Violinist Elmar Oliveira Launches New ‘Non-Cutthroat’ Violin Competition

By Cristina Schreil

Calling all young performers: Celebrated violinist Elmar Oliveira has launched a new violin competition. The Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition, announced at the end of March, is set to take place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, from January 22 to February 5, 2017. Oliveira currently serves as Lynn’s artist-in-residence. A key facet of the inaugural competition is career-development support in artistic management, public relations, and performance opportunities, in addition to a $30,000 grand prize to the first-place contestant. The second place winner will receive $15,000; the third, $10,000.

Speaking by phone from Florida, Oliveira stresses that his vision for the competition—which has percolated for “years and years and years,” he says—stems from an inclusive spirit and a goal to help young performers build careers.

In addition to a robust recording and performance career, Oliveira is known for being the first and only American to have won the gold medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1978. He has also won the Avery Fisher Prize and first prize at the Naumburg International Competition.

“It sort of helped propel my career in the direction that I wanted it to go,” Oliveira says of the Tchaikovsky award. “I want to do some of the same things that competitions did for me and more, because this is a very different kind of competition.”


Oliveira said his love for teaching partly drove the creation of this competition. He said many competitions offer cash prizes, but afterward, a player is “somewhat on your own” to make the most of it.

“Of course, there’s a certain amount of notoriety that comes from winning a competition, and orchestras, recital series, festivals, and chamber societies are interested in the winner, but it takes a lot of energy on their own to do that,” Oliveira says of young performers. “That doesn’t mean necessarily that we’re going to just hand a violinist over to some management, but we’re going to maybe discuss with them what would be the best kind of situation for them. You know, there’s a lot of routes that one can go and we’re hopefully procuring different opportunities.”

Oliveira asserted that what distinguishes his competition from others is direct help filling players’ “career toolboxes” with guidance on networking, and fostering vital interpersonal skills. The winner will certainly receive more direct guidance, but Oliveira believes that competitors can glean plenty of insight without claiming the top prize. He says he expects the judges to offer advice on “what they think [competitors] should concentrate on, not just with their playing, but also with their personalities.”


The jury contains Cuban-born violinist, violist, and conductor Andrés Cárdenes, Icelandic violinist Gudny Gudmundsdottir, American violinist Daniel Heifetz, Russian violinist Ilya Kaler, Chinese violinist Vera Tsu Wei-ling, and German music manager Elmar Weingarten.

“Everything is a building experience for them in this competition,” Oliveira says. “I don’t want this competition to be a cutthroat competition. I want the contestants to get something out of it.”

The contest is now open to applicants aged 16 to 32. The contest is comprised of three rounds; the first, with a due date of September 30, requires applicants provide videos of them playing via YouTube. The repertoire for this preliminary round includes works by Mozart, Paganini, Ysaÿe, Bach, and Wieniawski. Only 20 finalists will be selected to perform at Lynn’s Keith C. and Elaine Johnson World Performing Arts Center in January. The semifinal round includes Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10, Op. 96, Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, and Ravel’s Tzigane. This second round also includes a new commissioned work by composer, Lynn University professor, and department head Thomas L. McKinley. Oliveira says it was important to keep the first commission tied to Lynn.


“One needs to know a performer can take a piece and—they’ve never seen it before, they’ve never heard it before—can make something really important out of it,” Oliveira explains.

For the final round, four finalists perform either Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, or Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. Oliveira notes the repertoire is smaller compared to other competitions, but stresses it was strategically selected. He says, “People can get a very exacting idea of what kind of a player you are” from the works.

The competition will recur every three years. For more information, visit