South Korean baritone Kim Tae-han won the Queen Elisabeth Competition on Sunday, becoming the first Asian to win since the competition’s singing category was established in 1988.
He will receive the award from Queen Mathilde of Belgium, along with prize money of 25,000 euros ($26,811).
Kim clinched South Korea’s second consecutive win at this prestigious competition after cellist Cho Ha-young ranked in first in 2022.
Named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, the competition is one of world’s top three classical music competitions for musicians who are starting their career, along with Poland’s International Chopin Piano Competition and Russia’s International Tchaikovsky Competition.
The competition is held in Brussels every year and its four categories -- piano, cello, singing and violin -- take turns each year. Last year’s competition was for cellists.
Kim, 22, was the youngest among 12 contenders who made it to the final round, which continued from Thursday for a three day-run.
Finalists had to sing between three to six songs using two different languages or at least one operatic arias. Kim sang a total of four songs, including one from the five-act opera by Italian composer Verdi “Don Carlos” and one from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s “Die tote Stadt.”
Kim chose to sing the French version of Verdi’s Italian song, appealing to the audience and the judges in French-speaking Belgium. South Korea’s award-winning lyric coloratura soprano, Sumi Jo, was part of the jury this year.
Kim told reporters after the competition that he did not feel any pressure and that he sang with happiness and enjoyed the stage, adding that he was “submerged in the music” while preparing for the competition.
“I’ll become a globally recognized baritone,” the 22-year-old singer told the media after winning the prize. Kim officially debuted in 2022 through a solo recital after winning several prizes locally and on the international stage. Kim is in his fourth year at Seoul National University's College of Music, where he is taught by Na Gun-young.
This year’s Queen Elisabeth Competition saw the highest number of South Korean contenders, at 18. A total of 55 singers from 20 countries made it to the main competition. Eight Korean singers made it through to the semi-finals, where 24 singers competed for the final 12 spots. Besides Kim, baritone Daniel Kwon and bass Jeong In-ho also made it to the finals. The three were the only male finalists. Jeong, the only bass among 12 finalists, ranked fifth. The competition chooses the best singer regardless of voice range or gender.