Gustavo Dudamel is a hard act to follow.
The 26-year-old Venezuelan conductor, who already has chief conductor appointments at Sweden's national orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, first came to international attention in 2004, when he handily won first prize in the inaugural Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Germany. (It was the first time he had ever led a fully professional orchestra.)
He seems to have set a formidable standard. At the second Mahler Conducting Competition, whose finals were held this afternoon, three young candidates led the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra — and the jury declined to award the €20,000 first prize to any of them.
Shi-Yeon Sung, a 31-year-old from South Korea, won the €10,000 second prize, which she will receive from Marina Mahler (the composer's granddaughter and patron of the competition) at the closing concert tomorrow afternoon. The program, in which Sung will conduct the Bamberg Symphony, will include two songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Bruno Mantovani's Time Stretch (on Gesualdo) and Mahler's Symphony No. 1.
Born in Pusan in 1975, Sung studied piano in Zurich and Berlin and took up conducting studies in 2001 at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler. Since 2006, she has studied with Jorma Panula, the legendary Finnish teacher whose past students include Esa-Pekka Salonen and Osmo Vänskä. Last September she won the Sir Georg Solti International Conductors' Competition in Frankfurt, and this fall she begins work as an assistant conductor to James Levine at the Boston Symphony.
Third prize and €5,000 went to Benjamin Shwartz, a 27-year-old American who graduated from the Curtis Institute and is currently assistant conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. Taking the €5,000 fourth prize was 30-year-old Ewa Strusinska of Poland. In addition, 19-year-old Israeli-American conductor Yoel Gamzou received a Special Encouragement Award from the jury.
Held from April 23-28, the second International Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition included 14 candidates selected out of 223 applications from 40 countries. (Three of the 14 competitors were women; two of those made it to the six-person semi-finals yesterday and both of them were prizewinners.) Each participant had three rounds of rehearsals and a final performance with the Bamberg Symphony.
The ten-man jury, which witnessed all the rehearsals as well as the finals, included (in addition to honorary member Marina Mahler) conductors Jonathan Nott, Herbert Blomstedt and Hans Graf, composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, and administrators Ernest Fleischmann, Rolf Beck, Serge Dorny and Peter Pastreich.