Start rehearsing, chamber players – this international competition is back


Understanding style and form. Playing immaculately. (Playing in tune.) Beautiful tonal colours. Compelling dynamics. A history of practising – and practising hard – as a group.

Working together.

This is what you’ll need to make it through an international music competition. String players and pianists, do you have what it takes?

If you’re feeling it – and you’re hungry to apply for a career-launching opportunity in Australia – you had better get ready. The Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition is back, and in 2022 it promises all the challenge, reward, and encouragement you need to propel you to into the spotlight.

For string quartets and piano trios with players under 35 years old, this opportunity comes with a prize pool of $150,000 – not to mention the chance to network with likeminded international colleagues and industry leaders.

The qualities we mentioned are just a few of those shared by Wilma Smith. Wilma is the artistic director of competitions at Musica Viva, and an outstanding violinist in her own right – playing with Flinders Quartet, curating Wilma & Friends, and performing with the Australian World Orchestra among others.

We asked Wilma what you really need to know when it comes to preparing for MICMC. And that includes what the jurors will be looking for, the qualities that shape a top-notch chamber group, what you’ll learn from the application process, and how to break through your impostor syndrome and go for the goal.

Entries are now open.

Wilma Smith. (Featured image: Callisto Quartet performing in the MICMC finals.)

Wilma, it’s a pleasure to interview you about MICMC. Tell us what this competition means to you, and how the competition complements your own musical journey.

I love being involved with MICMC because I remember how exciting it was to take part in similar international competitions when I was in a budding professional string quartet. I know how much my quartet benefitted from the intensive work required to prepare for a competition, and how wonderful it was to meet our peers from around the world – in some cases, striking up life-long friendships.

Giving young professional groups the chance to kick-start a career in chamber music is why MICMC exists, and we aim to make it one of the best experiences a group can have on the competition circuit.

It can’t be ignored that MICMC is opening for entries at the height of a pandemic – including lockdowns and travel restrictions across the country. To top it off, it’s an international competition! How are you with Musica Viva navigating this enormous challenge?

Musica Viva is realistic about forces outside its control, such as the pandemic. We are proceeding with preparations and planning for MICMC 2022 in anticipation that international travel will have resumed by July 2022. But if that looks unlikely by the end of this year, we would aim to postpone the competition for one year.

We don’t want to present a competition of this kind purely digitally – although we would certainly want to live stream the performances worldwide as most international competitions do for those unable to attend as in-person audience members.

Competitions are an amazing way to give confidence and validation to musicians who work hard to be recognised for their craft; live audiences must be part of that, too. How do you feel MICMC will offer these qualities to musicians during such a period of vulnerability for the industry?

MICMC has always given groups the opportunity to hone their craft to the highest degree, and pit themselves against their contemporary peers to gain a foothold on the ladder of a professional chamber music career.

Although the industry as a whole has suffered greatly through the pandemic because of the nature of live performance, the role of MICMC is unchanged. It will still illuminate the best young groups worthy of a career in chamber music when the world is ready to support the full return of live performance.

Meanwhile, groups everywhere will develop their resilience or not by their adaptability to new circumstances. We hope that the opportunity MICMC provides will be even more valuable and appreciated in these unusual times.

Speaking of resilience, let’s talk about what it takes for a group of musicians to succeed in MICMC. What are you looking for – from personal qualities such as resilience through to skills reflecting musicianship?

To succeed in MICMC, a group must have the focus, determination, and persistence to do the work required to present a substantial amount of repertoire at the highest standard.

They must not only achieve a technical level of excellence that sets them apart, but also convince an international jury of seven experts of the strength of their musical ideas, and move them by the emotional power and conviction of their performance. 

Unlike other competitions that focus on the individual expertise of a solo player, this competition honours a group. I’d like to ask you specifically what makes an outstanding group or group player.

An outstanding group capable of winning an international competition like MICMC has spent many, many hours working together intensively on the craft on chamber music, developing their technical skills such as individually and collectively playing in tune, playing together immaculately, having a huge range of tonal colours and dynamics, and – perhaps most importantly – having a depth of understanding of musical style, form, harmonic impact, and all the other facets of what makes a musically compelling performance.

In the end, they must communicate the composer’s intention to the audience of jurors who will determine which group convinces them the most.

In what way will this competition bring benefit to the careers of its participants, whether or not they win?

The rigour of preparing for an international competition can take a group to another level of performance, whether they win a prize or not. In addition, they have the opportunity to make new connections with their peers and with the jury members. Those connections can lead to future opportunities that may not be obvious at the time, or have more obvious and immediate impact.

What can young musicians learn from the process of applying for MICMC – from learning how to curate an entry or efficiently organise rehearsals?

Musicians can learn much from the discipline of putting together an entry for MICMC. They need to submit a video recording of the highest quality in order to be invited to take part in the live rounds of the competition in Melbourne, and prepare accompanying documentation.

The recording of their video in itself teaches valuable skills of critical listening and fine-tuning during the rehearsal process leading up to making their final recording. They may need to identify a good recording engineer and recording space – practical issues that are all part of the task.

When young musicians look at the past winners of MICMC, they’ll be blown away by the talent and success of these artists! How can they avoid feeling too intimidated to apply, too? How can they avoid impostor syndrome?

MICMC is aiming to attract the world’s best emerging professional groups, including those from Australia. Groups aiming to achieve the high standard required to forge and sustain a career as a professional string quartet or piano trio have a keen awareness of the need for consistent hard work to approach that elusive technical perfection, and to gain increasing depth of musical understanding.

They will also have confidence in their own abilities to do this work, and a desire to achieve results.

MICMC gives them a chance to stretch and go out of their comfort zones in a supported and encouraging environment in which all groups are given the chance to achieve their personal bests. By making the live rounds of competition more like concerts for each group, with an enthusiastically supportive audience willing them all to do their best, MICMC aims to provide every group with a positively memorable experience.  

What advice would you give to musicians who want to give it their best shot – and are in it for the win?

I would encourage all groups who are contemplating entering MICMC to choose high-quality repertoire that will show their strengths, and work very hard to make the best-quality entry video they can. 

I wish all potential MICMC entrants the very best in their preparation. Embrace the challenge and enjoy the process of aiming high!

Start preparing your entries now for the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition 2022. Entries close on 1 October 2021, and the competition takes place from 3-10 July 2022. Everything you need to know is right here on the Musica Viva website.

Pictured: Australia’s Clarendon Trio performing at MICMC. We teamed up with Musica Viva to take you behind the scenes of MICMC! Stay tuned for more stories from the voices of the Australian arts industry.

Images supplied. Clarendon Trio captured by Michael Keating.