PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) on Monday announced that it did not pick a winner in its online concerto competition. The decision was made after four finalists auditioned Monday for a jury comprised of PSO conductors, musicians and staff.

“We were very pleased with the four finalists. But we always maintained the right not to pick a winner,” said Robert Moir, PSO’s senior vice president of artistic planning & audience engagement. “The PSO was the first major American orchestra to hold an online concerto competition to find a soloist to perform with the orchestra. We would like to thank everyone who participated in this unique competition. We expect to conduct it again. It was an interesting experience for us. It was a very difficult decision not to choose a winner.”

Moir said it was not uncommon for a competition not to produce a winner. For example, the International Tchaikovsky Violin Competition did not pick a winner in 2011, and the Paganini International Violin Competition did not choose a winner in 2010.

The four finalists who auditioned Monday at Heinz Hall were violinist William Hagen, 19, of Salt Lake City, pianists Benjamin Hopkins, 21, of Los Angeles, and Manon Hutton-DeWys, 26, of Bronx, NY, and cellist Angela Park, 25, of Philadelphia. They competed for a chance to perform as a soloist alongside the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra next season.

The four were named after the public voted in April on the PSO’s YouTube Channel, where the performance videos of eight semi-finalists were posted. The semi-finalists received more than 22,000 votes during the voting period, April 13-April 30. The four finalists received round-trip air tickets to Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition received 104 eligible videos from Feb. 9 to March 22, when eight semi-finalists were chosen. The PSO Concerto Competition allowed instrumental soloists in the United States, unrepresented by management, to upload videos of a performance of selected repertoire on selected instruments to the PSO’s YouTube Channel.

JUNE 19, 2012 UPDATE:

It was always our intent to find a winner for the PSO Concerto Competition.  Unfortunately that did not happen.  This competition was never a publicity stunt by the PSO but a sincere attempt by us to try something innovative.  We understand that these talented young musicians, their fans and some of our patrons were upset by our decision.  We apologize for any ill will this might have caused.


  • PSO Subscriber
    Posted June 11, 2012

    This is a real shame! Poor applicants, who worked hard for this, sacrificing their time and energy in the hopes of gaining a wonderful opportunity (which seems truly hard to come by in today’s competitive music community). It may be true that the PSO never did guarantee a winner, but to offer the fact that, for example, the Tchaikovsky Competition did not pick a violin winner in 2011 and use it as a precedent is a cheap excuse, especially given the fact that the Tchaikovsky Competition actually DID guarantee that there would be a first-prize winner in the 2011 competition and then broke it’s own rules. I now have a feeling the Youtube competition was a ploy to get undeserved publicity for the PSO in the name of being innovative (without actually following through). I was looking forward to the results.

  • wendy hutton
    Posted June 11, 2012

    what a rediculous way to end a competetion!!!!these young people worked extremely hard—-to be a part of an experiment-?-i doubt your competetions will be taken seriously in the future—

  • Sylvia Edgerton
    Posted June 12, 2012

    This was a terrible publicity stunt done by the PSO. The applicants worked extremely hard towards this competition, and to have it end like this is a travesty.

    It is also absurd for the PSO to compare their national Youtube concerto competition to a competition with such calibre and history as the Tchaikovsky Competition. It seems like the PSO just wanted to keep their $10 000 and find a stunt to build an audience for their orchestra. This was an “experiment” at the expense of young, talented musicians in our midst, who should have been encouraged through a competition instead of having their time wasted.

    Very shoddy work, PSO.

  • xantithesis89
    Posted June 12, 2012

    I am not a musician; I cannot claim to comprehend to any degree the environment in which classical musicians ply their craft, or the sensibility which is required to judge whether or not a performer has performed well. I do have one close friend, however, a classical musician who several months ago revealed to me that he was one of the top eight runners for a nationwide online contest. I pledged my support without hesitation. I watched as he worked tirelessly on the piece he had chosen for the competition alongside six other pieces he had chosen for his senior recital. Many a night did he come late to a gathering, after practice sessions lasting up to seven hours at a time, only to leave early in order to be alert for a lesson the next day. I was one of a number of diligent friends and family who voted consistently every day leading up to the final voting day, and on a couple of occasions we even handed out slips of paper as he played in an open student plaza, trying to gather as much support as we could. I was invited to practices, and to rehearsals of the piece in its entirety, and bore firsthand witness to its progression. It was an exciting time when we found out that he had been picked to be among the top four contestants, to audition in Pittsburgh in front of the conductor himself. It is also all the more of a disappointment that the Pittsburgh Symphony has not only failed to pick a winner, but also failed to give any sort of reason behind their decision not to.

    Again, I am not a member of the classical community; I am told that in classical competitions, it isn’t all that rare a phenomenon for an individual winner to not be chosen. But from an outsider’s standpoint, this appears to me to have been an extravagant waste of resources (including what it took to organize the contest, evaluate the initial wave of contestants, fly the contestants to Pittsburgh, house them, arrange for accompanists, and chauffeur them from place to place). More than this, in addition to the immense number of practice hours invested by the contestants themselves, this also feels somewhat dismissive of those who have demonstrated their support of these young artists, as well as those who looked at this competition, the first of its kind, and saw it as a new, praiseworthy initiative in keeping with the digital age we now live in. If there were at least one explanation offered as to how the decision was made, it might serve as some sort of consolation; until then, it only appears to me to have been a tragic waste of time, money, and effort on the part of everyone involved, and an irresponsible move by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Reserving the right not to pick a winner is fine, but out of courtesy at least, I would ask for an honest explanation for leaving this competition without a conclusion, and for disappointing the young artists and their supporters.

  • Musician
    Posted June 12, 2012

    While this is not uncommon in competitions and especially in orchestral job auditions, it does not make it right. It ruins the validity of our art form and only increases the elitist feeling that the public gets from classical music. The more we push down the efforts of hard-working, talented youth, the more elitist the older musicians seem and the less young persons wish to attend concerts and donate to organizations.

  • Concerned
    Posted June 12, 2012

    This is what happens when the beginning of a competition is run like a popularity contest or election campaign.

  • Grant Barnes
    Posted June 12, 2012

    I was surprised to learn that after all the publicity the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra received, and the dozens of applicants, who were winnowed down to eight semi-finalists, among whom it was hard to decide — meaning that I voted for one one day and for another the next — and after flying four finalists out for live auditions, the PSO team could not reach a decision to select one for the October concert. The reasonable inference is that the PSO had no intention to award the contract and instead only wanted to get its name out in the competition process. Merely saying that the PSO always reserved the right not to award the contract seems specious and beside the point. It also seems like an extraordinary statement because failure to award a contract despite the votes of hundreds if not thousands of people in a high-profile competition and the obvious musicality of the finalists can be seen as a prevaricating comment on both the process and the integrity of the young artists’ musicianship and professionalism. It may be that the PSO thinks it is better than the process and the young musicians that process selected, but the PSO must now also recognize that its good name has been sullied by how the process was conducted and by the untoward outcome.

  • Annoyed pittsburgher
    Posted June 12, 2012

    If you really wanted to find a competitor “good enough” to perform as soloist with the PSO, why would you hold a Youtube competition, where getting to the finals is based on the number of votes by, mostly, people the competitors have asked to vote for them? Why not just hold a concerto competition like the Houston Symphony, with a jury of esteemed members of the musical community? Oh, right. For publicity. And to save the money of having to whittle the field down yourselves. Great work, PSO! Wasting everybody’s time and insulting the hardworking young musicians who applied. Shame on you.

  • J.W. Clemmer
    Posted June 12, 2012

    The previous responses to the “no-winner” news were correct in that the gimmicky cop out gave the symphony a black eye by snubbing the young musicians. A better solution would have been to divide up the $10,000 and give each of the four finalists an opportunity to showcase their talents with the entire symphony. As it is, this charade can be compared to a shoddy so-called reality show like the idiotic “Bachelor” and that ilk.

  • Sandra Lippman
    Posted June 13, 2012

    While all posts preceding this one are respected as thoughtful, sincere viewpoints and commentary, I’m surprised to find the positive side of young artists being motivated and striving for higher levels in their own performances being overlooked. It also seems that each young artist, particularly the semi-finalists and finalists, received exceptional publicity and promotion through the PSO-initiated process – – and made many more individuals/groups aware of their level of talent through social media and voting online; thinking that many who voted were previously unaware of level of talent of those they respectively supported with votes. This writer is not convinced that all were errors on the part of PSO, but rather congratulate the organization for an admitted experiment that individuals freely chose to participate in. Not everyone interested in the performing arts is viewing this as a glass half-empty. There will be an improved version by PSO or others who take the lead to move into a digital age to reach current and potential future audiences for classical music. Bravo, PSO, for taking a risk doing something new for the organization; flying young performers in to be heard by PSO judges, and making me, among so many others, aware of nationwide young artists I had not heard of previously and will take time to listen to post-competition. Winning isn’t everything, outside of football, is it?

  • Chris McClelland
    Posted June 13, 2012

    I agree with the gist of previous comments. Refusing to choose a winner in the PSO concerto competition was shabby on the part of the PSO.

  • FluteChat
    Posted June 14, 2012

    This was the original promotional video:

    quoting: “The winner will be announced on June 12th, and will perform with the PSO and me…”

    It seems odd to try engage with your patrons and a wider audience in such a way, and then to disregard them, indeed seemingly snub them by rejecting all of the finalists produced by the process.

    quoting: “If you are a music lover and especially if you are one of our PSO patrons, please help choose the winner by voting on our youtube channel…”

    Surely this suggests to any existing patrons and others who engaged with the process and voted for these soloists on youtube that a trip to watch the PSO is not for them? Or that what is good enough for them is not good enough for the PSO? A puzzling / elitist / potentially offensive message to be sending out….

    Were the finalists really that bad, that they deserved to be snubbed in this way? They must wish they hadn’t entered.

    It’s ok to be beaten by a worthy winner, but for it to be suggested that there were no worthy entrants, devalues everyone involved.

    Perhaps the PSO should have taken a leaf out of the book of some high profile TV talent competitions and ensured that there were at least a few invited entrants that they considered worthy at the start of the process, to avoid such an unfortunate outcome.

  • Liz Farley-Metzger
    Posted June 14, 2012

    Host a gimmicky YouTube popularity contest and *then* remember your ‘artistic integrity’ while simultaneously insulting everyone who competed and voted, *and* reinforcing the ‘snooty, superior insider’ vs ‘clueless rube outsider’ divide in classical music? Well you couldn’t have planned *that* better if you tried! Seriously, could no one in your PR department have foreseen this outcome? Incredibly poorly done.

  • AmateurPianist
    Posted June 14, 2012

    @Sandra Lippman above: “exceptional publicity and promotion”??? Oh yes, this must be the publicity every aspiring artist dreams of…to be a finalist in a competition where the level of playing is so bad that an orchestra in Pittsbugh can’t stomach the idea of playing with even the best of the bunch. Because you Know that’s how this is going to be interpreted. Fairly or not. FluteChat is right. It also insults and devalues the participation of the orchestra’s supporting patrons.

  • Jeff Reynolds
    Posted June 15, 2012

    Fortunately the applicants and fine soloists who made it to the finals are not the losers in this publicity stunt gone terribly bad. They have honed a concerto to the best of their ability and will go on to win legitimate rewards with other orchestras. Unfortunately, the loser here is the PSO, even though they get to pocket the prize money. Attention jury members: The Pittsburgh Symphony is not the Berlin Philharmonic or the Cleveland Orchestra. By the stretch of any imagination.

  • Steve de Mena
    Posted June 15, 2012

    They have said publicly they didn’t find anyone that played at the level of the members of the PSO. Is that so hard to believe that we have to believe this was just done for publicity?

  • Liz Farley-Metzger
    Posted June 15, 2012

    No, they did not say their goal was to find someone who played at the level of members of the symphony.

    They said (in a lame attempt at face saving, after the fact) that their goal was to find someone who played at the level of the *soloists* they already book (you know, folks like Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Emmanuel Ax), who didn’t already have professional management.

    Look at their YouTube promo for the competition.*Nowhere* was anything like that mentioned. Nowhere did they say “we hope to find” or “if we choose someone.”

    Anybody who went to this concert would have known it involved a YouTube competition. People would have known what to expect. But even at that, from the bios and videos of the finalists, the result certainly wouldn’t have been a laughingstock (except perhaps to those whose favorite classical music game is “my ear is just superior to yours if you can stand THAT”).

  • L.Q.
    Posted June 15, 2012

    @Steve: Yes, because PSO isn’t exactly the best of the best – this isn’t the Berlin, Vienna, or NY Philharmonic. If they found 4 people who were good enough for it to be worth flying them out to Pittsburgh, surely one of them was good enough to perform with the orchestra once. And if the quality of the entrants was honestly that low (which I highly doubt), they should have stopped the competition after a preliminary round at most.

  • PianoFan
    Posted June 15, 2012

    Does the PSO have anything to say for themselves? They picked the repertoire, they picked the semi-finalists, they encouraged the public to vote for weeks… and then they just dropped everyone?? At the very least they should be answerable for what they did with the $50,000 grant and the at least $10k left over from that. And they should answer to why they don’t seem to care about the four finalists who worked so hard only to be bad-mouthed in the press as “not good enough.”

    Is anyone from the PSO going to address all of these comments from the public??

  • Disappointed
    Posted June 15, 2012

    It seems like the PSO didn’t really think this one out. I was impressed that they were willing to let unknowns have a shot. I mean who doesn’t want to see a deserving underdog get a break. The problem for me is that the PSO didn’t follow through with its implied intention. Robert Moir said, “Our goal was to discover an unknown talent performing at the level of soloists with the Pittsburgh Symphony. We did not find that.” Soloists like Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, and Joshua Bell? That is either a totally unreasonable expectation or a red herring for killing the competition. How can they expect to find a musician that has never been represented by management but plays like one of the world’s greatest musicians (who already has a phenomenal concertizing career)? Was the PSO high when they thought of that?

    Okay, I guess I just feel disappointed that they weren’t really giving an underdog a fair shake. Giving a unknown artist a big break is super classy; abandoning one because of your own unreasonable expectations is trashy. But, maybe this shows an unreasonable expectation of my own. I thought the orchestra was really interested in finding undiscovered talent. Duh, they were just interested in publicity and money. That’s why they have a concert of video game music, but abandon a budding artist. Not very classy….

  • Janis
    Posted June 16, 2012

    Are you guy sure you didn’t simply fear choosing an unrepresented someone and thus ticking off the big-name agencies who wouldn’t send their own top talent to you for solo opportunities? Seriously?

  • Karen
    Posted June 17, 2012

    This tastes bad no matter how you slice it. You can be certain that it will be a long time before I buy a ticket to a PSO concert. Shame on you.

  • Mike
    Posted June 18, 2012

    You guys blew it. Big time.

  • Elias
    Posted June 20, 2012

    Shameful…talk about setting a bad example for the next generation of musicians…this is bush league.

  • Annoyed
    Posted June 20, 2012

    So cheap of the PSO to use young musicians like that. What a way to represent classical music. It may have been believable that they didn’t find anybody suitable, IF WE DIDN’T SEE AND LISTEN TO THEM OURSELVES. All 22,000 votes were towards the cause that we thought these musicians are great and that we WANT to see them on stage.

    There is no way PSO could “try this competition again” — nobody will take them seriously. How could they get the nerve to compare themselves to Tchaikovsky or Paganini competitions? This is a fail on the PSO’s part, and it will take a miracle to get another competition (aka publicity stunt) like this from PSO to be successful. Talented young musicians around the country are wary of the PSO now. It’s truly a small world and PSO has slapped the young artist community in the face.

    If your intent was “never a publicity stunt by the PSO” then at least treat these musicians with at least a shred of respect. It is clear we are all on their side, and we would all have loved to see any of them in concert. If you truly think these musicians are talented, you would have given them a chance. So many disrespectful press releases belittling these amazing people.

    PSO has lost the good opinion of hundreds of people. What a shame.

