Members’ circle – WFIMC’s annual meeting to take place in Japan this May

WFIMC’s interim secretary general Florian Riem speaks to Maria Roberts about why having a supportive membership body is a must for the global network of competitions – especially during the CoVid-19 pandemic.

“We must help our Chinese members: even when the worst is over, and the recovery is done, there may be some prejudice against China”

When I speak to Florian Riem on the phone he’s in South Korea, where he is CEO of Tongyeong International Music Foundation, the international music festival, and Isangyun Competition.

Born in Munich, Riem took on the role of World Federation of International Music Competition’s (WFIMC) interim secretary general in September 2019, following the departure of Benjamin Woodroffe. Reporting to president Didier Schnorhk and the board, Riem’s job is to hold the fort until a new secretary general is appointed this spring.

Riem needs to be a strong holder of that fort because for an industry that relies entirely upon ease of travel, it’s a testing time. There’s a storm brewing across the seas, that’s for sure: the Asian-centric terror of CoVid-19 (the official name of the novel Coronavirus) is being drip-fed by the media daily; Brexit’s visa complications for artists and entertainers seems to be forever in flux; and Hong Kong is not just affected by political unrest, but also recently cancelled Hong Kong Arts Festival (HKAF) for fear of a CoVid-19 pandemic. Add to this the fires in Australia, floods, earthquakes, volcanos erupting, typhoons and airlines going bust – it’s quite a mix.

“It will be a really tough year,” admits Riem. “Smaller competitions that rely on sponsors and government money sometimes have it harder: once a sponsor drops out, they can’t keep going as they run out of money. These competitions need more acknowledgement and more connections, that’s why we need to give them some solidarity.

“I wonder how many competitors we will see in China this year?” he wonders. “Fewer people will be talking about arts, culture and music in these times. If competitors don’t travel because they are worried about the virus, or because they are listening or reading about racist or prejudiced messages about China, then it could get challenging.

“There is a lot for us to do at WFIMC and we must help our Chinese members. Even when the worst is over, and the recovery is done, it could be very hard – you can see the beginnings of the prejudice against China emerging on the streets in Europe and the US right now.”

Riem is clear to point out that WFIMC is not there to deal only with these challenges, as its remit is to raise the bar and push for quality and excellence in the field of music competitions.

“My job is not about the problems,” he says. “It’s about what the values of WFIMC mean to us. In Asia WFIMC has value, it is really a big brand name here in South Korea. If a young man in South Korea wins a major prize in a WFIMC competition, he won’t have to go into the military because the government acknowledge that the win means he is an artist of quality and needs to develop his career. At WFIMC this makes us proud because our members are upholding the values we want to embrace.”

Of course, not all competitions are the same and their unique qualities make all the difference to the musicians’ careers.

“Every competition is different and you cannot generalise and say everyone should compete at the Tchaikovsky or the Queen Elisabeth. Artists have to look at their own objectives when choosing a competition, and select one depending on how they see their individual careers developing.

“Musicians might want to consider options such as being in their home country, or travelling far away because they don’t want to be distracted by people they know and instead prefer to jump in the cold water at a place far from home.

“If a musician has already won at 10 competitions, then they may want to go for the biggest competition because they want to advance much further in their career, then they are doing it for more than money, but management and performance opportunities. That’s where WFIMC can really help, by giving advice and information about what options and possibilities there are available to artists.”

The next annual meeting for WFIMC members will take place in May at the home of Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan.