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Leeds conductors competition to return for 2020

Following a break of eleven years, the Leeds Conductors Competition will return in September 2020 for its tenth outing, offering transformative opportunities for young British conductors.

Held at Leeds Town Hall in partnership between Leeds International Concert Season and Opera North, the Competition begins with a chance to take the podium in front of musicians from the resident Orchestra of Opera North, and climaxes with a gala concert with the full ensemble, prize money totalling £20,000, and a series of professional engagements with the country’s other leading orchestras for the winner.

From its inception in 1984 to the last instalment in 2009, the Leeds Conductors Competition’s alumni are among the most illustrious names in orchestral music today. Inaugural winner Sian Edwards went on to become Music Director of English National Opera; and Opera North’s current Music Director designate, Garry Walker, won the Competition in 1999.

The Competition returns on Tuesday 8 September, when sixteen selected entrants will conduct small ensembles from the Orchestra of Opera North for 20 minutes each at closed Chamber Music Rounds. Twelve successful competitors will then go through to public rounds with the Orchestra from Wednesday 9 September, culminating in the final on Saturday 12 September, a full gala concert of Beethoven, Elgar and Sibelius as part of Leeds International Concert Season. The winner of the first prize of £10,000 will be announced at the end of the evening.

This year’s Jury Chairman, Tim Walker CBE AM, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra comments:

“It is an honour and a privilege to chair the jury of this year’s Leeds Conductors Competition. It is in one sense a forbidding task, for brilliant musicianship abounds, but the special qualities that mark a truly great conductor – character and personality, charisma, connection and communication – are rare.

In the hands of a great conductor, an orchestra has something to say through its music that touches the head and heart and takes us to another place. The experience can be revelatory.”

Other members of the jury include Richard Farnes (Music Director of Opera North from 2004-2016), Lyn Fletcher (Leader of the Hallé 1997-2019), and Colin Metters (Professor Emeritus of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London).

Garry Walker, Music Director designate, Opera North, and winner of the 1999 Competition, comments:

“Winning the Leeds Conductors Competition was undoubtedly an important landmark in my career, and I will be forever grateful to those who organised it. It was the only conducting competition I ever entered! Of course the greatest joy is that, almost 20 years to the day after having taken part, I was appointed Music Director of Opera North, whose orchestra I met for the first time in the Competition. 

“It certainly helped to open up opportunities which might not have arisen quite so quickly otherwise, and it signalled the beginning of a new phase in my development as a conductor. I would encourage all those participating, whether they win or not, to think of the Competition not as an end in itself. The Competition is there to help speed the learning curve of all involved. 

“I’m delighted that all those involved in supporting and organising the Competition have made it possible for young conductors to gain from this experience, and to be gifted the opportunity of working with such a wonderful orchestra.” 

Leeds Conductors Competition welcomes entrants who are British citizens or resident in the UK, and 35 years of age or under on Saturday 12 September 2020. The Competition is fully inclusive, and in recognition of the fact that the profession has traditionally suffered from a lack of diversity, is keen to attract the widest possible range of talented musicians from all backgrounds.

The entry form is available in alternative formats, including Easy Read, Braille, hard copy and audio. Any eligible candidate who feels that they may experience further barriers to applying is invited to contact

Full details and an entry form can be found at:  Applicants should complete and submit the form no later than Thursday 9 April, and applicants will be notified by the end of May as to whether or not their application has been successful.

Admission for audiences is free of charge at the Public Sessions from Wednesday 9 September, with no booking required. Tickets for the Gala Concert on Saturday 12 September, featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No 5, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Sibelius’ Symphony No 5, will go on sale on Monday 2 March.