  • Bennett
    Posted June 21, 2012

    Ahh, the elitist high brow snobacracy that is the classical music world. Surely these people know better then the general music loving audience who is worthy of playing with them, after all they live on a steady diet of ramen noodles, live with their parents and only play great art music for great exclusive audiences, such as the corporate donors at Heinz Ketchup.
    It is besides the point winning is not everything and this did boost the attention to the applicants. In the end, in regards to image, holding a open cattle call via the internet with general public voting only for the powers that be to vote them out altogether in the end, accomplished nothing but make the PSO look bad. Yes, they reserve the right to declare no winner, however when the finalist were told the decision was because they chose repertoire that did not reflect their artistic personalities on stage, this only bleeds corruption as the PSO (not only chose rep guidelines) but knew before inviting them to Pittsburgh what they were playing; only to turn them away because they did not like the selection (!)
    Lastly if they are sincere that their quest of finding capable players that of the PSO not under management via youtube, it seems declaring a winner and letting the critics/audience decide washes the PSO’s hands of the catastrophe.
    It was either a publicity stunt, or they got a windfall last minute donation to bring in a top of the line name instead of turning to youtube.

  • Ilana
    Posted June 21, 2012

    What a shame, PSO! Very disappointed in this orchestra.

  • PSO Subscriber
    Posted June 21, 2012

    Perhaps none of the finalists performed up to the standard of performing with a professional symphony. If I was judging a competition and 4 no names who looked okay on the internet and came in and performed sub-par, I’d reserve the right to not pick a winner as well.

  • Dario
    Posted June 22, 2012

    Nobody in this blog seems to have considered the difference between playing 10 MINUTES FROM A CONCERTO (recorded) and playing a WHOLE CONCERTO (live). In my opinion, the four finalists – from their short videos – did not show that they had a particular charisma and an impressing artistry. Some contestants who showed impressive potential and talent in their sample videos were not selected for the semifinals because, I think, a preference in the selection was given to high-quality videos rather than to high-level performances. What happened, in my opinion, is that the LIVE PERFORMANCE of the WHOLE CONCERTO from all the four finalists was DISAPPOINTING. I am glad that PSO did not select a winner if this was indeed the case…PSO had the humility *and the courage* to recognize that those musicians, among all the musicians who submitted a video, were not the right people this time…or that maybe the selection process was flawed…

  • Disappointed
    Posted June 22, 2012

    @PSO Subscriber: I think the issue for many of us is that they were looking for a “no name”, so when they got a bunch of “no names” and decided they weren’t good enough it left a bad taste.

    @Dario: I have to disagree with you. I think the finalists did show artistry. And, I’d remind you that the PSO selected the semi-finalists. Are your really suggesting that the PSO couldn’t differentiate between artistry and flashy videos? Besides, the finalists DID NOT have the high quality videos you claim. Did you look through all the videos that were submitted? Lots of them had much higher production values. To be honest, it kind of sounds like you are being a sore looser… rather than commenting on the PSO’s decision.

  • Impartial
    Posted June 23, 2012

    I subscribe to Dario’s opinion. PSO is one of the most respected and of the highest caliber orchestras in North America — and everyone knows that. None of the 4 finalists chosen by popular vote were up to that level. I know people around here are mad, but look at PSO’s seasons and see who performs with them, and after that start thinking whether any of the 4 present at least some potential of reaching that peak.

    Everyone worked hard, I know, but in my humble opinion none of them is really ready to embrace an international career in the real sense.

  • PianoFan
    Posted June 23, 2012

    @ Impartial: they never said they were looking for someone ready to “embrace an international career!”

  • Reality check
    Posted June 24, 2012

    @Impartial: The PSO concerto competition was a national concerto competition, not the Queen Elisabeth (which by the way does not reserve the right to not award prizes and ranks finalists first to sixth according to a point system). I have never heard of a concerto competition that withheld a prize, even by “bigger” orchestras (such as NY Philharmonic in 2001, Boston Symphony’s, or Philadelphia Orchestra’s competitions) or by other major orchestras such as Houston’s. Two concerts in Pittsburgh is not an international career, it’s two concerts in Pittsburgh.

