek out, reward, support, and guide future professional artists who are technically perfect, magnetic, original, ambitious, in possession of a large repertoire and ready to undertake the challenges of a performing career. Throughout the years we have built an enviable reputation of discovering extraordinary talent and bringing it to the attention of the music world. Many of the pianists who first triumphed at the Vendome have gone on to win major awards and now have resonant international careers.
Since 2000, we have established partnerships with some of the leading professors from the top music academies in the world, as well as with several world renowned performance artists. Before each edition we reach out to them and ask for recommendations of exceptionally gifted pianists whom they have met and/or listened to with great interest. Head of piano departments around the world forward the names of the most accomplished students in their schools. We send invitations to apply to all these recommended pianists, who only then are able to fill in an application. This ensures that a high quality selection is already made from the very early stages of the competition.
The first Vendome Prize took place at the UNESCO Palace in Paris in November 2000, under the patronage of Catherine Tasca, then France’s Minister of Culture and Communication. The first prize was awarded to Alberto Nosé (Italy), and the runner-up was Russian-born Yevgeny Sudbin.
Throughout the years, jury members included Byron Janis, Christa Ludwig, Constantine Orbellian, Cyprien Katsaris, Elizabeth Leonskaya, Jeffrey Tate, Joan Sutherland, Philippe Entremont, Ilana Vered, Joaquin Achucarro, Richard Bonynge and Stephen Kovacevich, to name a few.
As of 2003, the Vendome Prize moved to the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon and became part of the Sintra Summer Festival. The Gulbenkian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Foster, joined our finalists in the Gulbenkian concert halls in Lisbon and Sintra. The Grand Prize was shared by Giuseppe Albanese and Boris Giltburg, runner up was Alexander Pirojenko.
A series of live preliminary rounds were held throughout Europe, in major centers such as Vienna and Paris. The semi-finals took place at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
At the time (and until 2009), pianists were tested on their ability to perform random selections of their submitted concertos, accompanied by a second piano; this counted towards their final score.
In 2006, also in Lisbon, American pianist Stephen Beus won the Grand Prize over Andrei Korobeinikov from Russia. Roman Rabinovich and Matei Varga were Vendome Virtuosi. A Vendome Virtuoso is a semi-finalist whose performance was particularly appreciated by the jury but who did not advance to the finals.
At this particular edition, the piano concertos test took place on the same day as the semi-final round, two hours later. Following this session, which became a sort of “second semi-final”, two pianists were selected to perform with orchestra the following day.
In 2009, during the last Vendome held in Lisbon, Denis Kozhukhin won the Grand Prize and runner up was Dmitri Levkovich. Kozhukhin went on to win the top prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels the following year, in 2010.
All three Vendome Virtuosi performed in a Grand Gala Concert at the Sintra Festival, followed by a party and formal dinner at the villa of the Duchess of Cadaval.
After a five year hiatus, in 2014 the Vendome Prize moved to Verbier, Switzerland and became part of the prestigious music festival. During its first edition in Verbier, the competition brought together some of the leading young pianists in the world who competed for the top spot, among them George Li, Francois Dumont, Adi Neuhaus and eventual winner Yekwon Sunwoo (who went on to win the Gold Medal at the Cliburn in 2017).
For the first time, the jury awarded three prizes instead of just one Grand Prize. Also a first, the three finalists had to perform a big chamber music work; at this edition they were joined by the Jerusalem String Quartet.
In 2017 there was no first prize winner. Do-Hyun Kim and Sam Hong shared second prize and Aristo Sham placed third.
The Gringolts String Quartet performed with our finalists.
Following the death of Jeffrey Tate, Chairman of the Vendome Jury since 2000, pianist Gordon Back was appointed to replace him.
At the latest Vendome Prize in 2019, Latvian Daumants Liepins was voted unanimously First Prize Winner, while Dmytro Choni and Sae Yoon Chon placed second and third, respectively. The Calidore String Quartet provided superb partnership during the final round, joining the three pianists in selections from Mozart’s K 449 and Chopin’s op. 11 and op. 21 piano concertos (in arrangement for soloist and string quartet).
Because of excessive heat in New York City, semi-finalist Mackenzie Melemed had to rebook his flight three times before he was able to get to Switzerland, where he landed a few hours prior to his scheduled performance in the competition.
After the passing of Vendome's Founder and Honorary President Alexis Gregory in 2020, the Alexis Gregory Foundation, led by Peter Gregory, generously decided to continue the award and its support of outstanding young artists.
As of 2021, the competition will take place in New York City and will revert to its initial format, in which only one Grand Prize is given (though there will be monetary compensation for all finalists). For the first time in its history, the final round will be a solo recital with a mandatory piece to be performed by all three pianists.
Photos © Gustav Alink