The final round of the competition “mdw Great Talent Award powered by Christian Zeller” was held on 20 May 2021 following a delay due to COVID-19.

At the outset of the planning process for this competition, it was already clear that prevailing conditions would make necessary elaborate pandemic mitigation measures. And it’s thanks to the high level of motivation shown by sponsor Christian Zeller and the distinguished jury that this competition, which is so important for mdw students, ultimately did both begin and conclude with equal success.

© Stephan Polzer

It proved possible to hold first and second rounds in the Ballroom of the mdw at Seilerstätte 26 subject to a safety concept and contact tracing. 14 October 2020 saw 16 individual artists plus one ensemble out of the 73 initial entrants present themselves live to the jury, followed by the competition’s second main round with its selection of the finalists just one week later. The jury was chaired by Angelika Möser (Arnold Schönberg Center) and also included Daniel Froschauer (Vienna Philharmonic, represented on one occasion by his colleague Harald Krumpöck), Ursula Magnes (radio klassik Stephansdom), Eva Teimel (Ö1), and the pianist Heinz Medjimorec. The jurors were quick to reach agreement as to which participants they would allow to advance as finalists. But the preparations for the final round, which had been planned for a date in mid-November and eagerly anticipated, were soon rendered null and void by Austria’s second lockdown.

Whoever thinks of excellence in the cultural sphere can’t avoid thinking of Austria, and the mdw’s training of talents plays a key role in ensuring this excellence and its sustainability in the future. Excellence and sustainability are also central concerns of all activities pursued by the foundation Christian Zeller Privatstiftung. We view supporting and promoting Austrian cultural institutions and above all young cultural figures as an ideal way of realising these aspirations, fully in keeping with our motto: ‘We support the stars of tomorrow. Today’.

Christian Zeller

None of the decision-makers wanted to see too much time pass before the final round took place, particularly in the interest of preserving the competition’s good flow and ensuring that the participating students would soon receive a decision. But the “acute phase” of the coronavirus crisis, with its high case numbers, third wave, and two further lockdowns—which, in April 2021, affected eastern Austria most of all—further delayed planning. It was only on 23 April, when the announcement came that eating and drinking establishments, tourism, sports, and the cultural scene would begin opening back up on 19 May, that hope was reborn—with the final round promptly being scheduled to take place on the second day after Austria’s reopening.

It was thus that the earliest possible date of 20 May 2021—more than six months after it had all begun—saw the final round of the mdw Great Talent Award powered by Christian Zeller take place subject to strict safety measures at the mdw’s Joseph Haydn Hall. Following moving speeches by Rector Ulrike Sych and Christian Zeller, the finalists presented their perfectly prepared programmes while a wave of joy and relief spread throughout the hall as the audience, at long last, rediscovered the thrill of music performed live.

Rector Ulrike Sych, the Selini Quartet, and Christian Zeller at the awards ceremony © Stephan Polzer

At the awards ceremony that followed, jury chair Angelika Möser announced the outcome of the jury’s deliberations. The first prize went to the Selini Quartet for their interpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7 in F Major. The second prize went to organist Zuzanna Mika, who had just finished recording Olivier Messiaen’s L’Ascension and Louis Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster in the Ballroom at Seilerstätte 26. And baritone Christoph Filler claimed the third prize for his interpretation of Lieder by Franz Schubert, Richard Strauss, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler.

The evening, which had been moderated by Andreas Maurer, concluded with an extended round of applause and great satisfaction among all those present. This event was streamed live and is also available for viewing at the mdwMediathek:

The finalists, for their part, could already look forward to their next live appearance: on 10 July, they opened the festival Neuberger Kulturtage in a performance at the church of Neuberg Abbey in Neuberg an der Mürz. It was thus that, following a miniature odyssey, the intent and mission of the mdw Great Talent Award were ultimately fulfilled, with mdw students being introduced to a broader public in professional appearances.

Even if the current situation meant that the final round could only be held before a very limited audience, it did still signal a return to normalcy. The streaming of cultural events can only ever serve as a mere stopgap measure in exceptional situations, since it will never be able to replace the entire spectrum of emotions and sensory impressions experienced at live events.

Christian Zeller

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