The Competition Life: Sabrina Vlaskalic

For so many young guitarists around the world, competitions are seen as an important training and proving ground for a professional career—a place where musicians can test their mettle in a high-pressure environment, gain exposure to new audiences and to professionals who judge and/or attend the competitions, meet some of their peers, and, in many cases, see the world in the process. Does performing well in competitions guarantee a successful concert career? Absolutely not. But it undoubtedly helps, especially in this era in which the news of who won which competition becomes “news” on social media. Of course, the great majority of players won’t make their living primarily from concerts; today, as it has been for decades, teaching is still the best route to actually making a living as a classical guitarist—and it’s hard to say how competition success might influence that pursuit, besides perhaps giving a player a recognizable “name” in the guitar community, and whatever self-confidence might follow.

Vlaskalic’s first was in Belgrade: “My nine-year-old self was convinced that I was to win this competition with my very fine performance of Giuliani’s Agitato Op. 51, No. 3. However, it turned out that the competition results were quite agitating to me instead: When the lady from the competition called to inform me that I was awarded only a special prize for the youngest participant and that the 1st prize went to some Academy student, I decided to hang up the phone. My parents were not happy with my attitude, and to my displeasure I had to go to accept the award anyway.”

Vlaskalic recalls being incredibly scared when competing as a youth: “I was terrified to hear those loud guitars howl down the hallways, and fast scales piercing my ears through the doors of hotel rooms. Nevertheless, the scariest of all was the applause of the audience after my fellow competitors played. This was often paralyzing, and I would wonder if my performance would withstand the judgement of the same audience that just a moment ago, according to my perception of the applause, very much enjoyed the performance of a colleague competitor. Therefore, I did everything possible in order to avoid hearing that applause.”

She also cautions, “I don’t believe that winning competitions necessarily results in a stable, long-term concert career on its own, and I think that all young competitors should be aware of this seemingly innocent trap.”

Vlaskalic, too, crows about “friendships all over the world! Long-term friendships that do not seem to be dying out, regardless of distances and years that have passed.”

Vlaskalic adds, “I’ve been judging competitions for the last ten years and I find the approach of many competitors, regardless of their background, to be rather similar: Their repertoire selections and interpretations seem quite standard. Back in the day, my competition trick was to perform lesser-known repertoire that included works of such composers as François de Fossa, Joan Manén, Miroslav Tadic or even Rodrigo— his monumental three-movement Elogio de la Guitarra is an incredible work  and quite a challenge to play. However, when I did perform standard repertoire I found it very important to explore innovative interpretative solutions. I can’t say that all of them succeeded, but they definitely did shape me into being the musician that I am today. 

“Be yourself, be smart, be genuine, and know that there will always be a place for you!”


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