Classical music is an artforms that requires methodical discipline in order to incite an emotional response in its audiences. It entails thousands of hours of hard work to create something timeless, exemplified in works like Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 or Gioachino Rossini’s compositions in The Barber of Seville. This is one of the many parallels that classical music holds with watchmaking — an inimitable quality performed (or created), calling upon centuries of tradition by people who have a passion for creating timeless works: a classical composition you would listen to, or a movement ticking away in your watch. With this parallel in mind, it’s only fitting for an influential watchmaking brand like Breguet to take an active role in supporting classical music through its sponsorship of the Concours de Genève, one of the music industry’s oldest classical music competitions.
With a long list of notable Breguet clients like the aforementioned Rossini (who had a small watch, N°4604) or famous 20th century pianist Arthur Rubinstein (who frequently visited the Breguet boutique in Paris and possessed an oval piece, N°1682, that featured a thermometer), the brand has always sought to support the arts, with this year marking the brand’s 17th year as the main sponsor for the competition. “We’re so happy to have had Breguet as a sponsor for so many years,” says Didier Schnorhk, Secretary General of the Concours de Genève.
“Music and horology echo one another — both involve excellence, high quality craftsmanship, and prestige. This sponsorship wouldn’t work with just any brand, and this partnership fits very well. Having Breguet as a sponsor allowed us to really elevate the competition, not just financially, but also in terms of image and reputation. Back in the day, before Breguet came as a sponsor, we were still rough around the edges. Breguet allowed us to smooth those edges and raise our expectations,” he continues.
Founded in 1939, the Concours de Genève holds a certain prestige amongst international musical competitions, mostly for the level of talent needed to compete, but also for the care and attention it gives its participants and winners. “There’s an academic rigor to this competition that elevates these musicians, and that’s in part thanks to our panel that’s always made up of very notable musicians and professionals,” says Christine Sayegh, President of the Foundation Board for the Concours de Genève. “And we keep up with our winners and runners-up, to make sure that even if you get second or third place, you still, rightfully so, have a chance at establishing a career,” she continues.
Every year, the competition focuses on specific disciplines for participants to compete in, such as piano and clarinet for 2018, percussion and composition in 2019, and cello and oboe for 2020. Last year, it focused on composition, and participants had to compose their own original pieces to be performed by an orchestra. At just 23-years-old, South Korea-native Jaehyuck Choi won the competition with a 12-minute clarinet concerto: “The most difficult part of the competition was when I was writing the piece for the competition!” he recounts. “[It] took me four months to complete, working day and night. It was, though, the most rewarding part of the competition.”
2017 was Choi’s first time competing internationally — he was curious to see where his work stood on the larger stage: “Applying to the Concours de Genève was the best way to have feedback on my music from the most diverse of juries and from the leading composers of our time.”
“Winning the Concours de Genève was certainly a turning point in my career,” says Choi. “I am receiving commissions from various festivals, competitions and ensembles and am now signed to Universal Music Korea as their ‘Mercury Artist,’ therefore having my clarinet concerto released as a digital single. In the summer of 2019, I’ll be having my Korean debut as a conductor with the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a French debut as a composer with the Ensemble InterContemporain.”
Not only has winning the competition become a stepping stone for Choi, he was also the lucky recipient of a Breguet Marine 5817, which has sparked a love for horology in the young composer. “My Breguet Marine big date watch is absolutely a work of art,” he gushes. “What a perfect watch for a composer — both arts are timeless. Whenever it shines on my wrist, I have a smile on my face! Now, I am in love with Breguet watches. The Classique ref. 7147, the Perpetual Calendar ref. 5447, and the Perpetual Calendar ref. 3795 are all my dream watches.”
This year, there were two competitors tied for first place in piano: Théo Fouchenneret (24) from France and Dmitry Shishkin (26) from Russia. Third place went to San Jittakarn (26) from Thailand. Year after year, the competition’s number of applications continue to grow, with over 400 applicants in 2018 — and considering the level of young talent and discipline needed to be in this field, let alone how niche the classical music world is, that’s a big number.
Schnorhk notes: “Classical music is a worldwide affair. There are people all over the world involved in classical music, especially in Asia, where there is a very dynamic classical music scene. And when you are young and you have talent, you have to get yourself noticed. One of the most democratic ways of doing that is to win a competition, and if you do, everyone sees you.”
Winning the competition is a hard-earned honor, one that takes years of training and discipline. Much like the centuries of tradition involved in watchmaking, classical music demands all of your attention and passion to create something beautiful. But then, explains Sayegh, there’s something a little ‘extra’ that’s needed: “There are certain musicians who, even just through their application video, communicate very clearly through their music. Anybody can gain the specific techniques to compete, but to connect with your soul is an entirely different thing.” And Choi, though physically young, seems infinitely mature as he echoes Sayegh’s sentiments when asked to describe his music: “It is my most honest of self-reflections.” And that is about as pure and timeless as it can get.