Improvisation Competition

In 1951, Louis Toebosch won the first International Organ ImprovisationCompetition. He was to be followed by Anton Heiller in 1952, Piet Kee (1953, 1954, 1955) and many other organists who later became internationally known names. Winning 'Haarlem' was, and is, the first step to an international career. Even just taking part in the competition has helped launch many a career, as the names of the numerous famous organists among the previous participants testify.

General information

The 52nd Haarlem International Improvisation Competition took place from 16-20 July 2018. The material for the assignments was created by several artists, and weren’t only musical. As in 2016, new elements and experimental techniques of improvising on and with the organ has been introduced, next to traditional improvising styles. Five internationally renowned organists will sit on the 2018 competition jury. Among them are Franz Danksagmüller (D), Vincent Thévenaz (CH), Guus Janssen and Jacob Lekkerkerker (NL). The competition will take place on the Müller organ (1738 / IIIP / 62) in St Bavo’s church, and the Cavaillé-Coll organ (1875 / IIIP / 47) in the Philharmonie concert hall. 


The winner of the competition has received a Jury Prize of 7,500 euro and will be invited for several recitals in The Netherlands and other European countries. The winner of the Flentrop Audience Prize will receive 1,000 euro.

Requirements for participation

The competition is open to organists with recital experience in improvisation. A new element in 2018 was that there was no age limit. Candidates should have been prepared to tackle technically demanding and sometimes experimental material in prescribed and free forms. 

The procedure of the competition

Seven contestants have been selected from the pre-selection recordings. The winner of a National Improvisation Competition in Dordrecht, held in June 2018, was admitted as the eighth contestant.
All contestants participated in Round One on Monday 16 juli 2018 in St Bavo's, after which a selection was made for the second round. Round Two on Wednesday 18 July 2018 took place in the Philharmonie concert hall. After Round Two, three contestants were selected to take part in the Finale on Friday 20 July 2018 in St Bavo’s church. Contestants had all the same amount of time (depending of the assignment) for preparation, without the use of an instrument.

Recordings of previous competition finalists are available via SoundCloud link on this site. The recordings of the 2018 Competition will be published later this year.