6   Carl Flesch International Competition Carl Flesch
by
J. Sánchez-Penzo

The announcement of Flesch's death
in the News Chronicle of Nov. 16, 1944.

Facsimile by courtesy of Carl F. Flesch
Courteously scanned by Norbert Winter

After reading the notice of Flesch's death in the News Chronicle of 16 November 1944 Carl F. Flesch and Max Rostal came together and thought of doing a memorial in order to perpetuate Flesch's name. They agreed on a violin competition, if possible, and Rostal succeeded in getting the help and support of the Guildhall School's director Edric Cundel, who offered to organise such an event, which should be held annually or biennially.

The German sculptor Benno Elkan was commissioned to create the medal to be awarded to the winners. He suggested to make a profile in traditional style. A quite difficult task, since he had never met Flesch and no picture showing his profile could be found at that time. Instead, there were several pictures showing front views of his head from different angles. Elkan mastered this difficult task in an excellent way, as can be seen comparing his work with a drawing made by Emil Orlik years before. Later on a second medal was cast and subsequently used in the competitions.

Left: The Carl Flesch Medal by Benno Elkan
Right: Carl Flesch by Emil Orlik

Pictures by courtesy of Carl F. Flesch
Courteously scanned by Norbert Winter, Berlin

Originally the competition, which took place for the first time in 1945, had to be held in a very modest way - 'on a shoe string' as commonly said in England, since its means were very scarce. There were no money prizes, but the medal itself to be awarded to the violinist who showed the most 'excellence in violin playing'. Besides the medal, the winner received a single concert engagement to appear as soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Limited to only one day, it started as an internal competition at the Guildhall School, the Carl Flesch Medal Award, open to all violinists under 30 years of age, regardless of their nationality. Later on, sponsors were won to support the events. This made it possible to introduce, in the late '50s, prizes of £100, £50, and £25, to increase the number of jury members, and to move the finals to the Wigmore Hall.

Click on this picture to see it enlarged.
The first announcement of the Carl Flesch
Facsimile by courtesy of Carl F. Flesch

Subsequently, as the competion became more and more prestigious the prize moneys went into the many thousands totaling £19,750 in 1992. Apart of the first prize several additional prizes were introduced for:

  • all 6 finalists
  • the best non-finalist (Special Merit Prize)
  • the best Mozart Violin Concerto (Ruth Flesch Memorial Prize)
  • the best Beethoven Sonata
  • the best Bach Solo Violin Sonata
  • the competitor the audience regards as the winner (Audience Prize)
In the last years the competition took place there was also a prize donated by the friends of Josef Hassid, the outstanding Flesch pupil untimely died in 1957 being only 27 years old.

Until 1974 the competition was supported solely by the City Arts Trust. The Lloyds Bank became the principal sponsor from 1976 until 1986. Eventually British Gas undertook to sponsor the competition from 1988 to 1992, contributing the first prize, the cost of hall hire, orchestras and conductors for the finals and the costs for printing of leaflets, brochures and programmes.

Other sponsors, who have donated additional prizes, were the Royal Philharmonic Society, J & A Beare, the leading insurance group Sedgwick's, the Worshipful Company of Musicians, Sotheby's, and Mr. Carl F. Flesch, who donated the prize for the best Mozart Violin Concerto in memory of his late wife Ruth Flesch. He also suggested and originally sponsored the Special Merit Prize, the Audience Prize and a competition for young British composers to choose the modern piece for solo violin to be played by heart in the first round of the Carl Flesch.

In the late '60s the competition was substantially furthered and advanced to become worldwide one of the most important contests of its kind. Based on his experiences as a jury member in Montreal in 1966, Yfrah Neaman, himself a former Flesch pupil and at the time also jury member of the Carl Flesch, suggested to lift it up to an international event in great style with

  • a jury consisting of at least nine internationally recognised musicians as members,
  • three stages, and
  • final concertos played with orchestra.

The City of London Festival was addressed for financing the event and in 1968 the first new-style Carl Flesch Competition could take place. From this year on, the competition, which had been held annually from 1945 until 1966, took place biennially under the administration of the City Arts Trust (1972 - 1992) and has been a member of the Federation Mondiale des Concours Internationaux de Musique in Geneva.

It was also the time (1968) Yehudi Menuhin became involved with the competition. His role as chairman of the jury was of great importance due to his prestige and his efforts. Eminent musicians were won as members of the jury with his help. He and Neaman joined forces in order to set up a new programme of intellectually challenging music including:

  • a complete Bach partita,
  • the choice of any Beethoven sonata, and
  • a Mozart concerto as part of the finals played with chamber orchestra.
Following items were included later on:
  • a contemporary composition for solo violin commissioned for the competition,
  • a virtuoso showpiece,
  • Paganini's Caprices, and
  • a large-scale concerto played with a symphony orchestra.
Several features, seldom found in other competitions, made the Carl Flesch unique and original:
  • Participants are allowed to play the whole piece without being interrupted during the performance.
  • A computer based voting system invented by Albert Frost.
  • The Audience Prize, a very popular feature later adopted by other competitions. Suggested and sponsored by Carl F. Flesch it was first introduced in 1968 to honour the participant the audience regards as the winner. In 40% of the cases the audience did not agree with the jury. In one occasion the members of the accompanying orchestra were permitted to vote.
  • Jury members are permitted to vote in case of own pupils. The effect of the rule, common in other competitions, not allowing to vote in case of own pupils is considered to be overestimated. The large number of jurors and their different nationalities should grant a balanced verdict. Besides this, a jury member affected by this rule could try to underrate the other participants resulting in a downgrade of the competition in whole.
  • Discussion sessions for the participants. All participants not being finalists are given an opportunity to discuss their performances in private with members of the jury.

Great importance was attached to obtain an internationally distinguished panel of judges representing all aspects of violin playing, including performers, teachers, chamber music players, orchestral leaders and renowned musicians who were not violinists but had knowledge of the repertoire as conductors, composers, pianists and player of other stringed instruments.

Click on this picture to see it enlarged.

The Members of the Jury in 1992
(Front row, from left to right): Ruggiero Ricci, Nobuko Imai; (Middle row, from left to right): Toshiya Eto, György Pauk, Albert Frost, Erich Gruenberg; (Back row, from left to right): Yossi Zivoni, Mark Lubotsky, Bruno Canino.

Photo by courtesy of Carl F. Flesch

In the period from 1945 to 1992 the jury included - among others - following prominent members:
  • Zakhar Bron
  • Sir Lennox Berkeley
  • Sir Adrian Boult
  • Bruno Canino
  • Luigi Dallapiccola
  • Devi Erlih
  • Toshiya Etoh
  • Albert Frost
  • Zino Francescatti
  • Raymond Gallois-Montbrun
  • Erich Gruenberg
  • Ida Haendel
  • Alun Hodinott
  • Emanuel Hurwitz
  • Hermann Krebbers
  • John Lill
  • Yehudi Menuhin
  • Yfrah Neaman
  • Ricardo Odnoposoff
  • Igor Oistrakh
  • Andrzej Panufnik
  • György Pauk
  • Ruggiero Ricci
  • Aaron Rosand
  • Max Rostal
  • Wolfgang Schneiderhan
  • Vladimir Spivakov
  • Josef Suk
  • Henryk Szeryng
  • Josef Szigeti
  • Cicasch Tanaka
  • Lionel Tertis

Frost, being not a professional musician, but an enthusiastic amateur and a prominent man in commerce and industry, became in later years the non-voting jury chairman. He, as well as the permanent organiser Virginia Harding, did an enormous amount of work in furthering the events.

Among the winners in the past we find known names like:
  • 1946: Norbert Brainin (Great Britain)
  • 1947: Erich Gruenberg (Palestine)
  • 1951: Igor Ozim (Yugoslavia)
  • 1962: Jean-Jacques Kantorow (France)
  • 1963: Ana Chumachenco (Argentina)
  • 1965: Eszter Boda (Hungary)
  • 1970: Stoika Milanova (Bulgaria)
  • 1972: Csaba Erdelyi (Hungary) - viola
  • 1974: Mincho Minchev (Bulgaria)
  • 1978: Eugene Sarbu (Romania)
  • 1986: Xue Wei (China)
  • 1988: Sungsic Yang (Korea)
  • 1990: Maxim Vengerov(Russia)

In two occassions, 1970 and 1972, the competition was open to viola players being the Hungarian violist Erdelyi 1972 the winner who in 1970 had won the 3rd prize. The best violin player of the competition in 1972 was the Spanish violinist Gonçal Comellas (3rd Prize) who also won the Audience Prize.

Later on it was decided that having more than one instrument in the same competition was not giving a fair comparison and the participation of violists was no longer continued.

The nationalities of the competition winners from its beginning in 1945 until 1992 reveals the international character and scope of the Carl Flesch. Not only European countries are represented, but also North and South America, as well as Australia and the Near and Far East:
  • Argentina (1963)
  • Australia (1949, 1959)
  • Austria (1992)
  • Belgium (1952)
  • Bulgaria (1970, 1974)
  • Canada (1953)
  • China (1986)
  • Czechoslovakia (1956)
  • France (1948, 1960, 1961, 1962)
  • Germany (1966)
  • Great Britain (1945, 1946, 1957, 1958)
  • Hungary (1955, 1965, 1972)
  • Israel (1968, 1976)
  • Korea (1988)
  • Palestine (1947)
  • Poland (1980)
  • Romania (1978)
  • Russia (1990)
  • Switzerland (1964)
  • Uruguay (1954)
  • Yugoslavia (1951)

After 1992, the City of London Festival unexpectedly decided not to continue with any of its competitions. Since then the Carl Flesch could not be arranged again.

Hopes raised as the competition's revival was announced in the 'News & Events' section of the March 2000 issue of The Strad as an event to take place in October 2001, instigated, and in an extraordinary way supported by Anne-Sophie Mutter, herself a Flesch descendant through her teachers Erna Honigberger and Aida Stucki, who were both Flesch pupils.

Eventually, however, there were various technical and other obstacles which prevented the plans from being succesfully completed. In consequence, Great Britain is at present the only western country which is without a fully fledged international violin competition.


The sense of competitions at all has often been discussed. They remain until our days a matter of controverse. What the Carl Flesch concerns, its intention has always been to give guidance and help to young artists to come in the limelight and start a career. In an interview for The Strad (July 1992) Yfrah Neaman explains the aims of the competition: " We wanted to do something of real benefit to young artists, to help them develop as musicians, to further their repertoire, their sense of communication with a public and, if they were good enough and ready for it, to aid them in beginning a career. "

Considering these noble aims, it's truly regrettable to see the Carl Flesch still discontinued. Hopes remain, the authorities of the City of London think their former decision over and revert to support the event again.