Musicians without borders

Next month’s 2023 Horowitz Competition will be held in Geneva, Switzerland and hosted by the World Federation of International Music Competitions (WFIMC).
Florian Riem looks at the implications and explains the new WFIMC denationalisation guidelines

Vladimir Horowitz’s many notable accolades include “pianist of the century“, “the last Romantic“ and “legendary virtuoso“. Not so well known is the fact that he was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he is the namesake of the International Competition for young pianists in memory of Vladimir Horowitz. A major cultural institution of the embattled Ukrainian capital, the Horowitz Competition has recently found refuge in Geneva, Switzerland. Hosted by the World Federation of International Music Competitions (WFIMC), the 2023 edition will take place from 13 to 21 April at Victoria Hall and the Geneva Conservatory and will be called “Horowitz Competition Kyiv-Genev”. While Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Geneva Competition are major Artistic Partners, other WFIMC members such as the Busoni, Liszt, Cliburn and Chopin competitions have also offered their support. 

By hosting the Horowitz Competition in Switzerland, the Geneva-based organisers hope it will “affirm the importance of a major Ukrainian cultural institution for the world.” It will show the “strength and endurance of a country oppressed and suffering from a brutal war. But, as it will be open to all nationalities, it will also show the conviction that art and music, as a universal language, can unite people by embracing the common values that define our humanity: integrity, respect, openness, empathy and love.”

Acclaimed pianist Evgeny Kissin supports this sentiment: “Music is a universal language, so as long as there are no artificial borders created for it, it easily transcends all the other borders,” he says. “Different political views don’t prevent people from enjoying the same music… The Horowitz Kyiv-Geneva competition is a strong sign of how to protect the cultural values we are so in need of.”

While the Horowitz as a Ukrainian competition obviously puts an emphasis on Ukrainian composers and encourages Ukrainian pianists to apply, the rules are clear: “We encourage everyone from around the globe to take part in this competition.” writes Peter Paul Kainrath, President of the WFIMC. “Our statutes clearly dictate that we must not discriminate against anyone because of their nationality. We have a very international jury which will guarantee a fair treatment of every single candidate.“  

By the deadline at the end of January, a record 303 pianists had applied for the competition, and 28 of them will be invited to perform in front of an international jury that includes Michel Béroff, Piers Lane, Rico Gulda and Kirill Karabits. They will compete for awards totalling more than CHF 70.000 as well as numerous engagements such as a tour to South Korea offered by SBU & Partners, Vienna, and concerts in major venues in Germany offered by Steinway & Sons.

Like other international competitions who have stopped mentioning nationalities, the Horowitz will follow new WFIMC denationalisation guidelines. “Nowadays, artists are citizens of the world,” says Kainrath. “For example, why should a Korean musician, holding an American passport, living in Germany, be called a Korean in an Italian competition? Because of their name? Their passport? Their place of residence? Recently, there have been many winners from Canada. Their parents are Chinese and they have a Chinese name, but they compete as Canadians, even if they live in Europe. There is just no logic behind. Putting a little flag behind a name or playing a national anthem does not say anything about a person’s character, it only invites prejudice.”

The Horowitz Competition 2023 will take place from 13 April to 21 April at the Salle Liszt of Conservatoire de Musique and Victoria Hall in Geneva. The Competition Final with Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (21 April), as well as a concert “A Tribute to Vladimir Horowitz“ (20 April), will be broadcast live on and as well as on Espace2 Swiss Radio and other EBS radio stations. A livestream of the entire competition is offered on Youtube and

For Ukrainians it’s extraordinary how the world has changed for us. We don’t have the same country as before (I am not talking about myself, because my story is a little different). For Ukrainians now, it’s not the same country, we don’t know how the war will end, when it will end; we have a very unstable future, we don’t know how to function. But every problem you face does not only bring hardships – it also creates opportunities. So, for many musicians, the situation will force them out of the country and will make them work abroad. There are some great opportunities for young artists to get noticed; a privilege they didn’t have before. And they should use it to create possibilities for their future. Not only for themselves, but also for their country. 

Competitions are always a difficult subject. Music is not about competing with others. This is a difficult thing to overcome. But unfortunately now there is hardly a better way to find talent than listening to a competition. And I am sure that the different parts brought together in the Horowitz Competition will create a great spirit, a great energy – for Ukrainians the same way as for everyone else, and will enable us to discover some wonderful talent, I am sure. The Horowitz Competition Kyiv-Geneva is a unique project: a Ukrainian Competition will take place in Switzerland. In many ways, it’s not just a competition. In the end, it doesn’t matter who will be the winner, or where they come from. In the end, the Horowitz Competition will be an investment in the future of our country.

Kirill Karabits, Chair of the Jury