In April 2004, the first Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition was launched on the initiative of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Marina Mahler, Gustav Mahler's grand-daughter. Young conductors from around the world applied for the opportunity to travel to the medieval city in Bavaria and, after three days of sorting through a total of 299 applications, 16 competitors were invited to prove their skills live in front of a jury which included the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra's own Principal Conductor, Jonathan Nott as well as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg. To reach the final participants had to work their way through two rounds for which they had to prepare works by Mahler and Schubert as well as a contemporary work from their own native country.
On 1 May 2004 the jury announced the results: the competition's first winner was the young Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel who then conducted the competition's closing concert delivering a fervent performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Dudamel was joined by three further prize winners: the Bulgarian Ivo Venkov, the Ukranian Oksana Lyniv and the Japanese Toshihiko Matsunuma. Furthermore, Lukasz Borowicz from Poland was awarded the special prize from the Alice Rosner Foundation for the best interpretation of a contemporary work.
As prize winner of the first Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition Gustavo Dudamel's extraordinary talent became public knowledge. Through the Jury's help and advice Dudamel has since established himself on the international musical scene in a way that no other young conductor of recent generations has experienced. Having debuted with major orchestras in Europe and the States in the intervening 3 years, Dudamel has since been announced as the new Principal Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra starting from the 2007 / 08 season. Furthermore it was recently announced that Dudamel will be the new Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His five-year contract will start with the 2009/10 season (actual start date is September 21, 2009), and he will be Music Director Designate during the 2008/09 season. In his first season as Music Director (2009/10), he will conduct 10 weeks, plus summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl; and in years two through five, he will increase to 14 weeks, plus Hollywood Bowl concerts and touring. For more information please visit the website of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
As Jonathan Nott points out, the major goal of the competition was not just to find a winner but to support the next generation of musicians to the highest level possible and to provide the young conductors with an experience that will enrich their lives. The feedback generated by participants, audience and press proved that the competition succeeded in its aim.