    A concerto competition by design is not to launch an international career like the Tchaikovsky competition that PSO compares itself to. (In fact, PSO’s is nothing like the big competitions, many of which award management contracts, expensive instruments, and dozens of concerts around the world.) The function of a concerto competition by any orchestra is to encourage young musicians and the local public. To say that no one was as good as the soloists that PSO already books is entirely irrelevant. That was never, and if it was, should have never been PSO’s goal from the start. If that’s what they were truly looking for, they should have simply called Yo-Yo Ma or Joshua Bell or Emmanuel Ax without having the young musicians and the online public jump through hoops for PSO’s cheap hire.

  • Alex
    Posted June 24, 2012

    What is problem with PSO? It turn back on young classical musicians for rap concert and bad tv singer. It trying lose respect?

  • Boo PSO
    Posted June 25, 2012

    I think that these young artists and the public realized the potential in this competition, since it WAS run by one of the more “respectable” orchestras in the country. One of the reasons the results are so angering is because “respectable” PSO didn’t follow through on their word. True, they wrote in the rules that they reserve a right to not declare a winner. But that always seems like the cheap way out doesn’t it? Especially on the first time to run what seemed like would have been a great competition. Would it really have hurt them THAT much to pick a winner?

    1) Aside from the YouTube clips (which are all plenty good enough and a great representation of fantastic musicianship in most people’s opinion!), these musicians have outstanding bios. It kind of shows proof that they are very capable of playing well with orchestras when they have performed with groups like St. Louis Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic, and Rochester Philharmonic, and even received wonderful reviews for those performances from the press.

    2) It is very possible that they didn’t give perfect final auditions (not that we would know — very fishy that a very “public competition” would have a closed final round) but is there seriously no way they could give a great concert in 5 months in November/December?? These young artists obviously take their music very seriously and would not take a performance with PSO lightly. Even us, the “ignorant lay folk”, know that the “great international stars” that PSO craves like Josh Bell or Yo Yo Ma have given sub-par performances. They will even tell you that themselves. Anyway, wouldn’t that be great for PSO anyway? To give the winner pointers on how to make their performances spot-on for the big subscription concert, to make them and the orchestra sound as good as possible, and please the PSO fans at the same time? That would make history for the better. Not backing out on a great idea and competition like this. And it seems to me that these artists are on a level that they can work most problems out, like if it were a problem with pacing or intonation. I don’t think teachers like Itzhak Perlman, Peter Wiley, or Lucinda Carver would accept students who are incapable of playing beautifully or in-tune. And if it were a problem that the panel simply didn’t like the artist, well then PSO shouldn’t have picked them as a semifinalist in the first place. But it seems plenty of the public, the TICKET BUYERS (who really matter most when it comes down to it), seemed to love the contestants and would have filled the concert hall regardless who the winner was.

    These artists’ careers may not have launched very far from this competition (which was arguably put together very poorly), but it is much more than likely that at least one of these artists will have a long-standing and reputable musical career in the future. Sure the PSO may think they’re useless no-namers right now, but I don’t think it will stay that way for long, simply judging by all these artists’ track records. It’s sad that an orchestra and competition all about giving chances stripped that away quite harshly. I, and I expect most of the voters, are wholly on the artists’ sides and will not be giving money or attention towards PSO anytime soon.

  • Odin Rathnam
    Posted August 29, 2012

    I think it’s perfectly fair to not award a 1st prize or winner, if those holding a competition don’t find what they want. And I WAS in this competition. So many factors play into picking the right person that anyone can question outcomes , if they choose to. I think the PSO simply wants anyone standing in front of that outstanding orchestra to be completely up to the task. That IS their right to decide, as painful as it might have been for any of those who didn’t make it. Ultimately, winning an opportunity shouldn’t be the motivating factor in our art, or why we enter such competitions anyway. The opportunities are gravy- playing well is priceless.

  • Think first PSO
    Posted October 12, 2012

    I know it’s been a while since this whole fiasco, but it hasn’t gone away yet. My simple question is why didn’t the PSO just splint the prize money among the finalists? Then they could have saved face even without picking a winner. We members of the public wouldn’t feel like the artists were duped. And, we’d feel less duped, too.

  • POed at PSO
    Posted November 3, 2012

    Anyone else still pissed about this? Personally, I know a few people who are and who won’t be going to see the PSO (ever again).

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