History of the Competition from 1954 to 1999

The Creation

The idea to create a music competition dedicated to Paganini came about in 1940, when Genoa was preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the famous musician's death.
Unfortunately, the war was approaching and the idea proposed by the journalist and music critic Carlo Marcello Rietmann was temporarily put on hold. Only later, in 1954, would the idea be achieved, as a part of the Columbus Celebrations. The city government had decided that every year, October 12th would be recognized as "the Day of Genoa and Christopher Columbus".
On this occasion, awards were presented in the fields of communication and sports. The City Councilor for the Arts at the time, Lazzaro Maria De Bernardis, suggested to the Mayor, Vittorio Pertusio, that the area of music also receive recognition in the form of a competition dedicated to Paganini. The request was granted and De Bernardis called upon the musician and composer Luigi Cortese as artistic director to organize the first edition of the "Premio Paganini".

1954 - 1975

The first edition of the competition was somewhat anticlimactic: neither one of the two final contestants received the first prize. But in following editions, the competition rebounded to become one of the most rigorous and important in the field of music. It is also significant to note that the "Premio Paganini" was one of the founding members of the World Federation for Musical Competitions that began in 1957.
Much credit goes to Luigi Cortese, artistic director for an impressive 21 years, who played a fundamental role in bringing international recognition to the event. He was aided by the dedication and efforts of Carlo Marcello Rietmann, Mario Ruminelli, Lazzaro Maria De Bernardis and Renato De Barbieri.
In this period, violin competitions around the world saw the dominance of the Russian school and the "Premio Paganini" was no exception. Numerous artistic and professional careers have been launched by the competition including those of: Gyorgy Pauk and Gérard Poulet, winners ex aequo of the competition in 1956 (the only time in the history of the event in which two participants were granted first prize); Salvatore Accardo in 1958, Oleh Krysa in 1963, Gidon Kremer in 1969, Grigori Zhislin in 1967 (second place being given to another Soviet, Vladimir Spivakov).
All winners have had the honor of performing on Paganini's famous violin, the "Guarneri del Gesù", for the October 12th Columbus Celebrations.
The competition venue for the early editions was the "Nicolò Paganini" Conservatory, but thanks to increased public interest, the "Premio" moved to the larger Margherita Opera House in 1963, home at the time of the Municipal Opera House.

1976 - 1987

Another figure of international recognition succeeded Cortese as artistic director of the competition: the conductor Alberto Erede, partnered with Mario Ruminelli.
In 1976, the Swiss composer Andrè Francois Marescotti was called upon to preside over the jury. Marescotti was also the president of the World Federation for Musical Competitions at the time and was known as one of the most regular members in the competition jury.
Joseph Szigeti was also known for his dedication to the competition and its participants. Szigeti used to meet the eliminated participants and give them feedback on their performances. Later this habit was made official and all jury members were asked to do the same. There are many other significant figures who should be remembered: Paolo Borciani (Quartetto Italiano), Riccardo Brengola, Yfrah Neaman, Leonid Kogan, Viktor Pikaizen and Salvatore Accardo (both past winners of the "Premio").
In 1985, collaboration with Paolo Peloso began, who assumed the role of conductor for the Paganini Competition until 1999.
Since 1982, the preliminary performances have been open to the public, thus the audience, increasingly faithful and numerous, can follow the competition from its first stage. Russian violinists consistently give strong performances and regularly receive not only honorable ranks (second place being given to Vadim Brodski in 1984 and to Pavel Berman in 1987), but also several first-place finishes (most notably Ilya Grubert in 1977). What is new is the Asian school's success with its young talents.
In 1987, the grand prize was awarded a Chinese violinist for the first time: Lu Zu Chin. However, the most remarkable fact is that in this period, the first Prize was not awarded for an incredible five times.

1988 - 1999
The position of artistic director of the “Premio” was transferred to the musician and composer Giorgio Ferrari.
In the final years of his tenure, he was partnered with Roberto Iovino, a journalist and music critic. In 1988 Giulio Terracini replaced Lazzaro Maria De Bernardis as president of the “Premio Paganini.” Later, in 1990, the position was filled by Vittorio Sirotti. In 1992, the competition found its definitive home in the refurbished Carlo Felice Opera House, unveiled that same year. The competition followed the trends of the times, and with respect to the past, saw other new, prestigious competitions established. Thanks to the musical sensibility of Giorgio Ferrari, adjustments were made to the music program so as to maintain the high level of the competition, thus giving young violinists of talent an opportunity to be recognized. Two names among them deserve special mention: the Greek Leonidas Kavakos (winner in 1988) and the Russian Ilya Gringolts (in 1998). After a long period of unrewarded efforts, the Italian school found success with Massimo Quarta in 1991 and Giovanni Angeleri in 1997. The female presence among competition winners increased as well: Natalia Prischepenko received first prize in 1990; Julia Krasko in 1992; Isabelle Faust in 1993; Bin Huang in 1994; and Natalia Lomeiko in 2000. Another remarkable fact is the considerable drop in the age of participants: in 1999, Sayaka Shoji of Japan, a 16-year-old girl with excellent technique, received first prize and is now evolving into one of the most intriguing and promising musicians on the international music scene.

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